Will Alien: Covenant Revive The Ailing Franchise Or Do More Damage? -- The Weekend Warrior

– by Edward Douglas

Welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, and to paraphrase those renowned seventies scholars the Brady Bunch, “When it’s time to change then it’s time to change.” 

While I’ve tried my hardest to slowly sneak those changes in, it’s gotten to the point where we’ll need to do something more drastic if the few of you reading the Weekend Warrior on a weekly basis actually want it to remain coming to you on a weekly basis.  Because of that, we’re going to try something different by not throwing in as much independent limited releases for those checking the column out, and making the column a little more focused at least for the time being.  (I’m probably going to move reviews for my Top Picks over to my blog, which is easy enough to find if you follow me on Twitter.)

Alien: Covenant tries to save the ailing box office before Memorial Day

After a weekend where neither of the new movies opened with over $20 million--after I predicted both would make more than $20 million!--we have the next big sequel/prequel/remake of the summer as Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise for the third time with ALIEN: COVENANT (20th Century Fox).

Scott’s new movie will probably get the most interest and attention this weekend, obviously, as a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus (sort of?) that once again stars Michael Fassbender...but only mentions Noomi Rapace’s character from Prometheus briefly. Like Prometheus, this is also meant to be a prequel to Ridley Scott’s early classic Alien from 1979, and apparently, this is Part 2 of 3.

Since making Prometheus, Michael Fassbender also starred in Scott’s 2013 film The Counselor, which bombed with just $17 million. He was nominated for his first Oscar for his role in the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, appeared as Magneto in two X-Men movies directed by Bryan Singer, was nominated for another Oscar playing Steve Jobs in Jobs (which only did slightly better than The Counselor), and last year, made the little seen The Light Between Oceans, and the very bad video game movie Assassin’s Creed. Only two of those movies fared better than the $126 million grossed by Prometheus in 2012, and that’s certainly a mixed bag, although the two Oscar nominations probably did more to raise Fassbender’s status than any one individual movie.

Fassbender is joined in this movie by 2nd generation actor Katherine Waterston, recently seen in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demian Bechir, Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Jussie Smollett (Empire) and more, making Alien: Covenant more of an ensemble piece, but it’s really being sold more by the presence of aliens than the humans who are once again, mostly alien fodder.

With that in mind, one of the best things going for Alien: Covenant is that it has “Alien” right there in the title, and the marketing has been on point at least in terms of selling the fact that there will indeed be more xenomorphs (i.e. aliens) in this movie than there were in Prometheus where the only recognizable alien was at the very end of the film.  Even with that disappointment, the movie rated 7/10 on IMDB and 72% on RottenTomatoes.

So far, reviews for Alien: Covenant have been all over the map, generally positive, but still fairly negative from the franchise’s fanboy fanbase. Personally, as a big fan of Prometheus, and almost everything Ridley Scott does, I really enjoyed Alien: Covenant, and I thought it made a successful sequel to Prometheus while still including all the action and scares of the better Alien films. So far, it’s made around $42 million overseas, which isn’t a bad kick-off either.

Alien: Covenant should be able to have a slightly better opening than the $51 million for Prometheus in 2012 when you consider the higher awareness, less competition (with last week’s King Arthur tanking) and being released earlier in the summer season before moviegoers are sick of sequels (as they will be). I’d expect this to open with around $55 million or more, and it’s likely to gross more in total than Prometheus as well, especially with Memorial Day next weekend.

Interview with Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Jussie Smollett 


It’s rather odd for any studio to be releasing more than one movie in a given weekend, and it rarely happens, but that shouldn’t be a problem for DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL (20th Century Fox) that will be looking to bring in the kids and the family audience with the fourth installment of the movie based on Jeff Kinney’s popular kids’ books.

Fox first got into the Diary of a Wimpy Kid business in 2010 with the movie having the same title, and its $22 million opening and $64 million gross was enough to fast-track a sequel the next year, which opened just as well but ended up with less overall. The last Diary of a Wimpy Kid installment, Dog Days, opened five years ago during the summer, just a couple months after Prometheus, in fact. While it opened weaker, it only ended up making slightly less than the previous movie with $49 million, a good sign of it having late August legs.

Unfortunately, kids have to grow up and that’s what happened with Zachary Gordon, who grew out of the part of Gregg, since he’s now 19 and too old to play a middle-schooler. He’s been replaced by 12-year-old Jason Drucker, who has been acting since he was 6 (of course, he has).  Apparently, Steven Zahn (aged 50) and Rachael Harris (aged 47) were too old to play Gregg’s parents, so they’ve been replaced by Tom Everett Scott (who recently appeared on the hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why) and Clueless and Aerosmith video star, Alicia Silverstone, who turned 40 last October, in case you want to feel old. The actors playing Greg’s best friend Rowley and his older brother Rodrick, were also replaced. (And yet, director David Bowers remains from the last two movies. Go figure.)

Even setting aside the movie’s all-new cast, kids movies generally have diminishing returns over the course of an attempted franchise with Harry Potter being one of the few exceptions, maybe because it appealed as much to adults as kids, but the recent Smurfs movie is a good example of that with the first The Smurfs grossing $142 million domestically, followed a few years later with $71 million for the sequel, and the recent animated movie topped out at $41 million.

