Welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out.
This Past Weekend:
Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood’s real-life drama about airline pilot Sully (Warner Bros.) far surpassed all expectations, making nearly $10 million more than my prediction with an opening weekend of $35 million in 3,525 theaters, also making it one of the biggest openings for a movie opening the weekend after Labor Day. The Screen Gems thriller When the Bough Breaks disappointed compared to some of their similar releases, taking second place with around where we predicted with around $14 million. The lower profile animated film The Wild Life (Summit/Lionsgate) did end up in fifth place behind Don’t Breathe and Suicide Squad, but with a measly $3.3 million in 2,493 theaters. As expected, Relativity’s theatrical return with its own horror/thriller The Disappointments Room bombed with just $1.4 million in 1,554 theaters, ending up well outside the Top 10.
This weekend might as well be a trip down nostalgia lane as two of the wide releases are the return of characters and franchises that haven’t been seen since the first half of the ‘00s. Can they match the success of their predecessors? We’ll see…
BLAIR WITCH (Lionsgate)
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott, Valorie Curry, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson
Director: Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest, A Horrible Way to Die)
Plot: James (James Allen McCune), the brother of Heather, who disappeared in the woods surrounding Burkitsville, Maryland years earlier, has uncovered new evidence that might prove her whereabouts. He travels down there with a group of friends, all armed with cameras, to try to find her and see for themselves whether the legend of the Blair Witch is true.
Theater Count (est.): 2,850
In 1999, the horror movie that was all the talk at the Sundance Film Festival was a low-budget horror film that cost about $600,000 to make but that freaked everyone out, because many thought it was real. The Blair Witch Project would end up being released over the summer by the now-defunct Artisan Films, given a limited release into a couple dozen theaters where it quickly racked up $5 million in ten days. In its first moderately wide release, it did a huge $29 million, followed by a second weekend at $24.3 million adding up to $80 million in four weeks. It was clearly a huge phenomenon as it went on to gross $140.5 million. Unfortunately its sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 didn’t fare as well, grossing just $27 million total domestic. Books and other items followed but it was thought that it was a dead franchise with plenty of others coming along in the years since Book of Shadows.
After many years without a peep, Lionsgate has brought the property back for Blair Witch, a new take on the “found footage” horror phenomenon, this sequel masterminded by director Adam Wingard and his frequent collaborator, Simon Barrett. Some might remember Wingard and Barrett from their 2013 home invasion thriller You’re Next, which grossed about $18.5 million after finally being released by Lionsgate, two years after it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. (Blair Witch just premiered there as part of their “Midnight Madness” series as well.) Their 2014 follow-up The Guest didn’t fare as well, although it received stellar reviews. Reviews for Blair Witch after its Comic-Con debut were similarly positive, partially helped by the secrecy surrounding the project that went into production as “The Woods” and was only revealed to be a sequel to The Blair Witch Project two months back.
As with many horror films, both good and bad, none of the cast will be known to general audiences and it probably won’t matter much, because what’s really selling the movie is the potential for big-time scares. That alone should be a primary draw to older teens and college age horror nuts, and probably many of the younger women who weren’t around and won’t have much interest in Bridget Jones’s return (see below). (Incidentally, I wouldn’t expect those reviews to remain great once reviews show up from the more serious critics out there, and as of this writing, its Rotten Tomatoes Score is down to 56%.)
BRIDGET JONES'S BABY (Universal)
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Emma Thompson
Director: Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Plot: After a death of someone close to her, Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) is trying to have some fun, so she goes to a musical festival where she meets and spends the night with Jack (Patrick Dempsey), who turns out to be a billionaire dating expert. Shortly after that encounter, Bridget reconnects with her ex Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), but when she learns she’s pregnant, she has to figure out which of the men might be her baby’s father and which one she should be with.
Theater Count (est.): 2,900+
In 1996, Helen Fielding’s blog-like novel Bridget Jones’s Diary became a worldwide bestseller by connecting primarily with older and single women readers. Five years later, Bridget’s exploits were brought to the big screen with Texas-born actress Renée Zellwegger playing the role of the British journalist, having broken out with her appearance in Jerry Maguire opposite Tom Cruise a few years earlier. It became a decent-sized hit for British production company Working Title and its U.S. distributor Universal, grossing $281 million worldwide with $70 million of that from North America.
Zellwegger would end up with an Oscar nomination for her performance and a sequel was quickly greenlit for 2004 based on Fielding’s second novel Bridget Jones: End of Reason. It ended up faring just as well overseas, but poor reviews squelched its performance in the States as it ended up with less than $40 million after a strong release into just 530 theaters.
