This weekend Ben Affleck adds his star power to the faltering fall box office. His action thriller “The Accountant” (Warner Bros.) boasts the best chance to land atop the Top Ten this weekend, ahead of two other wide openers: comedy “Kevin Hart: What Now?” (Universal) and Mattel actioner “Max Steel” (Open Road). But if it falters, “What Now?” might be an upset winner.
Happily for studio accountants, all three films are at the low end of budget ranges, all economical enough to make profits more likely. But theater revenues could fall 20% or more from the same mid-October weekend last year. Last year’s Top Ten totaled $109 million. This year’s should fall short of $100 million.
Last year also saw three openers—”Goosebumps,” “Bridge of Spies” and “Crimson Peak” (ranging from $24 to $15 to 13 million respectively)— along with strong holdover grosses for “The Martian” and “Hotel Transylvania 2.” Every position this weekend except possibly the top-grosser will likely be lower than last year.
“The Accountant” is a typical fall release with some degree of sophistication and a story aimed at adult audiences, yet with enough action and credible actors (Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, and John Lithgow) to widen its appeal. The plot involves a lonely math genius on the Asperger spectrum whose talents have been corralled by criminal forces. That places it apart from other recent financial world stories such as “Money Monster” and “Equity,” with more Main Street (it was filmed in Georgia) than Wall Street settings.
Affleck’s two most recent films, “Gone Girl” and “Batman v Superman,” grossed a combined $500 million in domestic returns, with Oscar-winner “Argo” four years ago taking in $136 million more. Since then he also starred in two duds, Terrence Malick art film “To the Wonder” and more commercial “Runner Runner.” This will be a test of his star power on a less sure-fire project more likely to appeal to audiences than critics.
Director Gavin O’Connor, who comes from the indie world (“Warrior,” “Tumbleweeds”) scored his biggest success with the Disney hockey film “Miracle” and stepped in to direct “Jane Got a Gun.” He doesn’t have the draw David Fincher added to “Gone Girl.” And of course DC’s “BvS” comes from an entirely different universe of appeal.
“The Accountant” may be saved by its $40-million negative cost plus Affleck’s foreign appeal (“Runner Runner” more than doubled its domestic take). So even coming in at $20 million could yield success. But that level isn’t guaranteed, another sign of a general decline in what routine films this time of year are expected to produce in the way of box office.
If “The Accountant” falters, it’s remotely possible that “Kevin Hart: What Now?” might top it. Featuring the comedian in a Philadelphia arena performance, the concert film marks his third to be released theatrically. It follows three starring features that have grossed over $90 million (June’s “Central Intelligence” tops the group at $127 million) with three others including his biggest “Ride Along” taking in over $60 million since “Let Me Explain” in 2012. That previous live show opened to $10 million on its way to $32 million. This one is expected to open a little better, and if it gets to $15 million might best “The Accountant.” The low-budget film came in around $10 million before marketing, so this is a low-risk, potentially strong-return film for Universal.
The third wide opening is “Max Steel” based on the Mattel action toys. The indie-financed film, which follows the TV iterations of the characters, was acquired by Open Road, which most likely is putting the bulk of its investment into the marketing. But the risk involved is not high, even if this struggles to gross as much as $5 million.
Somewhere in the mix, possibly as high as #2, will be “The Girl on the Train” (Universal). After opening at $24 million last weekend, the Emily Blunt mystery-thriller should end up somewhere around $12 million. Again a lower cost ($45 million) and foreign interest should boost this. But the lack of sustained holds this fall other than “Sully” (still the season’s top opener and likely to have a 3.5 multiple) have been part of the problem compared to good long term results from “The Martian” or “Hotel Transylvania 2” last year.
The specialized limited side sees several well-reviewed films getting their initial dates. Kelly Reichart’s “Certain Women” (IFC) features a respected arthouse director working with a trio of top actresses (Kristen Stewart, Lauren Dern, Michelle Williams). “Miss Hokusai” (GKids) is the latest Japanese animation film to get specialized American treatment from a reliable supplier of international Oscar nominees in the category. “Christine” (The Orchard) debuted at Sundance, where Rebecca Hall nabbed strong reviews for recreating the on-air suicide of a Florida news anchor.
Going wider but targeting niche audiences are “Priceless” (Roadside Attractions), starring country singer Joel Smallbone (whose has a base in the Christian music world), and “Desierto” (STX), which is directed by Jonas (son of Alfonso) Cuaron and stars Gael Garcia Bernal caught in a border battle against a renegade vigilante. They open in just under 400 and 100 theaters respectively.