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Box Office Preview: ‘Jack Reacher,’ ‘Madea,’ and ‘Ouija’ Sequels Race For Mediocrity

None of the wide releases promise originality or a big box office. But on the bright side, there's "Moonlight."

Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

Four new wide studio releases open Friday, but they promise a weekend of meh. Three are sequels — “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (Paramount), “Boo: A Madea Halloween,” and “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (Universal) — and will likely fall in the mid-teen millions or slightly higher. The lone original, 20th Century Fox’s “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” likely won’t reach even $10 million.

The Top 10 total should match the $91 million of last year. That’s not an impressive figure, but it’s enough to halt the decline of recent weeks. And, the four films have relatively modest budgets; their domestic takes and/or foreign appeal should keep the red ink from staining.

Still, none of these films are likely to sustain more than short runs; they may not even reach $50 million in domestic gross totals. Worse: They reinforce the notion that the theatrical experience provides routine product, rather than the creativity that’s fueling increasingly vital home-viewing options.

Of course, this isn’t the best date to spotlight a great movie. There’s competition from Halloween, and an election year complicates things. Not only do political ads get priority by law, they also increase the rates for everyone else.

The second film in the Jason Blum-produced “Ouija” series could end up most profitable (as well as the best-received critically), and even challenge for #1. “Joneses” looks like the latest in a series of weak comedies.

 

Why a new “Jack Reacher”? Because Tom Cruise has a long relationship with Paramount, and because that studio has a serious lack of franchise depthThe first one opened on a pre-Christmas weekend, with a $15 million start translating into an $80 million total and another $138 million foreign. At a $60 million production budget (same as the sequel), that suggests a small profit.

Since then, Cruise made two originals — “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Oblivion” — that were stronger than “Reacher” in all metrics (although both fell short of his most recent hit, “Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation” last year). All but “Oblivion” managed strong domestic multiples, suggesting Cruise remains a draw and satisfies his fans.

Still, this sequel looks like it will fall short. Based on Lee Child’s novels that center on a vigilante (think a more upscale version of Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” character), it’s getting tepid reviews the second time around.

 

“Boo” is Tyler Perry’s 11th time out playing Madea. The last one was 2013’s “A Madea Christmas” ($52 million), and this has been the longest gap between Madea films since their inception. It remains to be seen whether absence has made heart grow fonder, as well as whether the Halloween connection adds to its appeal. It comes with a $20 million price tag, with little overseas draw, so it likely needs to reach what “Christmas” did to justify the return.

“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is the third possible #1 film. The least expensive ($9 million) with the best advance reviews (though not stellar), it’s the first horror film since the ill-advised “Blair Witch” sequel. The popular “Don’t Breathe” was two months back; it opened to $26 million and is up to $88 million.

Two years ago, “Ouija” opened this weekend to $20 million and ended up with $51 million. This time last year, “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” ended that previously successful series with a whimper — $8 million to open, $18 million total. It faced Lionsgate’s much more expensive genre hybrid flop “The Last Witch Hunter,” which only managed an $11 million start. “Ouija” might do as much as both combined.

 

Keeping up with the other wide openers isn’t likely for “Joneses.” A delayed release, this suburban-spy comedy stars Zach Galifianakis (whose “Masterminds” flopped three weeks ago), Isla Fisher, and Jon Hamm. Anticipated opening: $5 million-$9 million.

 

The specialized world finally has some significant openings after an unusually slow early fall. Barry Jenkins’ recent festival sensation “Moonlight” (A24) gets a high-end New York/Los Angeles platform start. At 97, its Metacritic score is tied for 5th best of all time at the site, and soars over all other 2016 releases.

Its subject, chronicling the life of a young gay Miami African-American, and its largely unknown director will keep this from hitting record territory, but its acclaim, the lack of recent competition, and its distributor’s track record should make this one of the top two city openers of the year.

 

Park Chan-Wook’s “The Handmaiden” (Magnolia), a period romantic drama, also received recent top festival acclaim. A change of pace from the creepy mysteries for which he’s known (“Oldboy,” “Stoker”), this is his return to South Korea. “Stoker,” his English-language debut, opened in 2013 to $160,000 in seven theaters on its way to a $1.7 million total. It also has strong New York/Los Angeles placement.

 

Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut, “American Pastoral” (Lionsgate) is the second Philip Roth novel (after “Indignation”) to open in recent months. McGregor is the lead of a businessman dad fighting to restore order to his family after his daughter is caught up in violent criminal activity. It did not get a good reaction at Toronto, and now has a multi-city, 17-theater opening rather than the more narrow two-city debut for “Moonlight” and “The Handmaiden.”

 

Pureflix has “I’m Not Ashamed,” a faith-based story about a girl killed in the Columbine massacre. It opens at around 500 theaters nationwide.

 

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