The Fate Of The Furious Revs Up The Easter Box Office -- The Weekend Warrior

– by Edward Douglas
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Welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out. 

Will Eight Be Enough for the Fast and Furious Franchise To Continue Its Reign?

It’s Easter weekend and really the only movie that matters is going to be THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (Universal), the eighth installment of the unstoppable street racing franchise, which continues with its popular ensemble cast, but without the late Paul Walker who had been there since the very beginning. None of the family movies currently in theaters should have much effect on it, as they split up any younger Easter weekend business, but anyone between 13 and 30 and older will be at this weekend’s high profile release.

When the original The Fast and the Furious opened in 2001, people weren’t expecting too much from it. Its stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, who hadn’t really done much of note beforehand, but it came out at a time when street-racing was becoming popular enough that the kids were excited about the prospects of a sexy action movie about the “sport.”(It didn’t hurt that the Nicolas Cage/Angelina Jolie remake of Gone in 60 Seconds did pretty well a year earlier.)  The movie opened with an impressive (for the time) $40 million and grossed $144.5 million. Again, not bad for the times.

Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen left to go make xXx, leaving Paul Walker to work with John Singleton, bringing on rapper Ludacris, for the sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious.  It opened bigger ($50 million) but didn’t gross as much as its predecessors, and when Universal went to director Justin Lin (Annapolis) to direct the third installment, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, in Japan a few years later without Walker or Diesel, was done as a straight-to-DVD picture. At the last minute, the studio gave the movie a summer release, and though it didn’t fare that well, it ended with a shot of Diesel’s Dom Toretto that got the fans excited for the possibilities.

Both Walker and Diesel indeed returned for 2009’s Fast and the Furious, again with Lin, which effectively relaunched the franchise with a $70 million opening, in early April no less. It also surpassed the gross of the original movie with $155 million. Its 2011 follow-up Fast Five brought Dwayne Johnson into the mix, and it did even better by being the first movie to cross $200 million, while its sequel, Fast and Furious 6, was moved to the Memorial Day weekend where it opened with $97.4 million ($117 mil. with the holiday Monday) and $239 million domestic.

Suddenly, the action franchise had turned more into an Ocean’s 11-like ensemble piece with an impressive cast made up from actors who had appeared in the series so far. Then, in the middle of filming Furious 7, the movie’s star Paul Walker died suddenly, and ironically, in a horrible car accident (unrelated to the movie), delaying the seventh installment’s release, directed by James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring), for a year.  When it opened two years ago on the sixth anniversary of the franchise relaunch, it opened with $147 million, greatly helped by the fan’s wanting to pay tribute to the late Walker. It grossed over $350 million domestically and was the first movie to cross a billion worldwide, which was enough for Universal Pictures to green light not just one sequel, but another TRILOGY with three more movies scheduled all the way up until April 2021!

That brings us up to date with the new movie, The Fate of the Furious--get it? “F8” sounds like fate--which is being released over Easter weekend, just like Furious 7, still the biggest movie in the franchise. This movie is being sold on the premise of Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torreto going rogue against his friends and family for an unknown reason.

Once again, the franchise has changed directors with F. Gary Gray from the 2015 hit Straight Outta Compton coming on board to helm, and most of the cast returning, including Vin Diesel, who has yet to have a huge hit outside the FF franchise. Since Furious 7, Diesel made The Last Witch Hunter, a fantasy thriller that grossed just $27 million, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk--the biggest bomb of both their careers--and earlier this year, he returned to another franchise with xXx: The Return of Xander Gage, which grossed in total just a little more than the original did opening weekend in 2002.

In some ways, the real actor pulling the weight behind the franchise now is former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson aka “Franchise Viagra,” whose movies since Furious 7 have all grossed over $125 million, while his participation in Disney’s animated Moana, helped that movie gross almost $250 million. It’s hard to deny that Johnson is becoming the real powerhouse of the franchise. Also returning is Jason Statham as the last movie’s villain Deckard Shaw, this time switching sides and working with the team to stop a new villain with connections to his past.

Joining the cast are two Oscar-winning actresses in Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren (in a smaller role), Theron playing Cipher, the movie’s new primary baddie and Mirren as the relative of two previous antagonists. Scott Eastwood joins as an agent working with Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody, who is also back from the previous movie. (Some may note that Theron and Statham previously worked with Gray on his action hit The Italian Job, while Vin Diesel teamed with Gray for the revenge thriller A Man Apart around the same time.)

There’s a good chance that fans who liked Furious 7 will be out in force for its sequel, although there’s also a chance that the franchise has peaked. Some may be tentative about a FF movie without Walker, who was thought to be the heart of the franchise.  The eighth movie will also be lacking the morbid curiosity that comes whenever an actor dies before a big movie of theirs is released, something we saw play a major factor in the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight over Batman Begins years earlier. There’s a good chance some younger women will be less interested in the movie without a pretty boy like Walker to look at, as well.