After winning an Oscar for Cold Mountain in 2003 and doing a couple other movies, Zellwegger has been laying low in recent years, having finally returned to her most popular role. Also returning is Colin Firth as Bridget’s great love Mark Darcy, himself after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. Although Hugh Grant, who has remained fairly popular among American women due to his rom-com roles, didn’t return for the threequel, they did bring in Patrick Dempsey best known as the young actor from the ‘80s, who grew up to being one of the steamy doctors on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Having a few rom-com comedies under his own belt like Made of Honor and Valentine’s Day should make him a suitable replacement.
Universal is giving Bridget Jones’s Baby a much wider release right off the bat this time rather than starting small and going wider later, maybe because they realize that the earlier movies have gained a much bigger audiences in the 12 year break since the last movie. That said, one has to wonder whether having so much time having passed may create diminished interest in seeing more with the characters.
Reviews probably won’t be great—most of the serious critics are still in Toronto this week—but this seems fairly review-proof for women who love the Bridget Jones character and Fielding’s books, a fairly underserved market these days that have delivered numerous surprise hits.
SNOWDEN (Open Road)
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Scott Eastwood, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer
Director: Oliver Stone (W, Nixon, JFK, World Trade, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and many more)
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Politics
Plot: In 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) leaked classified documents to the media, exposing the government’s surveillance activities, which labelled him both as a hero or a traitor, depending on your point of view. He’s been in exile in Russia ever since, and this film tries to explores Snowden’s past and what led to his decisions.
Theater Count (est.): 2,400
Filmmaker Oliver Stone courts more controversy by tackling another subject from the world of politics, this time being controversial whistleblower Edward Snowden, as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Two years ago, Laura Poitras’ documentary CITIZENFOUR won an Oscar for its intimate look at Snowden through interviews done at the time he was preparing to leak the information, but Stone’s film attempts to go back in time to tell Snowden’s story before leading up to that decision. Snowden’s decision to leak NSA documents that incriminated the U.S. government of spying on its citizens created quite a brouhaha back in 2012 because some decalred him a hero but others (including the government) called it an act of treason, forcing Snowden to flee the country, first to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he is to this day.
Even with what we know about him from CITIZENFOUR, there’s certainly still a lot of curiosity about him as a person, and Stone hopes to clear that up with the help of Gordon-Levitt, who has yet to break out in a big way despite appearances in big movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Last year around this time, the actor starred in Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk (also based on a true story), but that tanked with just $10 million. Later last year, he reunited with Seth Rogen for The Night Before, but even with a November release, the Christmas comedy only did slightly better than their “cancer comedy” 50/50. Even Gordon-Levitt’s self-written and directed comedy Don Jon failed to make much of a mark with its September release in 2013. (One imagines Shailene Woodley’s younger female fans won’t have much interest in her role in this.)
Oliver Stone’s career is far more erratic with “biopic” hits like JFK in 1991 to less acclaimed ones like Nixon with 2008’s W., based on standing President George W. Bush, ending up somewhere in between. Then again, Stone is still a respected Oscar-winning filmmaker who does have a following among cinephiles, so this might be a good example of material well suited to filmmaker.
Then again, it’s even harder not to compare this to the 2013 Julian Assange film The Fifth Estate by Oscar winner Bill Condon, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was trashed by critics before it bombed badly, opening with just $1.7 million in 1,769 theaters and grossing just $3.2 million total. It’s safe to assume that Snowden will probably do slightly better than that, although the reviews so far aren’t much better than any of the other movies mentioned, including The Fifth Estate.
Unfortunately, this is one of those movies where reviews probably will matter, because the audience who’d still be interested in Snowden right now probably are fairly well-read, and they might get turned off if they don’t think the material is handled well. That said, that same older male audience in their 20s and 30s probably won’t be interested in much else in theaters up until next week’s The Magnificent Seven, so this could be of interest to anyone who doesn’t feel that a smaller biopic like this might be fine to wait until it’s on Blu-ray or cable to see it.
Like last week, I don’t have as much to say about the last movie getting a wide release, which is the faith-based concert doc about the Australian band Hillsong United…
HILLSONG: LET HOPE RISE (PureFlix)
Cast: Hillsong United
Director: Michael John Warren (Fade to Black, Shrek the Musical)
Genre: Documentary, Music
Plot: Exploring the rise of Australian band Hillsong United to the point where their songs are performed in church every Sunday by 50 million people worldwide.
