This week, three new wide releases will take advantage of a projected lull in the schedule — “A Dog’s Purpose” (Universal), “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” (Sony) and “Gold” (Weinstein). They compete against the second weekend for “Split” (Universal), along with possible Oscar-nomination surges for “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox) and “La La Land” (Lionsgate). Of course, that lull is there for a reason: This late January weekend, just before the Super Bowl, is usually among the very worst of the year.
The title to beat is “Split,” the M. Night Shyamalan hit produced by Jason Blum that became the first non-franchise, live-action release to open to over $40 million since the fall 2015. If it performs like most horror films, which tend to be frontloaded, it could fall only 50 percent for a $20 million total.
That might be enough to repeat at no. 1. It’s not unheard of for a genre title; over Labor Day weekend last year, “Don’t Breathe” managed that achievement with a lower initial gross and an impressive 40 percent drop. But still, it’s unusual.
Initially projected as a lower-budget sleeper success, Lasse Hallström’s “A Dog’s Purpose” now must contend with a video that shows possible animal abuse during filming. PETA has called for a boycott, and Universal canceled its premiere. But release plans remained unchanged, and the $25 million production will likely still end up as the highest-grossing of the debuting films.
Live-action dog stories have been less prominent of late since the major success of “Marley and Me” at Christmas 2008. Boosted by Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, it reached $143 million after a $34 million start. That made it second only to “Benji” among non-animated dog stories. “Max” in summer 2015 made only a minor splash with a $12 million start ($44 million total). “A Dog’s Purpose” has an advantage with less competition, particularly with no significant fresh product for families since “Sing” (the flop that was “Monster Trucks” notwithstanding). That gives it a path to open somewhere between “Marley” and “Max.”
“Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” suggests but by no means guarantees that the “Resident Evil” franchise has reached the end of its road. Whatever the outcome, “Final Chapter,” like “xXx: Return of Xander” the weekend before, will likely find only a small portion of its worldwide take in domestic numbers.
Similar to Sony’s “Underworld” series (the fifth installment opened two weeks back), this video game adaptation should open at its lowest level ever. Four of the previous five opened over $20 million (and the first as well in adjusted numbers). This one brings back director Paul W.S. Anderson and star Milla Jovovich. With Japan already grossing $35 million alone, a domestic start of less than half of that will bring little concern at the studio. Where it might have the greatest impact is cutting into the “Split” audience.
Weinstein’s “Gold” was once positioned as an awards player; that turned into a below-the-radar, year-end, one-week Los Angeles run to justify its Golden Globe song nomination. Matthew McConaughey stars in the retelling of a Indonesian mining scandal, which will now open in over 2,000 theaters. This weekend’s respite in release traffic allows Weinstein to place this atop still-wide runs of Oscar-nominated “Lion” and “The Founder” for a second week. Even so, this might fall short of the Top 10, or barely make it with around $3 million-$4 million.
The wild cards this weekend are the two longest-playing films, both of which received Best Picture nominations. Likely to climb in totals is the 14-times nominated “La La Land,” which will jump to over 3,000 theaters. It grossed $8.4 million last weekend and could see a climb to over $10 million, with a certain rise to over $100 million with multiple strong weeks still to come.
With its three nominations,”Hidden Figures” should keep close to its recent levels (last weekend, just under $16 million) and also reach $100 million. With two current hit Oscar films in the upper half of the Top 10 during the voting period, that makes this Oscar cycle an atypical one. It also bolsters the already -trong chances for “La La Land” and could yet make “Hidden Figures” a stronger contender than its nomination total suggests.
Other nominees will capitalize on their citations with expansion, though none are expected to come close to those two. Paramount is returning their eight-nomination “Allied” to over 1,000 theaters, while “Moonlight” (A24) and “Manchester By the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) should also see significant boosts.
“The Salesman” (Cohen), like “Manchester,” is an Amazon Studio film and an Oscar nominee. It’s set for its initial limited dates this weekend, a winning gamble. The Iranian film, from previous winner Asghar Faradi, debuts in New York and Los Angeles.