Box Office Brasserie – Movie News For Movie Lovers
What makes an event film? And more specifically, what makes an event sequel?
Ideally, when a big-budget continuing saga arrives, audiences can’t wait to see what happens next in regards to their favorite characters, because stories that dig deep, for the most part, are rooted in human interactions, despite what action sequences they throw up on big screen.
The reason audiences went back to “Pirates of the Caribbean” was to see what Jack Sparrow would do and say next. “Die Hard” is talking about a sixth installment because audiences never get tired of John McClane saying: “I’m too old for this shit.” Vin Diesel will probably end up starring in 20 “Fast & Furious” films because ticket buyers want to live with him “a quarter-mile at a time” every other year.
And don’t even get me started on Indiana Jones and Star Wars and Harry Potter. These are soap operas, with characters that feel so real, we don’t need 3D technology to believe we can reach out and touch them. These are characters with layers, which seemingly live and breathe and have lives outside the confines of a silver screen.
“Pacific Rim” doesn’t have those things. It was a movie about giant creatures and robots without much character development. Guillermo del Toro certainly redeemed himself with “The Shape of Water,” giving us characters that were so vivid, they ended up creating a universe unto itself—one that was deemed so worthy it took home the ultimate trophy: Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Look, there’s a very good reason del Toro, who loves a good sequel—”Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”—chose to go MIA for this mission. And in Hollywood terms, that translates to an Executive Producer credit.
The requirements, or general rule of thumb, for opening a big-budget sequel domestically, are that, at minimum, it has to gross at least $100M in North America and worldwide, must stretch out to $400M with the belief that the ceiling has yet to be reached.
The reason it took five years for the sequel to drop, is that the original “Pacific Rim” hit those benchmarks by the thinnest of margins: $101M domestic, $411M worldwide. And unfortunately, the film hasn’t aged well either—outside of cult fandom, that is.
A studio doesn’t spend $150M on a sequel to appease fanboys and fangirls; they’re throwing around that kind of cash for only one reason: global domination. And by global domination, I mean everywhere outside of North America.
Asian markets, especially China, have grown exponentially since the original dropped in 2013. And even then, the Middle Kingdom saw grosses of $111M, so expectations will be huge, considering this is exactly the kind of film audiences there crave.
Look, when the first trailer for “Pacific Rim: Uprising” came out, we all knew it was in trouble domestically, since it looked and sounded like a “Transformers/Power Rangers” mash-up in the worst possible way: the kind of trailer that has the MST3K team drooling at the possibilities. Hey, how amazing would that be to release two versions on opening weekend? This and “The Cloverfield Paradox” certainly would have benefited from a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge…we know how bad this is, but please, at the very least, be entertained by it.
Instead of going back to the drawing board, and really diving into character and mythology, “Pacific Rim: Uprising” brings us all-new heroes, shilling out clichés so tired they must have been written by the Beating a Dead Horse Collective: Bravo Company. Woooooo-ra!
To be fair, only four screenwriters have credit on “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” so that would be more of a Squad than a full Company, but I’m pretty sure Universal executives, and those close to the production, didn’t exactly give first-time film director Steven DeKnight—who earned his chops in the TV arena with “Spartacus,” “Angel” and “Smallville”–full reign.
Hey, remember when Universal used to make blockbuster movies with magic as their main ingredient instead of relying on assembly lines? I do. You know what they have coming down the pipeline? “Despicable Me” sequels, “Fast & Furious” sequels “Jurassic Park” sequels and, inexplicably, a “Mamma Mia” sequel.
Universal, which trots out highly disposable sequels more so than any other studio seriously needs a wake up call. But unfortunately cash money is their only spiritual guru right now, and the mantra is clear: makin’ bacon.
The studio that Spielberg built used to deliver content like “E.T.,” “American Graffiti,” “Back to the Future,” and “Jaws.” “Apollo 13.” And more recently, “Ted,” “Bridesmaids,” “8 Mile,” and “Straight Outta Compton.” You know why those are considered classics? A singular and united vision. And guess what? They all feature fantastic scripts; if it’s not on the page, it won’t be on the screen and no matter how many explosions and inane action pieces you cull together—it won’t make a lasting impression.
A sequel? Maybe. Mountains of money? Perhaps. But ask Marvel and Pixar and even Blumhouse how they cemented the legacy of their brands—making sure their scripts are locked and loaded before shooting anything. It’s not rocket science here, folks. The blueprint for immortal movie success is very well known.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” launches a full-scale multiplex assault on 3,800+ screens in North America with untold gouging of eyeballs set to occur, and as such, will likely lead to a minor box office trail that ends up dropping off at a major cliff. And while it may deliver a solid payload in certain overseas markets, it will most certainly will be dud here, even if it does finally win the box office battle and swipe the top spot from “Black Panther” after five-consecutive No. 1 finishes.
Look, “Black Panther” is a surefire sensation, but its success is in no way responsible for the lackluster performances of these other so-called blockbusters trotted out this year. There is always room in the marketplace for multiple movies to be successful, provided that they are worth the time and effort.
The real issue with “A Wrinkle in Time,” Tomb Raider,” and “Pacific Rim: Uprising” is that they’re not particularly good films—not groundbreaking, not adding anything striking or new to the creative conversation, and relatively pedestrian endeavors that will fade into the ether faster than the Apple watch. Bottom line is: these flicks don’t truly connect to a wide swatch of audience. End of story. Anybody who says anything else is shilling for clickbait hits, or paid to give two shits.
