Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!

Normally on Sundays, I will be writing a box office recap which will cover, among other things, “What Went Wrong” either in movies expected to do well or ones where I just dropped the ball with my prediction. This past weekend was a particularly bad case, particularly for Warner Bros’ animated The LEGO Movie 2, which ended up with less than $35 million. That’s roughly half what the original movie opened to five years ago, and substantially less than my own $60 million-plus prediction. Paramount’s What Men Want also failed to surpass the $20 million mark, although the other two new movies – Liam Neeson’s Cold Pursuit and the horror film The Prodigy– both did roughly what I predicted. Starting next Monday – because it’s a four-day weekend – I will start recapping the weekend box office with some additional analysis you might not get on straight news sites.

Moving on, this will be an even more fun week since Thursday is Valentine’s Day, a great time to see a romantic movie with your spouse, partner, boy/girlfriend or a bunch of co-workers, but then next Monday is President’s Day, which means schools are out, the recently-returned government employees are off, and a few others take extended three-day weekends.

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Because of those holidays, it makes the box office potential for the new movies even harder to predict with two of the movies released on Wednesday, then another one on Thursday, creating all sorts of additional problems with trying to predict how any of them might fare over the four-day weekend between Friday and Monday. Still, I’m going to give it a try…

HAPPY DEATH DAY 2 U (Universal)

Universal Pictures

Opening Wednesday is the sequel to Blumhouse’s semi-surprise 2017 hit Happy Death Day, which opened with $26 million in October – a great release date for a horror movie – and wound up with $55.6 million in North America, plus another $70 million overseas. That might not sound like a lot, but it was another example of a Blumhouse low-budget movie that cost less than $5 million to make, so it was deemed profitable and worthy of a sequel. Less than two years later, director Christopher Landon is back for a sequel to the movie written by comics vet Scott Lobdell along with most of the cast from the original horror film.

Happy Death Day should have made a huge star out of Jessica Rothe, and maybe that’s still to come, although the film’s “B” CinemaScore didn’t bode well for audiences wanting a sequel, even though the sequel looks just as fun. Despite the original movie making less than $60 million theatrically, one can probably assume more people saw it via streaming or other forms of home entertainment, building the potential audience for a sequel. This is fairly common for horror movies and has been for many years. Case in point: James Wan’s Insidious (also produced by Blumhouse!) grossed $54 million theatrically but two years later, the sequel opened with $40 million, almost 74% of the original movie’s total domestic gross. This is commonly known as the “sequel factor,” where a sequel does substantially better than the original movie, and it’s the type of scenario why sequels are made.

If Happy Death Day 2 U performs similarly to Insidious— and why shouldn’t it, since Wan’s movie also got a “B” Cinemascore? – then Happy Death Day 2 U has the potential for a $40 million opening weekend, except that the $40 million would now be split up over six days (Wednesday through Monday).  See why it can get confusing? Presuming that this stands the chance at doing the best of the three new movies due to horror being a popular genre plus that sequel factor, but those who really want to see it (like myself) will likely go to see it on Wednesday or possibly take a loved one to see it on Valentine’s Day, which cuts into the movie’s potential for business over the four-day weekend.

The fact that the movie is opening Wednesday could either hurt or help the movie depending on how well it’s received – reviews have been fairly good so far – and if the people who see it on Wednesday like it and tell their friends and co-workers to see it, then that could help boost interest for the weekend. At least that’s what Universal hoping, since that’s really the only reason to release the movie on a pre-holiday Wednesday in the first place.

I can see a scenario where Happy Death Day 2 U opens with $4 or 5 million on Wednesday, matches that amount on Thursday, then goes into the weekend with $9 or 10 million. With a slight bump on Friday night, the movie could rack up another $25 million over the four-day weekend, which would indeed add up to around $45 million in its first six days, basically matching the original movie’s total gross and making it Blumhouse’s second profitable hit of 2019. (The third will be Jordan Peele’s Us,opening next month.)

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? (New Line/WB)

Also opening Wednesday and probably a little more on-the-nose for Valentine’s Day is this satirical romantic comedy reuniting Pitch Perfect stars Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine, joined by Liam Hemsworth from The Hunger Games. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas), it’s a high concept idea in which Rebel Wilson hits her head and wakes up in a far more romantic version of the world. Yes, it is an almost identical concept to Amy Schumer’s 2018 comedy I Feel Pretty, although the humor in this one works better in its execution.

The Australia-born Wilson has yet to have a chance to prove her worth at the box office, having mostly been playing supporting characters in comedies like the Pitch Perfect trilogy, which has grossed over $300 million in North America alone. Oddly, one of those supporting roles was in a 2016 Valentine’s Day offering, also from New Line, called How to Be Single with Dakota Johnson (another Valentine’s Day regular with the 50 Shades series). That rom-com opened with $19.9 million over President’s Day, but only grossed $46.8 million total domestically, but Isn’t It Romantic kind of makes fun of the genre, which may seem somewhat refreshing to those who are sick of what some consider a “Hallmark holiday.”

