Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!
Last weekend turned out to be more of a non-starter than I expected, so I’m not sure this weekend’s duo of sequels will do much to turn things around, although the latest animated movie from Universal and Illumination Entertainment probably has the strongest chances at winning the weekend.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2 (Universal)
Voice Cast: Kevin Hart, Patton Oswalt, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Burress, Ellie Kemper
Directed By: Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, The Lorax, The Secret Life of Pets), Jonathan del Val
MPAA Rating: PG
As we get into the second full month of the summer, we have this year’s offering from Illumination Entertainment, the animation company responsible for the Despicable Me movies, the Minions spin-off, Sing, a couple animated Dr. Seuss movies AND The Secret Life of Pets.
That last one opened in July 2016 with $104.3 million, making it the biggest opening for an original movie not based on a pre-existing property. It went on to gross $368 million in North America and another $507 million overseas.
Of course, that sort of success almost always leads to a sequel, and three years later, we get that sequel with most of the original characters and voice cast, as well as a few new additions like Tiffany Haddish and Harrison Ford, making his first animated voice appearance. (I haven’t seen the movie so there’s not much more I can tell you about the voice cast and how it differs from the first movie.) The sequel is once again directed by Illumination wunderkind Chris Renaud, along with Jonathan Del Val, who has worked in the animation dept. at Illumination since Despicable Me.
What’s genius about the original premise for The Secret Life of Pets is that so many people in America have pets. I don’t know an exact percentage but even those who don’t have pets probably love watching cute dog and cat videos online. Having a movie that’s all about these pets and the adorable hijinks they get into is a no-brainer, which is why the first movie was such a success. Universal has upped its marketing the game for a sequel that seems to have a stronger story than the upcoming Pixar movie Toy Story 4, even if Secret Life doesn’t have quite the name-brand value.
Reviews were okay for the first movie and so are the current reviews for the new movie, but let’s face it, this is the definition of a review-proof family film since both kids and adults will want to see what the animated pets get up to. It also should benefit from the only other family movie in theaters being Warners’ Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, which is already on its way out of theaters.
I don’t think The Secret Life of Pets 2 will open as strong as its predecessor – it’s just a different market now than it was back in 2016 — but it should still do well, opening in the $75 to 80 million range. It then has two weeks to do as much business as possible before Toy Story 4 opens, so it might not make more than $300 million like its predecessor, and we’ll have to see how far it gets past $200 million.
DARK PHOENIX (20thCentury Fox)
Cast: Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Directed By: Simon Kinberg (directorial debut)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The other big movie of the weekend, and sadly, it’s seeming like it’s destined to bomb the closer we get to the weekend, is the final chapter of the X-Men franchise began by 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer way back in 2000. And then rebooted by Matthew Vaughn in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. And then sort of retconned back into the original continuity with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. And probably rebooted again by Marvel Studios sometime in the future.
Anyway, Dark Phoenix is the conclusion of the story began in X-Men: First Class with the introduction of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult as the younger versions of Professor X, Magneto, Mystique and The Beast. Those characters were previously played by Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Rebecca Romijn and Kelsey Grammar, the first of those two appearing in Days of Future Past.
The film puts more of a focus on Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, who was introduced in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, and that makes sense not only story-wise but also because Turner is becoming a bigger star due to her work on Game of Thrones. The other new new X-Men introduced in Apocalypse are also back: Alexandra Shipp, Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee are also back and presumably more focus is put on them as Lawrence has clearly become too big a star to be in these movies. The other actors have generally been successful, although Evan Peters’ Quicksilver has become a fan-favorite among the newer cast. The biggest new addition to the cast is Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain, who may only be second to Lawrence in terms of a draw.
