A rarity occurs this weekend. Three new releases — “The Angry Birds Movie” (Sony), “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” (Universal), and “The Nice Guys” (Warner Bros.) — are set to open at more than 2,800 theaters. What’s more curious is they’re going to face the third weekend of “Captain America: Civil War” (Buena Vista), which still has more than 4,000 theaters and far more screens.
On another weekend, “Angry Birds” or “Neighbors” might have been the lead film, but here it’s uncertain whether Marvel’s latest will be dethroned. All three are projected to gross at least $35 million for the three days.
This congested schedule stems from films maneuvering to benefit from next weekend and the Memorial Day holiday, and dodging the threat of a very crowded summer season. Both Tim Burton’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (Buena Vista) and Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” (20th Century Fox) had the pre-release heft to make other distributors wary (although their early reviews have not been stellar) as Memorial Day openers. It’s a risk, opening ahead of Memorial Day weekend and the elevated grosses that accompany it. Nevertheless, with so much competition over the next two months, it’s a gamble that makes sense.
Last year’s early May Marvel release, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Buena Vista), actually fell to third place its third weekend, against “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It still grossed $38 million, off 50%. With “Captain America” grossing nearly equal to “Ultron” in its second set of weekdays, that would make a $36 million gross reasonable. That would bring it to $350 million in just 17 days, by far the best for this year, though about $20 million less than “Ultron” at the same point.
That’s the easiest gross to project. Among the new films, “Angry Birds” seems to have a slight edge over “Neighbors 2.” That would be terrific news for Sony, which hasn’t seen an elevated level of success in animation; “Hotel Transylvania 2” at $169 million is their best result among a handful of releases.
“Angry Birds” is the first major animated release since “Zootopia,” so it’s nicely timed. A PG-rated entry could benefit, since it comes as many schools are already out. Like most of Sony’s animated films, it is less expensive (and reports indicate that the Finnish company that created the app’s characters covered production and marketing costs). So a $40 million start, though lower than many top animated movies, would be solid. Also, animated films often open lower than other breakout hits (“Zootopia,” which opened at $70 million, is the only recent $300 million+ smash to debut at under $100 million.)
If the film has limitations, they come from its brand, which may lack broad appeal, and some dreadful advance reviews (as of Thursday, Metacritic rates it a 38).
“Neighbors 2” benefits from the goodwill generated by the first edition, which opened to $49 million in May 2014 and earned $150 million total. The R-rated comedy doesn’t have the same freshness (nor the generally favorable reviews) of first time around, but looks strong enough to reach the mid-30s and possibly more to compete with “Civil War” and “Birds” among the top three this weekend.
The third entry, “The Nice Guys” is getting the best reviews and could score with adults. A 1970s crime caper with comic overtones, it is directed by “Lethal Weapon” screenwriter Shane Black, who previously helmed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Iron Man 3.” Like last week’s “Money Monster,” it premiered as a special Cannes screening with an eye to maximizing foreign grosses. With Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in the leads, it has heft similar to what George Clooney and Julia Roberts gave “Monster.” But in a more crowded week, it will likely fall short of “Monster’s” $15 million opening. With a reported $50 million budget, Warners has to hope its foreign draw is substantial.
Last weekend, the specialized front welcomed two of the three best openers of the year with “The Lobster” (A24) and “Love and Friendship” (Roadside Attractions). This week has two similarly high-profile releases.
“Maggie’s Plan” (Sony Pictures Classics) is the latest Greta Gerwig comedy, again as a single New York woman idiosyncratically charting her own course. She’s directed this time by Rebecca Miller in what’s her fifth and likely most commercial effort. The ensemble includes Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, and Maya Rudolph. Gerwig’s last two leading-role films – “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America” – grossed $4 and 2.5 million respectively, with initial per-theater averages of $34,000 and $23,000.
Like “Maggie’s,” the Anthony Weiner doc “Weiner” also showed at Sundance 2016; it won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentaries. “Weiner” follows the saga of the disgraced New York Congressman whose social media exploits cost him a rising political career. This is a documentary closer in subject to those that get elevated cable presentations on HBO or similar than those that of late have gained theatrical success. Its strong reviews and Sundance win, as well as top theaters, could make this the right choice.
Among other openers, two in New York only could get some attention. “Kaili Blues,” from first-time Chinese director Bi Gan, is getting the best critical response of the week. It is presented by two rising forces in the specialized scene, lower Manhattan’s new Metrograph Theater and Grasshopper Films.
Featuring more familiar names, “ma ma” (Oscilloscope) is directed by Spanish veteran Julio Medem (“Lovers of the Arctic Circle”) and stars Penelope Cruz. Despite those bona fides, it is getting negative reviews, which won’t help its run at Landmark’s Sunshine Theater.