Even so, Universal is giving this movie the widest release of any Fast and Furious  movie so far as it opens in more than 4,200 theaters nationwide, as well as in IMAX theaters where the higher up-charge will help boost its opening weekend. (Apparently, Fate of the Furious is being released onto over 1,000 IMAX screens worldwide, making it the widest IMAX release ever.)

Like Furious 7, the new movie is opening over Easter weekend, which means the movie is likely to be heavily front-loaded to Thursday and Good Friday (with many schools closed and people off work). It will be interesting to see how much it does in Thursday previews, because they’re much more prominent now than when the previous movie made $15.8 million in Thursday previews. 

With that in mind, the “F-eighth” installment of the movie should be good for somewhere in the $120 to 130 million range this weekend on its way to somewhere below $300 million total domestic, making it the second highest-grossing movie in the franchise. Do the filmmakers have enough ideas to keep this going through a ninth and tenth movie? Probably, but how well this one does versus #7 is going to be eyed very carefully by everyone involved.

LRM Interview with F. Gary Gray

It’s very likely that everything else playing in theaters might get misplaced, ignored or just plain forgotten at best, which is bad news for SPARK: A SPACE TAIL (Open Road), a very low-profile animated movie about a space monkey and his friends that’s being released in just 350 theaters. Besides its moderate release, this movie is very late to the game considering the number of family and animated films that have opened over the past month, many of them still likely to be bringing in box office business. A voice cast that includes Patrick Stewart, Stuart Sarandon, Jessica Biel and even Hilary Swank won’t make much of a difference.  I haven’t seen the movie and doubt I will, so I have nothing to say about its potential quality, except that this is unlikely to do as well as Open Road’s animated hit The Nut Job ($19.4 mil. opening, $64 mil. domestic gross), especially since they’re only releasing it in 350 theaters, so it’s more likely to do less than last year’s Max Steel ($3.8 million gross).

Also expanding nationwide is last week’s Top Pick, Marc Webb’s GIFTED, starring Chris Evans, Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer, which is expected to hit about 1,000 theaters nationwide, and it should be good for $2 to 3 million this weekend, allowing it to possibly slip into the bottom half of the Top 10.

BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

(NOTE: Check back on Thursday night for any updates to these predictions due to changing theater counts, etc.)

1. The Fate of the Furious (Universal) -- $123 million N/A

2. The Boss Baby  (DreamWorks Animation) -- $15.3 million -42%

3. Beauty and the Beast (Disney) -- $13 million -45%

4. Smurfs: The Lost Village (Sony) -- $8.5 million -41%

5. Going in Style (New Line/WB) –- $6.9 million -42%

6. Ghost in the Shell (Paramount) –- $3.1 million -57%

7. Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures/WB) -- $3 million -47%

8. Power Rangers (Saban/Lionsgate) -– $2.8 million -55%

9. The Case for Christ (PureFlix) -- $2.6 million -35%

10. Gifted (Fox Searchlight) -- $2.3 million +58$%


THIS WEEK’S PICKS: 

Before I get to this week’s picks, I want to give a quick shout-out to my pal Sonja O’Hara’s film Ovum (The Orchard), a delightfully funny comedy she wrote, produced and starred in (directed by Matt Ott), which is now available on DVD and VOD. It’s loosely based on her own experiences as an egg donor, as she plays a slightly-struggling Brooklyn actress who tries to get a role as an egg donor...and then in the highest degree of method acting decides to go through the process of being an egg donor herself.

As far as I know, there has never been a movie about this subject matter handled in such an honest, personal and funny way, but it’s equally funny for O’Hara’s personal observations on the movie business from the perspective of an actor.  It’s a super low-budget movie, but you can definitely see the burgeoning talent on display in it.  Granted, Ovum is more likely to appeal to younger women (16 and up) than guys my age...so recommend it to the millennial woman in your life, if you have one! (Okay, maybe not to your teen daughter?)

I first met Ms. O’Hara when I interviewed her a few years back, and I’m really excited by this young Canadian-born actresses’ prospects as an actor and filmmaker. Just as Ovum can finally be seen by people outside of New York, the pilot for her show Doomsday has also been doing the festival rounds and winning many awards, so hopefully you’ll get to see much more of her this year.

The Lost City of Z (Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street)

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus MacFadyen, Edward Ashley, Clive Francis, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero
Writer/Director: James Gray (Two Lovers, The Immigrant, The Yards and more)
Genre:  Drama, Adventure
Rated PG-13
Plot:
In 1906, Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is commissioned to go to the Amazonia area of South America to determine the proper borders between Brazil and Bolivia, but while down there, he hears tales and finds proof of a civilization possibly older than Europe. Along with his trusted aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), they return to the area a few years later, only to have their second expedition troubled with problems.  WWI hits and Fawcett goes to the trenches in France, but in 1924, he and his now grown son Jack (Tom Holland) make one more effort to find the city of gold that he’s called “Z.” 

