Labor Day Weekend is the bastard stepchild of holidays, and this weekend promises a dispiriting reception for two new, lower-budget studio releases. “The Light Between Oceans” (Disney) and “Morgan” (20th Century Fox) will each struggle to do even $10 million this weekend. However, Sony’s surprisingly strong horror thriller “Don’t Breathe” looks to repeat at No. 1 — a rare achievement in the genre.
For both films, choosing this date represents the “what have we got to lose?” strategy. Neither “Oceans” nor “Morgan” will open in more than 2,000 theaters; unless they over-perform, the three-day weekend has a good chance of being the weakest of 2016. Last year’s Friday-to-Sunday saw $60 million; the mark to beat this year is $76 million (Super Bowl Weekend in early February, normally a dead zone).
That said, “The Light Between Oceans” is the first among equals. The final Dreamworks film in Disney’s association with Steven Spielberg’s company, it stars Michael Fassbender and recent Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander, as directed by Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”). David Heyman (“Harry Potter,” “Gravity” and “Paddington”) is among its producers.
Vikander and Fassbender portray a couple who keep an Australian lighthouse; after they discover a baby in a boat and decide to raise the child, devastating consequences follow. Anticipation of reviews at the low end of favorable likely helped push this to a more opportunistic slot before the post-festival heavyweights come along.
The hope: It duplicates what “A Walk in the Woods” achieved last Labor Day. That film starred Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, which premiered at Sundance, faced even less favorable reviews. Even so, it managed an $8.2 million three-day opening and parlayed that into a $30 million gross, still the best result to date for upstart Broad Green. However, “Oceans” faces the challenge of multiple adult-oriented independent films already in the market, led by “Hell or High Water.”
Adult-minded Dreamworks -Disney co-productions have found some success; “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “Bridge of Spies” cost $20 million and $40 million, respectively; both grossed over $50 million domestically. “Light” came in at $20 million and likely finds international appeal to buttress its figures. Even a gross in the $9 million-10 million range could mean, with a healthy multiple and foreign interest, that the Dreamworks/Disney partnership ends on a happier note than “The BFG.”
“Morgan” bears some resemblance to last year’s sleeper “Ex-Machina” in its story of a junior exec (this time female) who’s sent to check on an eccentric figure in an outlying location. Fox, with its Ridley Scott relationship (going back to “Alien” to recent big success “The Martian”) backed this debut feature from his son Luke, made for $8 million. The thriller is getting mixed reviews, and will come up against a strong second weekend for “Don’t Breathe.” But if its cast (including Kate Mara and Anne-Taylor Joy) can bring in young females, it could do better than low-end expectations.
Assuming that “Breathe” takes the top spot, it will be the first horror film to do this since “Possession” four years ago. That Lionsgate release did it the same way, winning Labor Day its second weekend.
Beyond that, there’s a handful of vital releases opening or expanding this weekend. New is “No Manches Frida,” Lionsgate’s latest release from Spanish-language film producing partner Pantelion. The comedy is opening in 350 theaters.
Expanding — and having the best shot at the Top 10 — is “Hell or High Water,” another Lionsgate-partner release (from CBS Films). It’s adding about 300 theaters, to total around 1,200; it could equal the $3.5 million it grossed last weekend.
Weinstein’s Roberto Duran biopic, “Hands of Stone,” will grow in two stages (Wednesday and Friday) to around 2,000 theaters. That could get it to around $2 million. Roadside Attractions’ “Southside With You” will have a smaller jump, but could be in the same territory.
Disney is returning year’s top grosser “Finding Dory” to over 2,000 theaters for at least partial shows, so that could find itself in the mix as well.