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

It’s an all-sequel weekend, at least as far as the wide releases. Maybe this is a good time to introduce some sequels into a season that has seen just as many original movie hits and disappointments. Even so, we can’t forget how badly “sequelitis” has affected some of the sequels expected to be big hits this past summer. At least one of them features a big box office star and is from the studio that can do no wrong, but it’s the other one that feels more like a sequel people might actually want rather than a wanton money-grab.

But let’s get to the money-grab first…

MALEFICENT, MISTRESS OF EVIL (Walt Disney Pictures)

maleficent
Walt Disney Pictures

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer, Imelda Staunton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lesley Manville, Harris Dickinson, David Gyasi, Miyavi
Directed By: Joachim Rønning (Kon-Tiki, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)
MPAA Rating: PG

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I have to confess that I’ve never seen the first Maleficent, and I highly doubt I’ll see this one either, but there’s no denying that putting superstar Angelina Jolie in the role of Sleeping Beauty’s arch-nemesis proved to be another big moneymaker for Walt Disney Pictures back in 2014.  The movie opened in late May that year to $69.4 million and made a solid $241 million domestic and $517 million overseas. That kind of success almost always guarantees a sequel, although this one took almost five years to get made and released.

Somehow, Disney were able to get Jolie back into the role, and this time she’s joined by Michelle Pfeiffer, who was kind of the Angelina Jolie of the ‘80s and ‘90s, while others like Elle Fanning, Imelda Staunton and Leslie Manville are all back in their previous roles. This time directing the movie is another example of white men failing upwards in the form of Norwegian director Joachim Rønning, who last directed Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales, which put the nail into that franchise’s undersea coffin.

It’s kind of crazy, but Jolie herself hasn’t been seen on the big screen since 2015’s By the Sea, a low-profile drama she directed and co-starred in with real-life partner Brad Pitt. That movie did not even make a million dollars. That’s a far cry from the relative success for her action movies Wantedand Salt, which were now almost ten years back. The original Maleficentreceived mixed ratings, although moviegoers gave it an “A” rating, so maybe it makes sense she’s back, although I’ve never actually heard anyone say they wanted a sequel to Maleficentin the five years hence. Does Jolie still have the box office pull to convince people to see this?

In some ways, the reminds me of Snow White and the Huntsman, the Universal fairy tale reimagining, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, which opened a few summers before Maleficent to $56.2 million and grossed $155 million domestically. Four years later, Universal made a sequel called The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and if you can’t tell from the title, Kristen Stewart was no longer involved. That bombed, making less than $50 million domestic after a $19 million opening. This feels somewhat daunting for a Maleficent sequel, although at least it still has Jolie.

Releasing the sequel in mid-to-late October rather than in the summer or waiting until the holidays is also something that might keep the movie from the success of its predecessor. That said, this is the kind of movie that can appeal to a wide range of audiences, both young and older, but chances are that it will be more of interest to women than men.

At one point, I thought Maleficent, Mistress of Evil might be able to make $50 million or more this weekend, but one has to imagine that most guys will probably go see Zombieland (see below), and family audiences might not be as interested in this with The Addams Family still doing well. Because of this, we can probably expect the Disney sequel to win the weekend but probably with somewhere in there low-to-mid $40 millions.


ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (Sony Pictures)

Zombieland
Sony Pictures

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia, Bill Murray
Directed By: Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less, Gangster Squad)
MPAA Rating: R

What might be my most anticipated movie of the decade and maybe for others as well is this sequel to the 2009 zombie comedy Zombieland, which brought together Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin to fight a zombie apocalypse. Mind you, this was Eisenberg pre-The Social Network and Stone before she was nominated for multiple Oscars, winning one for the musical La La Land.

Zombieland opened in early October to a solid $24.7 million and grossed almost $76 million domestic (i.e. three times its budget) but then for various reasons – which you can read about in my interviews linked below – nothing was done to make

Director Ruben Fleischer went on to make the action-comedy 30 Minutes or Lesswith Eisenberg, which didn’t do nearly as well, grossing $37 million. Two years later, Fleischer made Gangster Squad, the first movie that teamed Stone with Ryan Gosling, and that only did slightly better with $47 million. Eisenberg and Harrelson would reteam for 2013’s Now You See Me, which did VERY well with $117.7 million, and then made sequel that did slightly less. The creators of Zombieland, writer/producers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick went on to write the hit Deadpooland its sequel. 

The point is that almost everyone involved with Zombieland went onto greater things for the most part, but it still took ten years for them to get this sequel going, and ten years is a very long time between movies. Of the four actors, Stone has clearly exploded as a box office draw with her portrayal of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel being one of the best things about that iteration. She then went on to Oscar-nominated performances in the Best Picture winner Birdman and last year’s nominee The Favourite, but it was her appearance in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land which solidified Stone’s status.

In the time since, Harrelson has been in his own share of hits and misses, but the high points were probably 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes and the Oscar Best Picture nominee Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and his turn in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. Harrelson also hosted the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live this season and seems to be recurring as Vice President Biden, so she’s been finding a younger fanbase in the past few years.

That ten years between movies is definitely something to consider since there’s a chance those that liked the movie might have forgotten that, except for the fact that the movie’s been available on a number of streaming and home entertainment platforms. 

We are in a year where “sequelitis” has struck movies that followed popular movies but maybe took too long to be released. Godzilla, King of the Monsters is a good example of this, and there are plenty of others. I guess we’ll have to see whether ten years was too long to wait on this sequel or that added time just helped grow the fanbase for the original film.

As of now, I see Zombieland Double Tap doing somewhere in the $25 to 30 million range and depending on where it falls in that range will determine whether it can best Joker for second place in its third weekend.

My Zombieland: Double Tap Review

Interview with Director Reuben Fleischer

Interview with Screenwriter/Producers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (next week)


Maleficent will probably win the weekend by virtue of being Disney, rated PG and being in more theaters, but Zombieland should do pretty decent as well, if not quite $30 million. The latter might have to take on the third weekend of Joker, which has been doing far better after opening than expected.

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

  1. Maleficent, Mistress of Evil (Walt Disney) – $45.2 million N/A (down .8 million)*
  2. Joker (Warner Bros.) – $28.5 million -48%
  3. Zombieland Double Tap (Sony) – $25.6 million N/A (down $2.2 million)*
  4. The Addams Family (U.A. Releasing) – $18.5 million -39%
  5. Gemini Man(Paramount) – $9.8 million -52%
  6. Abominable (DreamWorks/Universal) – $3.8 million -38%
  7. Downton Abbey (Focus Features) – $3 million -43%
  8. Hustlers (STXfilms) – $2.4 million -45%
  9. Judy (Roadside Attractions) – $1.9 million -35%
  10. It: Chapter Two (New Line/WB) – $1.8 million -47%

*UPDATE: A couple minor adustments based on updated theater counts but still sticking with the order of Maleficent then Joker then Zombieland: Double Tap (which is generally getting better reviews than I expected, and better than Maleficent.)

It’s another weekend with some great limited releases including Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, which has been receiving mostly raves since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. Also being released this weekend is The Lighthouse, the second feature from The Witch director Robert Eggers, this one starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two sea-hands stranded together at a lighthouse and slowly going mad. (You can read my interview with Eggers here, and look for my interview with Dafoe very soon.

Next week, the fastest October in known history comes to a close with three rather low-key films, the horror/thriller Countdown, the police drama Black and Blue and the Benedict CumberbatchMichael Shannon historical piece The Current War.

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