Here's your estimated 4-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Hidden Figures - $22.8 million ($25.7 million total)
2. Rogue One - $21.0 million ($477.2 million total)
3. Sing - $19.5 million ($213.3 million total)
4. Underworld: Blood Wars - $13.1 million ($13.1 million total)
5. La La Land - $10.0 million ($51.6 million total)
6. Passengers - $8.8 million ($80.8 million total)
7. Why Him? - $6.5 million ($48.5 million total)
8. Moana - $6.4 million ($225.3 million total)
9. Fences - $4.7 million ($40.6 million total)
10. Assassin’s Creed - $3.8 million ($49.5 million total)
The Big Stories
2016 may be over, but there are still a number of layovers from the biggest box office year in history still looking to add to its total. Next week, Patriots Day, Live By Night and Silence expand further into theaters. The week after goes 20th Century Women and we’ll finally get to see The Founder with Michael Keaton. Matthew McConaughey in Gold helps close out the month and we’ll finally get to hear that song the Golden Globes nominated. All this and films like Rogue One and Sing still raking in the dough. On top of it all two more expansions this weekend challenge the fifth film in a franchise that nobody but skin tight rubber fetishists likely asked for. At least one of them even beat the mighty Star Wars in its fourth weekend.
Like Invisible Cubes?
Since Christmas we have been watching the limited releases and which ones were finding audiences. This week the leader and the trailer of that pack open for everyone to see. The leader, Hidden Figures, was partially that because it was in more theaters (25) than any of the others. But its numbers were still very impressive and all signs pointed to a solid expansion. Once again, tracking companies lowballed its potential and now we can all say that Theodore Melfi’s film somehow overperformed when the writing on the wall was already there. What wasn’t was just how well audiences would respond to it.
The film’s 92% at Rotten Tomatoes puts it in an impressive, if not exclusive, company of films from last year. Over 20 wide releases hit the 90% mark with critics in 2016 but only two managed to get an “A+” from Cinemascore. Miracles from Heaven was one. Hidden Figures was the other. By my count there have been just 37 previous films since 1998 to receive the PLUS as part of its “A” score. That is what we call rare territory. It includes eight Disney animated films (five of them Pixar,) at least one Narnia film (the first one), a Harry Potter (the second) a Lord of the Rings (the third one) and Marvel’s The Avengers. There are faith-based films liked the aforementioned Miracles as well as Woodlawn, Soul Surfer and even The Passion of the Christ. There are also your support-the-troops/kill-the-terrorists films Lone Survivor and American Sniper (a fact that could also boost Patriots Day’s score next week.) The list also contains Selma, Akeelah and the Bee, Drumline, Ray, Antwone Fisher, 42, The Help, Finding Forrester, Remember the Titans, The Best Man Holiday, The Blind Side and two Tyler Perry films (Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Why Did I Get Married?) So maybe the score was inevitable.
What wasn’t, at least according to tracking numbers, was the $22-plus million it did this weekend to outdo Rogue One. (The Force Awakens was at $42.8 million in its fourth weekend.) The average multiple for films with an “A+” and an 90%+ RT score is a whipping 4.48. That would put it in the vicinity of just over $105 million. Not bad for a $25-million production and just what the struggling Fox of late could use. Assassin’s Creed has nearly fallen out of the top ten, destined to do under $60 million. Even with the international bucks ($50 million) added in, it is still currently one of the biggest bombs of 2016. Why Him also still needs roughly another $48 million before it can be called a success. If Hidden Figures sticks to its path though, it won’t even need the probable light international dollars to get into profit for the studio. As it is on the road to potentially grab Oscar nominations for Octavia Spencer, its screenplay and maybe even Best Picture, the film’s profile is likely to be boosted well into February.
Love, Friendship and Blood Wars
Kate Beckinsale steps back into her rubber werewolf-fighting costume for the fourth time. (She sat out of Underworld III: Season of the Witch.) While we could go round the bend on who exactly enjoys these films and continues to pay money for them, let’s look at it from the studio perspective. After all, there must be a reason they continue to make this franchise, right? Screen Gems opened the first film back in September 2003. It opened to $21.7 million, had an unimpressive 2.38 multiple and grossed a total of $95.7 million worldwide. But it only cost $22 million, so color that a profit. Along comes Underworld: Evolution in January 2006. It opens to a better $26.8 million resulting in a lower multiple of 2.32 and grosses over $111 million worldwide. But it cost over twice as much at $45 million and with a reported P&A cost at the time of $38 million meant this film was a loser. Franchise over, right?
Nope, out goes Kate Beckinsale and director/husband Len Wiseman and in comes Rhona Mitra and a focus towards the werewolves in Underworld: Tokyo Drift. Actually it was called Rise of the Lycans and it still managed a $20.8 million opening in January 2009. But the multiple dropped to 2.19 and it finished with its lowest worldly total to date with $91.3 million. It cost a little less with a $35 million budget, but add in the $27 million P&A and you have another loser. Beckinsale returns to where the rubber meets the road in January 2012 for Underworld: Awakening. It opens with $25.3 million, has its best ever multiple in 2.46 and finishes with over $160 million worldwide; its best ever. Hold the phone though. The film cost $70 million and with P&A cost an even $100 million. The math continues not to add up and that is three theatrical losers in a row.
The only sensible answer? Make another one! So here we are with Underworld: Blood Wars. No screenings for critics. Again. It kicks off 2017 with a 19% at Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 31%, 16%, 29% and 26% of the others. Screen Gems has never been worried about critical support for the franchise. They only care about its fans. Well, most of them did not even show up this time as Blood Wars is the first in the series to not hit $20 million. Just $13.1 million over the weekend. Even if we generously grant it a 2.5 multiple that will only be a $32-33 million tally. On the bright side, just as it did from Angels & Demons to Inferno, Sony has recognized that sequel budgets can be cut in half sometimes. It almost worked with Inferno (thanks to the international dollar) and if Blood Wars can grab the $97 million that Awakening did overseas (it has already made $42 million,) this thing could actually be in the black. And if that happens, we may be seeing an Underworld 6.
Tales of the Top Ten (and Beyond)
Hidden Figures this week beat the two domestic champions of the holiday season. (Sing will be, at least, by sometime next weekend.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is going to pass Finding Dory this week to become the top grossing U.S. release of 2016. It is already the 8th highest-grossing film domestically of all-time and will be setting its sights on The Dark Knight’s $534 million to become the 6th. At over $914 million the film is still on its march to make Disney the first studio to release four billion dollar films in a calendar year, but that day is coming too. If it can possibly be imagined, Star Wars Episode VIII could very well be the first film to ever gross a cool billion at the U.S. Box Office.
Universal and Illumination’s Sing may not reach a billion but it is still hoping to carve a path to $300 million in the U.S. By day 19, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was up to $238 million. Sing is currently at $213. Though the release dates skew their paces a bit, on the same weekend in 2013 The Hobbit grossed $17.5 million while Sing has locked down $19.5 million. Unless Monster Trucks somehow takes a large chunk of its audience away next weekend it should also beat The Hobbit’s $9.1 million and its $6.1 million the week after. We’ll continue to monitor Sing’s progress but it is going to inch its way towards being the 10th $300 million grosser from 2016.
Speaking of songs and animation, La La Land has expanded again to over 1500 theaters and has now taken in over $51 million. The Oscar nominations are still over two weeks away and as it is likely to become one of the leading nominees (it just took the all-time record for Golden Globe wins with 7 statuettes,) it is unfathomable to think this film will not cruise to over $100 million; just the 11th film in Lionsgate’s history to do so. On the animated front, Moana is about to be eclipsed by Sing, but it is nearly at the $230 million we promised it was headed towards well back in November. In fact its going to do much better than that. It is still $6 million ahead of Toy Story 2’s $245 million pace (but did fall a tad behind of its weekend pace.) It’s over $418 million worldwide and is looking to become Disney’s 7th half-billion grosser of 2016.
Sony’s Passengers is entering the big fade. With just $8 million this weekend adding up to an $80 million total, the film is in danger of hitting the $100 million mark. This would be a huge disappointment for the studio and potentially an even bigger loss. Even if it grabs another $20 million in the States, without at least another $172 million overseas ($56 million to date) it will be well into the red. Paramount’s Fences has also cooled down a bit after a strong start over the holidays. It is also likely to garner a little boost with the Oscar nominations on Jan. 23, but it will not be in the Top Ten next week. Future Oscar contender Manchester by the Sea has also ducked out of the Top Ten but its nearly $34 million to date is a nice win for Amazon and Roadside.
The big disappointment of the week and maybe the year is Focus’ A Monster Calls. The remarkable, yet challenging, family film expanded to over 1500 theaters and grossed a paltry $2 million. Personally anyone who paid to see Underworld 5 instead of this should no longer be allowed to handle money. Thankfully, J.A. Bayona is directing the next Jurassic Park film so he will finally have a gigantic hit and can continue going on to make great films like The Orphanage, The Impossible and this beautiful film which has at least generated another $34 million in revenue internationally.
In more limited release, Ben Affleck’s Live By Night has been just as big a disappointment with only $169,000 in three weeks. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson has grossed more ($221,000) and it opened three days later than Affleck’s gangster epic. 20th Century Women is up to $395,000 while Martin Scorsese’s Silence upped to 51 theaters and nearly doubled its total to $862,000. The film to watch next week though may well be Peter Berg’s Patriots Day. In just 7 theaters over the past three weeks it has grossed $870,000. It may not be the $3.1 million that American Sniper had, but it had more than twice what Lone Survivor had after two weeks employing the same limited strategy into January. That film opened to $37.8 million when it finally debuted. Given the current state of the country and recent focus on terrorism, this film could really strike a chord and be a major hit to add to that already impressive 2016 total.
Erik Childress can be heard each week evaluating box office on WGN Radio with Nick Digilio as well as on Business First AM with Angela Miles and his Movie Madness Podcast.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]