Theater Count (est.): 815
As you might imagine, I know absolutely nothing about the Australian band Hillsong United, so I’m just going by the marketing that proclaims them to be some sort of spiritual powerhouse in terms of inspiring literally millions. Again, I don’t think I ever would have heard of them if not for this movie’s existence, so it’s hard to say what might be the draw of the movie other than to their religious fans that go to their concerts. One expects that PureFlix, a distributor who has had luck with faith-based films like Woodlawn and God’s Not Dead 2, will be making sure that the group’s religious fans will be aware of the movie and want to see it even if concert films rarely perform that well, unless they feature Justin Bieber or One Direction.
Box Office Predictions:
While last week’s hit Sully might hold well into its second weekend, it’s very likely to be beaten for the top spot by Blair Witch (Lionsgate), while Bridget Jones’s Baby (Universal) should also open well, the two of them splitting the female audience by age. (25 and over will probably go with Bridget Jones, under that will go with Blair Witch.) The other movies probably won’t make as much of an impact although Oliver Stone’s Snowden should do at least double Hillsong, by virtue of having a stronger marketing campaign and more awareness as well as opening in more theaters.
(NOTE: Check back on Thursday night for any updates to these predictions due to changing theater counts, etc.)
1. Blair Witch (Lionsgate) - $22 million N/A
2. Sully (Warner Bros.) - $21 million
3. Bridget Jones’s Baby (Universal) - $13.8 million N/A (down .5 million)
4. Snowden (Open Road) - $9.6 million N/A
5. When the Bough Breaks (Sony/Screen Gems) - $6.8 million -52%
6. Don’t Breathe (Screen Gems/Sony) - $4.2 million -49%
7. Hillsong: Let Hope Rise (PureFlix) - $4 million N/A
8. Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.) - $3.0 million -47%
9. The Wild Life (Summit/Lionsgate) - $2.1 million -38%
10. Pete's Dragon (Disney) - $2 million -35%
The second weekend of September last year saw two movies open decently with the sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (20th Century Fox) coming out on top with $30.3 million. In second place was Johnny Depp as “Whitey” Bulger in Scott Cooper’s Black Mass with $22.6 million. The true-life drama Everest opened with $7.2 million in 545 IMAX and 3D theaters, averaging an impressive $13,251 per theater. The drama Captive, starring David Oyelowo and Kate Mara, bombed with just $1.3 million in 806 theaters, not enough to get into the Top 10.
This Week’s Pick(s):
THE BEATLES: 8 DAYS A WEEK – The TOURING YEARS (Abrarama/Hulu)
Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Director: Ron Howard (way too many movies to list them all)
Genre: Documentary, Music
Plot: Covering the years following their stint playing the clubs of Hamburg, Germany through their famous concert on the roof of the Apple building, this fascinating doc takes a look at the Beatles as a touring band throughout the ‘60s and how that helped build the band’s exploding fanbase.
If you’re as big a fan of music and specifically the Beatles as I am, then every single new nugget of information or new footage is absolute gold, and it’s hard not to be impressed with what filmmaker Ron Howard has been up to in between last year’s Moby Dick movie In the Heart of the Sea and the upcoming Dan Brown thriller Inferno. Basically, the filmmaker has gone and tracked out tons of footage and audio of the Beatles during their heyday from around 1962 to 1970 as they were exploding not only in England but in America and all across the globe. You really cannot fathom the absolute insanity of their fanbase until you see this doc’s footage of never-before-seen Beatles concert, absolutely pristine footage mind you.
Unless you’re very old and were very smart and/or lucky in the ‘60s, you’ve never seen the Beatles live, but this film goes to great lengths to make you feel like you were at some of their most famous concerts like Shea Stadium, but also lesser-known gigs. It’s all put into historical context with other things going on in the world including the Civil Rights Movement, as well as including some of the Beatles’ more famous moments like John Lennon’s “Bigger than Jesus” statement.
If that weren’t enough to entice you, then it also goes into the studio with the Beatles, during their early days when they were cranking out records, usually one new song a day, to their more experimental phase. It also covers the various Beatles promo films like A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and shares a few anecdotes about them. (For instance, did you know that the former was filmed in two days and the latter’s journey to the Bahamas was mainly go give the boys in the band a break from their manic touring?)
That’s just a couple of the nuggets revealed in one of the most comprehensive films about that era in the band, given a lot new perspective with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and others talking about their own connection to the Beatles as a live band.
