Welcome back to the Beat’s weekly Box Office Preview!
After last week’s rather down weekend*, we’re into November and the lucrative holiday movie season… except that this year, we have two major streaming services launching in the next couple weeks. This weekend, the return of the “Terminator” sci-fi franchise is going to be the one to beat, but frankly, I’m not sure it’s going to be as big as anyone involved would like. The other three movies opening this weekend will be lucky to get much attention at all. Oh, yeah, there’s also that Apple TV+ thing launching Friday, so how many Apple users would rather curl up with their iTech and watch some of that new content instead? I guess we’ll see.
*Note: Despite the title and write-up, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil won the top spot at the box office once actuals came in Monday afternoon.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (Paramount)
Cast: Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Gabriel Luna, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Directed By: Tim Miller (Deadpool)
MPAA Rating: R
It has now been four years since Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions last tried to relaunch the sci-fi franchise begun by James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger way back in 1984. 2015’s Terminator: Genisys, starring Emilia Clarke aka Game of Thrones’ “Daenerys,” opened with a pitiful $27 million in June that year and grossed $89.8 million domestic and $440.6 million worldwide. Considering it cost $155 million, that doesn’t seem profitable enough to make another movie, but clearly, Skydance was undaunted by that poor showing to not try to keep that intellectual property alive.
Rather than continuing that planned reboot trilogy, they decided to go back and start from scratch, or rather, they would just forget the past few reboots and just go back to Cameron’s first two movies, bring back Linda Hamilton – still the most popular Sarah Connor to date – and also have Cameron get more involved.
Directing this direct sequel to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day is Deadpool helmer and visual effects expert Tim Miller, trying to deliver a movie in the vein of Cameron’s grittier earlier films with an appropriate R-rating. As mentioned, Hamilton is back, and that’s part of the movie’s biggest selling point, but it also stars Mackenzie Davis as a new enhanced human named Grace, and she’s very much a sci-fi star in the making after starring in Ridley Scott’s The Martianand the 2017 Blade Runner 2049, but she also starred with Charlize Theron in Jason Reitman’s 2018 dramedy Tully.
Besides focusing more on the women in this one, Terminator: Dark Fatealso takes a noticeably Latinx turn with the addition of newcomer Natalia Reyes as a new Mexican Sarah Connor-like heroine, and Gabriel Luna, who plays Robbie Reyes aka Ghost Rider on ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as a new Terminator. This shouldn’t be too surprising as Hollywood studios have started to learn what a huge percentage of moviegoers are made up by America’s Latinx community, something that is greatly helped the action franchise “Fast and the Furious.” Sylvester Stallone’s recent Rambo: Last Bloodalso tried to capitalize on this but didn’t necessarily succeed.
Looking at the box office history of this franchise can make one somewhat understand why those who own the rights (which have been passed around like a hot potato between various companies for decades) want to keep it alive. T2 made $200 million domestically, which is pretty good for 1991, but it also made $515 million worldwide, which is still the most for the franchise. 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines took an overall dip but also cost significantly more to make than T2, so it was less profitable. The 2009 attempt to remake the franchise with McG’s 2009 movie Terminator: Salvation, the only movie sans Schwarzenegger, made just $125 million domestic and $365.5 million worldwide, but then Genisysdoing better overseas than domestically should have been fair warning that Americans were getting tired of the disappointments.
Although fans have been burned by this franchise many times before, they will probably give this one a chance since reviews so far have generally been good, and there are enough smart American filmgoers who will want to decide for themselves.
I’m a little torn on this myself, since I’ve been a fan since I first saw Cameron’s original movie in theaters, so I really want this franchise to regain its former glory. The only way that will happen is if it delivers a significant opening weekend, better than the last few movies. Terminator 3 opened with $44 million in terms of 2003 box office money, while Salvation opened six years later with $42.5 million. Those numbers are practically nothing when compared to the $100 and $200 million plus openings of recent Marvel and Star Wars films, but that’s the range where Terminator: Dark Fate needs to open to not be considered a complete disaster. The fanboy in me wants it to open in the $50 to 60 million range, but the realist in me expects it to be closer to $40 million and hopefully, not lower.
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (New Line/WB)
Cast: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Dallas Roberts, Fisher Stevens, Leslie Mann, Ethan Suplee
Directed By: Edward Norton (Keeping the Faith)
MPAA Rating: R
This week’s major underdog (one of three, actually) is this new movie written, directed and starring Edward Norton, who has been trying to adapt Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 bestselling novel almost since it was released.
It’s a very different take on the noir crime thriller, a movie genre that has been a staple of cinema going all the way back to the ‘20s and ‘30s. In it, Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a private investigator in ‘50s New York whose mentor (Bruce Willis) is murdered, and he must follow the clues to find out who killed him and why. It’s not your typical noir murder mystery as Lionel suffers from Tourrete syndrome even though he has a sharp, analytical brain, and it may be why he’s not taken as a serious threat. The rest of the cast includes Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale and a who’s who of New York theater actors playing characters that Lionel meets on his journey to find the truth.
One would think that a movie with a cast like that one would be treated like a prestige film with awards chances, and that’s certainly Warners’ strategy by releasing it in early November, but also premiering it at fall festivals like the one in Telluride and having it close the New York Film Festival.
The problem is that it hasn’t been received nearly as well as some may have hoped, so it might not be in the awards conversation at all. Part of this is the nature of the festival circuit where journalists are seeing movies like Motherless Brooklynnext to much more exciting and younger-skewing films like Parasiteor Knives Out. That shouldn’t be that much of an issue, because the movie is clearly going to be targeted towards an older and more cultured audience, but they are also prone to reading reviews more than younger people, too. The biggest issue that some might have with the movie is the fact that it deals a lot with New York City development, something that probably won’t have much interest to anyone outside of large cities and also older males who might be more interested in Terminator: Dark Fate.