Based on David Grann’s 2009 non-fiction book of the same name, the new film by James Gray is quite an amazing achievement, and considering some of his previous films--and how long he’s been working on this one--that is saying something.

It’s an amazing true-life adventure from the first quarter of the 20th Century where explorers were trying to discover new unexplored parts of the world, and it follows the obsession of one man at finding proof of an ancient civilization in the Amazonia area of South America. This obsession drives him close to the brink of disaster a number of times.

I first saw this as the closing night film at last year’s New York Film Festival, but seeing it again more recently really helped me to focus on what a strong film this is in terms of drama, exciting adventure and tension as we watch Hunnam’s character trying to prove a controversial theory that there was civilization in South America hundreds of years ago.

Fawcett’s trip brings him together with Angus MacFadyen as James Murray, a lofty fellow explorer who ends up being more of a liability, basically sabotaging their second attempt to find the lost city. If the movie weren’t already impressive for Gray’s ability to create the troubles faced by Fawcett and his men on the Amazon, he then creates a full-on WWI battle in the trenches leading into the film’s third act when Fawcett reconciles with his now teen son Jack (played by Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Tom Holland), and the two of them go off on a third mission to find proof of “Z.”

As much as this film is Hunnam’s, it’s amazing what Sienna Miller brings to their scenes together, and she really is the heart of film in terms of the emotional core of what it’s like for Fawcett to be so obsessed with his discovery that he leaves his wife alone with their kids, not once or twice, but three times. Then of course, when Percy and Jack don’t return, she’s the one who keeps the hope that they’re still alive.

This is another gorgeous film from Gray.  It's one that keeps you enthralled with Fawcett’s journey even during the slower parts of this nearly 2 ½ hour film.  The score by Christopher Spelman really does a lot to enhance the amazing production value Gray’s able to get out of the Amazon jungle.

The Lost City of Z is a great step forward in Gray’s career, and hopefully, people will give it a chance to help him get other projects like this one made.

After opening in New York and L.A. on Friday, The Lost City of Z is scheduled to open “nationwide” starting April 21.

Festivals, Series and Repertory:

I’m sure there’s lots of repertory stuff going on in the New York area this weekend, but the biggest news will be the reopening of Manhattan’s QUAD CINEMA on Friday after being closed for well over a year for renovations. Now owned by Cohen Media Group with Film Comment’s Gavin Smith and the IFC Center’s Christopher Wells acting as programming execs, I have a feeling the new Quad will not be the theater where filmmakers dump their “four wall” movies i.e. movies that no one will distribute, so they pay for the theater to show the movie for a week. (It’s something the Quad was quite famous for before its new owners took over.) Most of my readers already know my allegiance to my neighborhood theater, the Metrograph, but I have to give props to what the Quad is doing in terms of premiering new independent and foreign films as well as adding to the already-great repertory cinema community in New York City. Seriously, seeing so many young people go out to see old movies really makes me quite delighted and the more the merrier, if you ask me. (The Quad’s repertory program will begin with Busby Berkeley’s 1943 movie The Gang’s All Here, a movie that was the first repertory film shown at the Quad when it was rereleased all the way back in 1972! It’s part of their reopening “Quadrophilia” program, featuring other films that have played at the theater in its 45-year history. (Filmmaker John Sayles will be there for screenings of City of Hope and Return of the Secaucus Seven on Saturday, April 22, but I'm looking forward to The Who's Quadrophenia myself.)

Speaking of repertory, James Gray and the Metrograph, the latter will be holding a retrospective of Gray’s five previous films, all of them starring Joaquin Phoenix, this coming weekend. They’ll also be holding a special screening of Lost City of Z with Gray in attendance tonight!


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

Narratives -- Dramas, Comedies and Genre:

America’s indie sweetheart Melanie Lynskie and Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) star in Little Boxes (Gunpowder and Sky), written by Annie J. Howell and directed by Rob Meyer.  They play a Brooklyn academic couple, who move to a very white suburb with their biracial son Clark (Armani Jackson). While he has troubles trying to adjust to being an anomaly among the local kids, his parents also deal with their problems adjusting to a very different life from what they’re used to. I actually enjoyed this one, but I generally like Melanie Lynskie in everything she does. It opens in select cities.

Also opening at the Metrograph--don’t blame me if I’m obsessed with the place!--is Dash Shaw’s My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (GKIDS), an eccentric and edgy animated film from the underground cartoonist, featuring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon. The movie’s title and the trailer pretty much speak for themselves... (It opens in Los Angeles Friday, as well.)