As you watch the film and marvel at all the photos and footage, you might be reminded of a couple other great music docs, like Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who or David Grohl’s Sound City or the lesser-known Billy Joel concert doc The Last Play at Shea, which acted as a tribute to the Beatles concert there before the baseball stadium was destroyed. The thing that those three movies have in common was that they all were either director or edited by Paul Crowder, and Howard was wise enough to realize this and hire him to edit Eight Days a Week.
It is simply one of the best historic musical docs you’re likely to see (and there are a lot this year) that I can’t recommend enough… even if you only know a couple Beatles tunes.
8 Days a Week will open for a week in theaters across the country and will be available streaming on Hulu starting Saturday, September 17. Make sure you stick through the end credits, because it’s followed by the entire 30-minute Beatles concert at Shea Stadium, restored in 4K Digital.
OPERATION AVALANCHE (Lionsgate Premiere)
Cast: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, Ray James
Director: Matt Johnson (The Dirties)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Plot: Two young CIA agents (Matt Johnson, Owen Williams) go undercover at NASA, searching for a possible Russian mole, disguising themselves as documentary filmmakers, but when they discover a government cover-up, they decide to make a fake movie to fool NASA into believing that their moon launch is possible.
While I’ve been pretty down on “footage film” movies lately, like this week’s Blair Witch, I do like when this method is used cleverly, and filmmakers Matt Johnson and Owen Williams have found a clever premise and use of it that should appeal to anyone interested in the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the ‘60s, or just in clever filmmaking altogether.
Operation Avalanche is a very funny comedy that plays upon the myths about the first moonwalk being a hoax, made up by the government, and in the film we learn how two bumbling CIA operatives sent to find a spy at NASA end up trying to cover up their own government’s cover-up by making sure that America did get to the moon before the Russians. They do this by creating a fake movie about the moon landing that can be aired to the U.S. public on television.
It’s interesting to watch this movie knowing a little bit about the Space Race and what was going on in the mind of the American government around the time, but also knowing some of the myths and conspiracies including the one where Stanley Kubrick was hired to fake the moon landing. Kubrick actually does play a role in this story, but it’s more of an inspiration he has on these guys with his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Matt sneaks onto the set to learn some trade secrets.
It’s really impressive what these guys are able to create with presumably a limited budget, because they continue to use the single camera found footage idea even into an impressive car chase as their paranoia grows that someone might be onto their plan. There isn’t much more I’ll say about the movie since there’s so much stuff to enjoy while watching it, but like I said earlier, if you’re remotely interested in America’s space program, this will be a fun movie to watch.
Operation Avalanche opens in select cities and On Demand starting Friday.
Other Limited Releases:
We’re getting quite a bit of starpower this weekend in movies that are mostly getting dumped into theaters without much attention.
First up, we have Eddie Murphy starring as Mr. Church (Freestyle Releasing), a cook who is hired to watch over a dying woman and her daughter and who ends up forming a friendship with the girl who grows up to be a young writer, played by Britt Robertson. This film which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year will be self-distributed into about 300 theaters.
Jessica Lange, Shirley MacLaine and Demi Moore star in the comedy Wild Oats (Dimension Films) from direct or Andy Tennant (Hitch, Sweet Home Alabama) about a woman who accidentally receives a life insurance check for $5 million instead of $50,000, so she takes her best friend on an adventure. It will open in about 100 theaters this weekend, but this is clearly being dumped
Finding Altamira (Samuel Goldwyn/Myriad Pictures) stars Antonio Banderas as Spanish archeologist Marcelino, who in 1879 found paintings inside the hidden cave of Altamira that causes controversy within the Catholic Church since it proves man’s existence 10,000 years ago.
Next up, we have a couple films that premiered at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin earlier this year:
Actress Lily Rabe from “American Horror Story” stars in July Hart’s Miss Stevens (The Orchard) as a high school English teacher who has to chaperone three of her students to an out-of-town drama competition. It will open in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and then On Demand starting September 20.
Jason Cohen’s doc Silicon Cowboys (FilmRise) looks at the rise and eventual fall of Compaq computers during the PC boom of the ‘80s, following its launch in 1982 by three guys from Houston wanting to build a portable PC to take on the PC megalith IBM. It will open in select cities including New York, L.A., Houston and my home away from home, Columbus, Ohio.
Lastly, we have Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church in Cardboard Boxer (Well Go), playing Willie, a homeless man who is coerced by two teens into fighting other men for cash. Also starring another Oscar nominee, Terrence Howard, it will play a bunch of cities starting Friday although it will already be On Demand in a few other places.