The history of these X-Men movies at the box office is pretty amazing and all over the place when you consider that the $54.4 million opening of Singer’s 2000 movie was really good for the time but the $55.1 million for X-Men: First Class 11 years later was considered a disappointment. Maybe that’s because 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, which ALSO used the Dark Phoenix storyline as its basis, was the highest grossing chapter with $234.3 million domestic gross after a $122.9 million Memorial Day opening. X-Men: Apocalypse was also seen as a bit of a disappointment, grossing $155.4 million after Days of Future Past’s $233.9 million.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of Dark Phoenix is that it is retelling the story used in The Last Stand, a movie that was co-written by Dark Phoenix writer/director Simon Kinberg. In a way, this movie is a do-over, so hopefully he can do it right, but how many people will look at the movie as, “Well, I’ve already seen this movie, and it sucked the first time, so why should I give it another chance?”
For whatever reason, Fox has decided against including the word “X-Men” in the title, which probably won’t be that an issue to the fans but the words “Dark Phoenix” won’t necessarily mean much to the teens who would have been toddlers when The Last Stand came out.
Not helping matters is that Dark Phoenix has received a slew of negative press well before anyone saw the movie, including reports of problems on the production, multiple ending reshoots and more. It’s also been well reported that tracking has it at $50 million, and when this stuff is reported, people don’t understand that those projections aren’t based on the quality of the movie but more on general awareness and interest in seeing it. At least the latter tends to plummet when news outlets report that a movie is troubled or destined to bomb. (That really hurt the Fantastic Four movie, for instance, but that really was very bad, as well.)
Maybe it’s not too surprising but the early reviews for Dark Phoenix are absolutely AWFUL, as bad or worse than Lionsgate’s recent Hellboy (though not quite as bad as the 2015 Fantastic Four — yet!) This is definitely going to hurt a movie that has already been getting ganged up on by the same people who will praise anything Marvel Studios does to high heaven.
Something to note is that this is going to be the last installment of the Fox-driven franchise so maybe there will be more interest in the film for that reason, as there sometimes is for franchise finales. Even so, there just hasn’t been as much talk about that aspect of Dark Phoenix, as say Avengers: Endgame or the finale to Game of Thrones.
Another major problem is that Dark Phoenix is likely to lose business to The Secret Life of Pets 2 rather than the other way around, maybe because it has a very specific audience of fans where Secret Life will appeal to a wider demo.
I still (possibly blindly) have faith in the X-Men franchise and its diverse fanbase that includes many in the LGBTQ community. Still, after Godzilla, I think Dark Phoenix will end up somewhere in the $45 to 50 million range, below X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine, despite Fox (and Disney’s) best efforts to make the movie look like an exciting and worthy finale to the series. (Spoiler: It isn’t.)
This Week’s Box Office Predictions:
- The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Universal) – $76.5 million N/A*
- Dark Phoenix (20th Century Fox) – $47 million N/A*
- Aladdin (Walt Disney Pictures) – $21.5 million -50%
- Godzilla, King of the Monsters (Warner Bros.) -$20.5 million -57%
- Rocketman (Paramount) – $14.1 million -45%
- Ma (Lionsgate) – $8.2 million -55%
- John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Lionsgate) – $5.5 million -50%
- Avengers: Endgame (Marvel / Disney) – $3.5 million -53%
- Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (Warner Bros.) – $3.3 million -52%
- Booksmart (U.A. Releasing) – $1.8 million -45%
*Note: These are both significantly lower than my summer predictions back in April, and much of that is due to the box office doing worse than expected in general over the past few weeks.
Opening in limited release before expanding nationwide next week is Mindy Kaling’s comedy Late Night (Amazon) co-starring Emma Thompson, which deservedly received praise out of Sundance earlier in the year. Another movie that received raves at Sundance is Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, released by A24 this weekend. Ron Howard returns to the doc genre with his movie about opera legend Pavarotti (CBS Films) as well.
Next week, Men in Black International reunites Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, while Samuel L. Jackson is back as Shaft in New Line’s sequel.
Edward Douglas has been writing about movies and other forms of entertainment for over 25 years, so he’s probably older than you.