Speaking of titles that speak for themselves, Richard Gere stars in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Sony Pictures Classics), the English language debut of Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar (Footnote). Gere plays the title character, a New York fixer who has a moderate rise and a tragic fall. It’s great when a movie’s title does all the work for you. It opens in New York and Los Angeles. All kidding aside, I found this movie so tragically boring that I barely made it through the first hour.

Legendary British filmmaker Terrence Davies’ latest film A Quiet Passion  (Music Box Films) stars Cynthia Nixon as prolific 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson, who struggled with the tough rules put upon her by her family and society of the times. It’s one of the three new movies opening at the new Quad Cinema (see above) and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, then opening in L.A. at the Laemmle on April 21. Guess what? I thought this movie was as boring as Norman!

Because someone clearly wants more movies about golf, we get Tommy’s Honour (Roadside Attractions), a movie about the father-son relationship between “Old” Tom Morris (Peter Mullan) and “Young” Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden from ’71), who helped usher in the modern age of golf. Also starring Sam Neill and Ophelia Lovebond, it opens in select theaters Friday.

Denise Richards plays Gretchen Blair, a “headstrong FBI agent who goes rogue” in Alex Merkin’s action-thriller Altitude (Lionsgate). After being demoted to a desk job, she is upgraded to business class on a flight and is offered millions to protect the passenger next to her (Kirk Barker), when his ex-partners (Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Liddell, and Greer Grammar) stage a hijacking of the plane they’re on. It opens in select cities and On Demand this Friday.

Foreign Films:

Also opening at the new Quad Cinema is Katell Quillévéré’s French drama Heal the Living (Cohen Media Group), which looks at how a car accident that leaves a teenage boy brain-dead affects everyone involved, from his parents to others, including a woman who needs a heart transplant. The ensemble cast includes Emmanuelle Seigner and Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), and it opens in New York and L.A.

Opening at New York’s Film Forum is Glory (Film Movement), the new movie from The Lesson’s Bulgarian filmmakers Petar Valchanov and Kristina Krozeva. It’s about a poor railroad worker who finds a bunch of money on the train tracks, which he returns to the authorities who reward him with a new wristwatch, which stops working. When he tries to get his old watch back, he gets caught up in bureaucratic red tape, and a political scandal his good deed is meant to cover up.

Documentaries:

Jazz legend, saxophonist John Coltrane gets his first authorized documentary with John Scheinfeld’s Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (Abramorama), featuring Denzel Washington reading Coltrane’s words and interviews with Common, President Bill Clinton, Carlos Santana, Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter and many more. It opens at the IFC Center in New York Friday and in L.A. at the Landmark on April 21. You can find out when it will play near you on the Official Site.

Maura Axelrod’s Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back (BOND360) looks at the “enfant terrible” of the art world from his early days to his 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim. Hey, guess what? It ALSO opens at the Quad Cinema in New York! (They're clearly starting off with a bang!)

The first documentary from long-time Spielberg collaborators Kathleen Kennedy’s and Frank Marshall’s new documentary division, Kennedy/Marshall, is Ryan Suffern’s Finding Oscar (FilmRise). It follows the attempts to get justice in the case of the Dos Erres massacred in Guatemala in 1982. After the guerillas ambush a convoy of rifles during the country’s 30-year civil war, an elite quad of army commandos, dressed as guerillas, invade the small jungle hamlet of Dos Erres killing over 200 people. The doc follows two young boys, Oscar and Ramiro, who are kidnapped by the soldiers during the attack. After premiering at the Telluride Film Festival, it will open in New York this Friday at the Angelika Film Center and in L.A. on April 21.

Streaming:

Adam Sandler’s latest venture with Netflix is Sandy Wexler, a mockumentary in which Sandler plays the title character, a Los Angeles talent manager in the ‘90s who represents a group of “eccentric clients on the fringe of show business.”  Then he falls in love with his newest client, a singer named Courtney Clarke, played by Jennifer Hudson. Also starring Kevin James (of course), Terry Crews and directed by Steve Brill, it premieres on Netflix on Friday.

Guess what? Just like many of Adam Sandler’s theatrical release, they won’t screen it in advance for critics!  Should we blame them?

Also on VOD now is Rob Sperra’s dramedy The Sweet Life (The Orchard), starring Chris Messina and Abigail Spencer about two people who meet by chance in Chicago and decide to go San Francisco to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge together. Sounds fun.

You can watch an exclusive clip from it right here.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies, and there is a SHIRT-load of them...and not a tight shirt either. I mean, a really BAGGY shirt full of movies! I don’t even want to think about it right now...so I won’t. Just come back next week, please.

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(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2017. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2017.)

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