Reviews for these movies have generally been in the mid-range on RottenTomatoes, between 47 and 51%, which isn’t Fresh, but isn’t as Rotten as other family comedies. Not that it will matter much, because the young fans of the books will be the main audience for the movie, and they like these movies just fine. Will they care that most of the cast from the first three movies will be replaced? Will they even know? Maybe the older teens who have moved onto other things, but younger kids just getting into the book may not.

This fourth installment will probably end up around the same place as the previous movie, or slightly less with $10 to 12 million opening weekend, but maybe as much as $40 million or more as it continues to bring in business over the summer with the strongest family competition (Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3) not coming out until mid-June.


Lastly, we have EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING (Warner Bros.), which honestly, if I didn’t write this column, I would have absolutely no idea what it was. I’m going to go watch a trailer and find out. Be right back.

Okay, so from what I ascertained, this is a teen romance coming-of-age movie, maybe based on a Young Adult novel? Yup. It’s based on a novel by Nicola Yoon, and it’s a romance about a girl who is allergic to everything who falls in love with the boy next door.

It stars 19-year-old Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games and appeared on the TV shows Sleepy Hollow and The Robinsons, as well as Nick Robinson (no relation), who starred in the Sundance fave, The Kings of Summer and The Fifth Wave, which neither did very well, but also 2015’s Jurassic World, which did very well.

A few months ago, the similarly high concept young adult adaptation of Before I Fall opened with just $4.6 million (in about 500 less theaters) on its way to $12.2 million total. This could do better than that with little direct competition for teen girls, but it doesn’t seem like it would do as well as Fox’s 2014 hit The Fault In Our Stars, which opened with $48 million and grossed $125 million. It’s more likely to end up in the range of its follow-up, 2015’s Paper Towns, which grossed just $32 million.

One thing going for the movie is that it could potentially target younger African-American females, who are a severely under-served audience. With little other romantic competition for the young female set, Everything, Everything will likely end up with around $8 to 10 million this weekend and maybe $25 to 30 million total, or more. It basically will be vying for fourth place against Snatched.


BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

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

UPDATE 5/18 Not a ton of major changes, just a bit of fiddling with the numbers by a tiny amount.)

1. Alien: Covenant (20th Century Fox) -- $55.5 million N/A (down .2 million)

2. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Marvel Studios/Disney) -- $31.3 million -52%

3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (20th Century Fox) -- $10.7 million N/A (Up .2 million)

4. Everything, Everything (Warner Bros.) -- $9.4 million N/A (up .2 million)

5. Snatched (20th Century Fox) -- $9 million -54%

6. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Warner Bros.) -- $6.6 million -57%

7. The Fate of the Furious (Universal) -- $2.9 million -46% (down .1 million)

8. Beauty and the Beast (Disney) -- $2.6 million -44% (down .1 million)

9. The Boss Baby  (DreamWorks Animation) -- $2.4 million -47%

10. How to Be a Latin Lover (Pantelion/Lionsgate) -- $1.9 million -53%

--  Lowriders (BH Tilt) -- $1.6 million -35% (down .3 million)


OTHER MOVIES WORTH CHECKING OUT THIS WEEKEND:

Because we’re trying not to inundate those who read this column with too much information (not my decision), I’m only going to write a little bit about the limited releases which might be worth checking out this weekend:

First of all, Steve (Hoop Dreams) James’ new doc Abacus: Small Enough to James, opening at the IFC Center, looks at the small family bank in Chinatown, New York that’s indicted by New York prosecutors for mortgage fraud in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and became the only US bank to face criminal charges, putting them in a five-year legal battle. As with James’ previous work, this is an excellent doc, very well directed and assembled.

Amber Tamblyn’s directorial debut Paint it Black (Imagination) is quite a haunting film, starring Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Josie, a young woman whose boyfriend kills himself, forcing her into the lives of his mother (Janet McTeer) who resents, and blames, Josie for her son’s death. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas.

Another movie out this weekend is Robin (The Jane Austen Book Club) Swicord’s adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s Wakefield (IFC Films), starring Bryan Cranston as a man who decides to vanish without a trace, but actually is hiding in the attic of his garage, secretly observing his wife (Jennifer Garner), their kids and neighbors. It opens in select cities Friday and On Demand on May 26.

Also opening in New York and L.A. is Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s latest The Commune (Magnolia) about a family in the ‘70s who decides to open up their house to tenants, creating a commune. It’s neither Vinterberg’s best, nor his worst work, but it’s generally just okay.

Two years after its Tribeca Film Festival debut, Stephen Fingleton’s Irish thriller The Survivalist (IFC Midnight) will open at the IFC Center and On Demand. It stars Martin McCann as a lone survivor of an apocalypse, trying to protect his property when a mother and her daughter (played by Mia Goth from A Cure for Wellness) show up looking for food and help, and maybe something more. 

At my neighborhood theater, the Metrograph, they’re doing a retrospective of Terry Zwigoff films, starting with Ghost World on Friday night with Zwigoff and actor Steve Buscemi in attendance, and on the 23rd, they start a Marlene Dietrich retrospective.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies.

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

Box Office, Featured, Film, LRM Exclusives, The Weekend Warrior The Weekend Warrior, Alien: Covenant, Michael Fassbender, Everything Everything, Amandla Stenberg, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul