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

Happy New Year! As has been the case quite a few years, the first full weekend of the year is rarely a good time to release a new movie, which may be why studios tend to lean on horror movies that don’t have to make too much money to be profitable. This year once again sees a horror movie and one with a familiar name brand…

THE GRUDGE (Sony/Screen Gems)

Sony / Screen Gems

Cast: Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, William Sadler, Frankie Faison, Tara Westwood
Directed By: Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother, Piercing)
MPAA Rating: R

If you’re a fan of J-horror, a horror subgenre that kind of had its heyday a decade or so back, then you’re probably already familiar with director Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On: The
Grudge, its various sequels, as well as the attempts to make an “Americanized version” of it, produced by legendary horror filmmaker Sam Raimi.

Shimizu’s movie was such a hit in Japan that Sony immediately jumped on board a remake, also directed by Shimizu, also set in Japan, but mostly in English with the likes of Sarah Michelle Gellar in a starring role.That movie opened in late October 2004 with $39 million on its way to $110 million, clearly given a boost by Halloween, even with the original Saw opening with $18 million on its second weekend. That was also PG-13, but at the time, that was still a very good number for a horror film. Two years later, The Grudge 2opened over an October weekend but failed to find much of an audience, only grossing $39 million total domestically after a $20 million opening. This pointed to two things: a.) the lack of interest in a sequel, and b.) that it wasn’t a very good sequel that failed to get repeat business leading up to Halloween. Sony still went ahead and made a third movie that went straight to home video – I’ve never seen it.

Apparently, enough time has passed for Sony to give The Grudge another go, and this time, the studio and Raimi have brought on filmmaker Nicolas Pesce, who found many fans among critics with his edgy horror films The Eyes of My Mother and Piercing (adapted from a Japanese novel), proving himself to be a director with the right visual sensibilities to take on the eerie premise that drives the Grudge franchise.

For this new reboot, much of what came before has been thrown away even though there are still throwback images to stuff that’s been done in previous movies – the spirit hand in the shower, for instance – so it will be interesting to see if this will be a movie where one has to know any of those prior films before seeing it or works as a complete stand-alone.

Pesce has put together an impressive cast, and not just for a horror movie.  First of all, he has Betty Gilpin from the popular Netflix series Glow; horror ringer Lin Shaye, star of the “Insidious” movies; popular actor John Cho, who starred in Screen Gems’ breakout hit Searching, the recent “Star Trek” movies and was the Harold of “Harold and Kumar,” and Andrea Riseborough, who has been in a wide range of movies, including the popular 2018 indie horror, Mandy.  Although the cast is great, it’s going to be all about the eerie visuals and that disconcerting modem-like noise made by the spirits, which to this day, after seeing about four movies in this series, I could not explain them to you.

The most important thing to remember about the first weekend of January is that you’re dealing with a lot of people going back to work after an extended break. Going to the movies are on very few minds, except for maybe the younger generation, high school and college-age kids who haven’t returned to school yet and have probably already seen everything else and have nothing better to do this weekend.

The latter reason might be why horror movies have generally done well on this weekend, including The Devil Inside from Paramount’s Insurge imprint, which kicked off January 2012 with an astounding $33.7 million. It then tanked in the weekends to follow, making only $53.2 million total. (Still not bad considering its million-dollar budget.) Those big openings and subsequent drops are typical, though, as seen by Insidious: The Last Key, which opened two years ago with $29.6 million but ended up with only $67.7 million. Other big January horror openers include White Noiseand Texas Chainsaw 3D. 

Last January, Sony opened the high-concept Escape Room on Jan. 4, and though it opened with just $18.2 million, it held up better over the following weeks to make $57 million. Sony has the sequel slated for this summer. Actually, that last one could be a good benchmark for The Grudge, which also has the added name-brand value of the popular horror series, though we do have to bear in mind that this version is R-rated which might limit the number of younger teens who might be able to get in to see it.

There was a time when Screen Gems wouldn’t screen any of its movies to film critics and those days seem to be back, as they’re only screening The Grudgeto press on Thursday night, the same day the movie opens. Sure, one could say that it’s due to the holidays – last year’s Escape Roomonly screened on January 2 — but maybe the studio doesn’t expect critics to be in a good mood post-holidays. I probably won’t be seeing the movie until Thursday myself, but there’s a chance the studio wants to sell some tickets based on their solid marketing campaign before there are any negative reviews to change minds.  probably hoping that they sell some tickets before word gets out that the movie may not be as good as it looks. (I haven’t seen it yet, so I can only assume.)

Anyway, I thinkThe Grudgeshould be able to open about as well as last year’s Escape Room, so not as good as the 2004 remake but maybe on par with its sequel, so somewhere in the $17 to 20 million range, but probably not make more than $50 million total domestically.

My Review of The Grudge (Friday morning)

This Week’s Box Office Predictions:

The first weekend after New Year’s can often be tougher to predict than the one after Christmas since there are so many factors involved whether people still have any energy to go to the movies, especially with only one new movie catering to a very specific audience. This probably won’t be too crazy a weekend in terms of business, but just an intermediary one until the other January films start rolling in next week. 

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Lucasfilm/Disney) – $35 million -51%
  2. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony) – $21.3 million -39%
  3. The Grudge (Sony/Screen Gems) – $18 million N/A
  4. Frozen II (Disney) – $10.7 million -35%
  5. Little Women (Sony) – $10.2 million -38%
  6. Spies in Disguise (20th Century Fox) – $8.6 million -36%
  7. Knives Out (Lionsgate) – $6 million -31%
  8. Uncut Gems (A24) – $4.6 million -47%
  9. Bombshell (Lionsgate) – $2.6 million -45%
  10. Cats (Universal) – $2.3 million -48%

(No limited releases this week – I told you it would be a slow week!)

Next week, we get four new movies, including a couple that opened limited over Christmas Day. Those two are Sam Mendes’ WWII drama 1917and the Michael B. Jordan court drama Just Mercy. The new movies are the comedies Like A Boss, starring Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne, and the underwater thriller called (what else?) Underwater, starring Kristen Stewart.