Although Isn’t It Romantic opens on Wednesday, expect it to get a substantial bump on Valentine’s Day, as it offers couples a viable date night movie. Last week’s What Men Want might offer the toughest competition, although the Pitch Perfect connection should help it attract many teen girls and 20-to-30 something women. Unfortunately, that audience might be just as interested in Happy Death Day 2 U, because scary movies can also be oddly romantic for couples. That puts a lot of pressure on this movie to deliver but not nearly as much as Alita: Battle Angel, which cost substantially more money to make.

After the Thursday bump, things will likely settle down over the weekend, maybe with some date night business continuing through Saturday, but that could mean its four-day weekend could end up somewhere between $15 and 19 million but not much higher.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (20th Century Fox)

20th Century Fox

Opening on Thursday, probably with Wednesday previews, is James Cameron’s long-in-development adaptation of the Japanese Manga Battle Angel Alita with director Robert Rodriguez taking on his latest property after directing two Sin City movies based on rank Miller’s comic series, as well as 2010’s Predators. The history for Manga/Anime adaptations is a fairly long and storied one – I wrote a little about it here – but clearly, the movie that immediately comes to mind is 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson. Despite her considerable star power from movies like Marvel’s The Avengers and Luc Besson’s hit LucyGhost in the Shell bombed, grossing just $40.5 million in North America after a late March opening of just $18.7 million while the whitewashing of the material hurt it among young audiences.

Starring as the cyborg girl Alita is Rosa Salazar, who starred in the Maze Runner sequels, as well as the recent Netflix sci-fi thriller Bird Box.  The cast also includes two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as well as Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali, who recently was nominated for his second Oscar for Green Book, as well as Ed Skrein from Deadpool.

Couple things working against the movie: Battle Angel Alita isn’t a very known property outside of Anime/Manga circles, even when compared to Ghost in the Shell, plus there isn’t a star on the level of Scarlett Johansson to possibly interest fans of her previous action movies including Marvel’s The Avengers. The genre also has a long-running stigma for not being able to crossover to mass audiences, something I discussed more here.

Wisely, Fox has upped the marketing game on the movie to make sure that, like Avatar, this is a movie you’ll want to see on the big screen in 3D, which means that inflated ticket prices could give the movie a boost it might not have had. Regardless, it’s looking like bad news for Alita this weekend, although it might have been much worse if Fox kept it on its original December date going up against Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and Aquaman. It could have bombed as badly as Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines did if Fox didn’t blink and get out of that busy holiday season quickly.

All three movies this weekend are PG-13, but one can probably expect the audience for this movie to be younger than the other two movies above, and that’s a market with a bit more leeway to bring in business.

Either way, Alita is going to be seen as one of the year’s biggest bombs regardless of how well or poorly it does, because it cost somewhere between $150 and 200 million to make (compared to the $110 million for Ghost in the Shell), and it’s not likely to make more than $25 or 26 million in its first five and a half days even with the higher 3D ticket prices. (Fortunately, it’s already made $32 million overseas.)

This is going to be a very interesting weekend although none of the three new movies above should keep The LEGO Movie 2 from repeating at #1 despite its disappointing opening. Taraji P. Henson’s What Men Want should also hold fairly well, especially with Valentine’s Day on Thursday, though I think at least two of the new movies should take 2nd and 3rd place. The holiday superhero hits Aquaman and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse are also likely to leave the top 10 since opening in December, as well.

This Week’s Box Office Predictions (all the below are the four days from Friday through Monday):

  1. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Warner Bros.) – $27.3 million -21%
  2. Happy Death Day 2 U (Universal) – $25.5 million N/A
  3. Alita: Battle Angel (20thCentury Fox) – $20.3 million N/A
  4. Isn’t It Romantic? (New Line/WB) – $14.8 million N/A
  5. What Men Want (Paramount) – $13 million -29%
  6. Cold Pursuit (Lionsgate/Summit) – $7.4 million -33%
  7. The Upside (STX) – $6.5 million -9%
  8. Glass (Universal) – $4.1 million -35%
  9. The Prodigy (Orion Pictures) – $3.4 million -42%
  10. Green Book (Universal) – $3 million -8%

Also opening in New York and L.A. Friday is MGM’s comedic wrestling biopic Fighting with My Family, written and directed by Stephen Merchant based on the life of WWE superstar Paige. How well it does in the two biggest movie-going cities in North America should offer a great preview for the movie’s wide release next weekend. That’s probably the most significant film in limited release this weekend, although Sony Pictures Classics will release the quirky animated action film Ruben Brandt, Collector(also in New York and L.A.) while IFC Films releases Tim Sutton’s bare-knuckle fighting flick Donnybrook, starring Jamie Bell and Frank Grillo, on Friday, as well.

Next week, it’s the last week of February (already?!?) with DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, as well as Fighting with My Family  as it expands nationwide. Also, check back on Sunday for a wrap-up of the box office.

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