On top of that, Warners has shifted its marketing on the movie, getting away from the period noir aspect of the story and Lionel’s Tourette Syndrome and focusing more on the movie as a real estate thriller, of sorts. The studio is also releasing Norton’s movie moderately into just 1,200 theaters, probably focused heavily in New York and other big cities, and that’s likely to keep it from opening with more than $5 million.
It’s a shame since this is a really strong drama, but it just can’t stand up when you’re comparing it to the likes of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which also played New York Film Festival and is getting a very prestigious release this weekend. (See below.)
HARRIET (Focus Features)
Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr, Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Colloway, Omar J. Dorsey
Directed By: Kasi Lemmons (Black Nativity, Talk to Me, The Caveman’s Valentine, Eve’s Bayou)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The other movie that will try to make a mark in a box office that’s noticeably struggling is this biopic about pioneer abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who helped save hundreds of slaves in the period before and during the Civil War, bringing them to Philadelphia. It’s a showcase for the talents of Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, who starred in one of my favorite movies of 2018, Bad Times at the El Royale. She’s a very talented actress and singer who some feel might be in the awards race for her performance in this movie. It also stars another Broadway Tony winner in Leslie Odom Jr., who originated the Aaron Burr role in Lin Manuel Miranda‘s hit musical Hamilton.
Harriet is directed by Kasi Lemmons,a highly experienced filmmaker, who has been making movies from both sides of the camera for over thirty years. Her first movie as a director was 1997’s Eve’s Bayou, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Jurnee Smolett-Bell – who happens to be playing Black Canary in the upcoming Birds of Prey movie.
Harriet premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and it got only slightly better reviews than Motherless Brooklyn, although Focus Features is releasing this into a moderate 2,000 theaters, which is still more than Norton’s movie. That might help it do slightly better, but I still see this as a History Channel type movie, which I’m not sure anyone will be rushing out to see in theaters. I think it might make $6 million or slightly more this weekend, but I can’t really see this being a huge hit with so many stronger movies on the way.
ARCTIC DOGS (Entertainment Studios)
Voice Cast: Jeremy Renner, Heidi Klum, Anjelica Huston, James Franco, Alec Baldwin, John Cleese, Omar Sy, Laurie Holden, Michael Madsen
Directed By: Aaron Woodley (Spark: A Space Tail, The Entitled)
MPAA Rating: PG
Although I said above that Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn was this week’s underdog, here’s an animated movie about dogs that I know next to nothing about. It’s the latest release from Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures but it’s their first attempt to release a family film and an animated one at that.
This has not been a great year for animation as Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story 4and DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World have been two of the strongest releases with Universal’s The Secret Life of Pets 2disappointing. One recent animated bomb is DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable and earlier in the year there was The Angry Birds Movie 2, STXfilms’ UglyDolls, Missing Link and Paramount’s Action Park. The fact these kiddie movies failed to bring in their expected family audience could mean that CG animation has run its course, although Disney’s upcoming Frozen 2is likely to turn that around.
Arctic Dogs’ voice cast is an interesting one, partially because two of its main voice cast, Jeremy Renner and James Franco, have been targeted by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Renner due to a custody battle with his wife that has had fans calling for Marvel to replace him as Hawkeye. (Hopefully, they won’t do that, because this sounds like more of the internet outrage that led to James Gunn being removed and then reinstated from Guardians of the Galaxy.) Honestly, most kids won’t care about this stuff, but who knows how many even know about this movie? It’s not like Entertainment Studios has been burning down the house with ads
Even so, ESMP is getting this movie into 3,000 theaters and that sort of nationwide saturation and the lack of strong family films outside The Addams Family – which could very well get a post-Halloween bump – could help Arctic Dogsplace well even if it’s not making that much per-theater.
In fact, Addams Family is probably going to hold Arctic Dogs back and keep it from making more than $8 million this weekend. Even with the family competition in the weeks to come, the family film probably could make $20 to 25 million if it gets a bump over Thanksgiving weekend, but honestly, I feel like theaters might have dumped it by then.
Terminator: Dark Fate will win the weekend with relative ease as it takes down Jokerafter it just missed its return to the #1 spot this past weekend, but it might not be the huge blockbuster Paramount might be hoping for, even if it opens better than 2016’s Genysis.
This Week’s Box Office Predictions:
- Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount) – $41.2 million N/A
- Joker (Warner Bros.) – $11.2 million -42%
- Maleficent, Mistress of Evil (Walt Disney) – $10 million -48%
- The Addams Family (U.A. Releasing) – $8 million -34%
- Arctic Dogs (Entertainment Studios) – $7.3 million N/A
- Harriet (Focus Features) – $6 million N/A
- Zombieland Double Tap (Sony) – $5.5 million -53%
- Motherless Brooklyn (New Line/WB) – $4.7 million N/A
- Black and Blue (Screen Gems) – $3.8 million -55%
- Countdown (STXfilms) – $3.5 million -61%
There’s a number of movies getting limited releases this weekend, but the one that’s going to get the most attention is Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which is getting a very prestigious theatrical release, including a couple screenings a day at New York’s historic 1,000-seat Belasco Theatre in Times Square. Considering that the movie reunites Scorsese with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel with Al Pacino joining the mix (and likely getting his first Oscar nomination in many years), this is going to be big cinematic draw this weekend. You can read my review of Scorsese’s new movie here.
Next week, Stephen King’s The Shining gets a sequel in Doctor Sleep, starring Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, along with the holiday rom-com Last Christmas, Roland Emmerich’s Midway and John Cena’s family comedy, Playing with Fire.