WB’s “Pacific Rim” debuted No. 3 in July of 2013 with $37M, losing out to “Despicable Me 2” in its second week ($43M) and Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups 2,” which dropped with $41M. As a general rule of thumb, you should never make a sequel to a film if it doesn’t debut with more than an Adam Sandler film on the same weekend. That’s just Hollywood 101, folks.
And here’s the kicker for all wannabe tent poles and blockbusters—at the very least you should have the swagger to scare off opening competition…not attract it. Most big-time sequels are so potentially potent in terms of social media buzz and monopolizing airwaves and Internet portals that most distributors slowly back away in fear of box office Armageddon.
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” has—count ‘em—four wide releases opening against it, including another sequel to a minor hit, Paramount’s “Sherlock Gnomes” that also goes after a similar market: families.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the box office prospects of Universal’s monstrous mash-up. It may have a decent debut, but like its predecessor—which dropped -57% in its second weekend (a big red flag)—it will be instantly tainted, banished to another dimension. You know, I feel sort of bad for that other dimension. Those poor, unfortunate souls.
Interestingly enough, this weekend may feature a filmdom first. Two sequels debut which both had different distributors when the original installments were released. “Pacific Rim” was Warner Bros., while “Gnomeo and Juliet” had the Disney label attached.
“Sherlock Gnomes” stars Johnny Depp as the lead detective, and James McAvoy and Emily Blunt reprising their roles as Gnomeo and Juliet from the first film from seven years ago, which debuted with $25M on its way to $99M domestic and $193M worldwide. Not bad for a film that came relatively cheap, especially for an animated flick, at $36M.
So is there a chance “Sherlock Gnomes” tracks down the #1 spot? By Jove, if “Uprising” pulls a “The Hunstman: Winter’s War” it just might, Watson. Remember, Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” scored a $56M debut, while the equally expensive sequel mustered just $19M in its lackluster bow.
That’s a fate that’s shouldn’t be counted out, considering how audiences abandoned the original “Pacific Rim” after opening weekend, and how universally panned the latest “Transformers” was. Bad times to be a big robot…at least domestically speaking.
Now, the son of a robot, that’s a different story; however, it will probably generate similar low-fi results. Yes, Patrick Schwarzenegger, the Terminator’s son, has his first big-time starring role in Open Road’s Romantic drama, “Midnight Sun,” opposite Bella Thorne. Looks decent for what it is, but with the amount of times it’s changed release dates, most potential audience members will likely think this is already on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
In 2,000+ theaters, “Midnight Sun” will be fortunate to rise with $6M this weekend. Interestingly, director, Scott Speer (“Step Up Revolution”) also has another teen film called “Status Update” debuting On Demand this weekend, too.
I guess Jim Caviezel has a very biblical look. Many remember him as Jesus H. Christ in Mel Gibson’s mega-hit, “The Passion of the Christ,” while his latest sees him playing Luke, who gets second billing to the title character in Sony’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ.”
Truth is, no one knows when the next faith-based film will be a success. I mean, how else do you explain what happened last week when Roadside Attractions’ “I Can Only Imagine” debuted with $17M. Not only was it the largest opening in company history, but also blindsided everybody but God himself—or herself, depending on your belief or nomenclature.
In 1,400+ theaters, this may show well with upwards of $10M, although the film doesn’t feature a hit song loved by people the world over like “I Can Only Imagine.”
And last, and unfortunately least, comes auteur Steven Soderbergh’s latest, “Unsane” distributed by Bleecker Street, which also handled his last film, “Logan Lucky.” That ensemble comedy opened with $7M on its way to $27M. This time, he returns to the thriller genre, with an advertising campaign that is nearly non-existent. It would be pretty insane if “Unsane” snuck away with more than $3M this weekend.
Probably the best new film in release this weekend is a limited roll out from Fox Searchlight–Wes Anderson’s animated film, “Isle of Dogs,” which unleashes in 27 theaters. Looking forward to this gonzo masterpiece.
CHOICE CUT OF THE WEEK: Fox’s “Deadpool 2” (May 18, 2018)
Here’s the REAL trailer. It’s sooooo red band that you’ll be seeing, well, red after watching it. Do they even have a greenband for this one? What would be the point? Anyway, X-Force is in full effect! And don’t forget—it’s from the studio that brought you “27 Dresses,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Monkeybone,” and “Freddy Got Fingered.” Touche.
INDIE SLICE OF THE WEEK: A24’s “Under the Silver Lake” (June 22, 2018)
Director David Robert Mitchell, who last helmed the indie horror hit, “It Follows,” finds strange things afoot in the LA hipster suburb of Silver Lake. Thrilling crime, black comedy, and Andrew Garfield at his wackiest ensues. Looks like a summer treat for cinephiles.
#1 Pacific Rim: Uprising – $24M
#2 Sherlock Gnomes – $ 19M
#3 Black Panther – $17M
#4 Tomb Raider – $11M
#5 Paul, Apostle of Christ – $10M
Jeff Bock, NewsWhistle’s movie editor, is the senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at Jeff@NewsWhistle.com.