After box office forecasts were off wildly last weekend, bringing 2016 ticket sales to a three-day low of $88.6M, there’s a once-burned/twice-learned feeling among distribution executives heading into this Friday as September’s second-biggest title after Sully, Sony/MGM’s The Magnificent Seven, hits theaters.
Some tracking reports see a three-day north of $40M for Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 classic (which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai), but many feel a more realistic No. 1 opening is in the low- to mid-$30M range at 3,665 theaters.
While Westerns’ openings can vary from $15M-$30M, there’s a number of factors keeping industry sources’ projections for Mag 7 in the $30M vicinity. Adults and African-American moviegoers have proved to be a reliable audience with Denzel Washington movies. Being paired with Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt further props Mag 7‘s outlook. Currently, the pic’s Rotten Tomatoes score is 63%; if it were higher, Mag 7‘s opening could break the $40M mark. Additionally, Sony will have a full arsenal of Imax, PLF and Dbox locations. Previews start at 7 PM Thursday at 2,800 sites. Mag 7 was co-financed LStar Capital and Village Roadshow for an estimated $90M.
Still, a debut in the $30M-$35M range would rank Magnificent Seven as one of the top openings for September outside family and genre titles. The film is coming off of its premieres at the Toronto and Venice festivals.
Fuqua’s most recent collaboration with Washington, September 2014’s The Equalizer, delivered a career B.O. high for the director of $34.1M. For Washington, Equalizer ranked as his third-best domestic debut after American Gangster ($43.6M) and Safe House ($40.2M).
Meanwhile, Storks, produced by Warner Bros Animation Group, also looks healthy, with a second-place opening in the high-$20M to low-$30M range at 3,900-plus theaters. Family moviegoers have come to expect a solid animated film during the third weekend of September — typically those are Sony titles such as last year’s Hotel Transylvania 2, which posted a record opening for the month with $48.5M — and the buzz on this one is climbing on Rotten Tomatoes, with reviews at 67% fresh. Directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, Storks follows the birds in an era where they deliver packages. But then one of ’em, Junior (Andy Samberg), turns on the Baby Making Machine, and it’s up to him to make his first baby delivery. Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele and Ike Barinholtz are among those providing voices. Storks also will fly in 3D. Thursday previews begin at 6 PM.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s Sully will ease at least 50% in its third weekend for a FSS of $10.8M. Sully ultimately will give Clint Eastwood his fifth $100M-plus grosser, and Tom Hanks his 19th, it just won’t be by this Sunday but next week. Meanwhile, last weekend’s entries Blair Witch, Snowden and Bridget Jones’s Baby are in freefall.
Among notable specialty fare bowing this weekend, Disney has in limited release at 52 venues Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, based on the true story about an Ugandan street vendor who becomes a worldwide chess champion. The ideal per-theater per industry estimates is $7K-$10K. Disney is appealing to both faith-based, specialty crowds and African American moviegoers. Broad Green is handling Amazon’s TIFF 2015 pickup The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet as a fashion designer who returns to her small Australian town to exact revenge on those who wronged her. Here in the States, The Dressmaker will twirl around 34 theaters in nine markets: Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C. In Canada, eOne has the quirky comedy in three theaters and markets.
“The box office is not broken,” asserts one distribution executive looking at last weekend’s causalities. Aside from several titles vying for females, the reason several predictions were off stemmed from the presence of vintage sequels/reboots such as Blair Witch and Bridget Jones on the tracking boards. And if there’s ever a misread on tracking, it’s typically with sequels. They always look stronger on paper, making them harder to predict. When it comes to audience polling, established brands always look better than original IP.
Couple this with the fact that Blair Witch was hitting theaters in the shadow of a massive horror B.O. heatwave where titles weren’t just mass-appealing, they were stoking critics as well. And the Adam Wingard-directed horror installment just didn’t live up to its expectations coming out of Comic-Con.
In regards to Bridget Jones’s Baby, romantic comedies have been doomed at the B.O. for some time. Raunch is more the norm among women with comedies like Bad Moms, which continues to sleep its way to higher grosses, currently counting $110.1M Stateside. With the Bridget Jones property and actress Renee Zellweger being outdated, who were older women going to go with to watch this movie?
So if tracking gets iffy when it comes to predicting $100M-plus openings due to such tentpoles’ small statistical sample size, does that mean it’s now broken when forecasting lower-grossing titles? Distribution executives will have a hard time hearing this, but the answer is no. In time, the next evolution of tracking will go deeper and be able to pinpoint the exact wattage and strength of a film franchise. Tracking is still big, it’s the sequels that got small.