$200-million sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence” (20th Century Fox), among the most expensive summer 2016 releases, will test the idea that the public demands something new in a sequel in order to rush out to see it.
With the studio largely skipping pre-release screenings for domestic critics (London reviews were mixed), Fox is banking that two-decade-plus memories of the first film (whose star Will Smith did not return) and selling a surplus of action, effects and 3D beyond what was available in 1996 would give it life.
The first version was the biggest film of 1996, with an adjusted domestic gross of $594 million off a $97 million opening. That made it the fifth-ranked gross of the 90s, and until now was one of the few live-action blockbusters of recent years to lack a sequel.
Director Roland Emmerich went on to further success: six films with domestic grosses, again adjusted, over $100 million, led by “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Godzilla.” The most recent, however, was seven years ago, with two of his three recent efforts (“Anonymous” and “Stonewall”) filmed at lower budgets with limited success.
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Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum are back, plus Liam Hemsworth, whose “Hunger Games” appearances became hits mainly for reasons other than his participation. The pre-opening estimates peg this at over $50 million for the first pre-July 4th weekend, with some predicting closer to $60 million. But a sub-$40 million haul wouldn’t be a surprise and more consistent with recent performances of sequels deemed not to be necessary by domestic moviegoers.
That range doesn’t justify the inflated budget or marketing costs, unless the world responds far more strongly. And they might: 1996 is practically prehistoric in terms of foreign-grossing power, yet the first “Independence” did about 40% of its total overseas, huge for the time.
“Jurassic World,” a sequel to an even bigger 90s action/sci-fi smash, came 14 years after the third go-round in that franchise. So a revival is always possible, perhaps more so when no previous sequel has occurred. But this would have to do beyond expectations if it is to transplant current #1 (and fellow sequel) “Finding Dory” (Buena Vista) from the top spot.
Coming off the third best (adjusted) animated opening at $134 million, and about 50% better than “Inside Out” last year, which dropped 42% last year. “Finding Dory” started from a higher place, but a 50% fall to around $65 million would keep it #1, and nicely on track to eventually replace “Captain America: Civil War” as top 2016 release. “Dory” will be at $200 million by Thursday sometime, while “Civil War” has already passed $400 million.
Two other films go wide this week, along with a fourth more specialized entry still opening in multi-hundred locations. The bigger grossing is likely to be “Free State of Jones” (STX). This history-based Civil War story starring Matthew McConaughey, an unlikely summertime release, has been getting a considerable marketing push for adult audiences not as inclined to patronize other top current releases.
Director Gary Ross has only helmed only three previous films, but the more recent was “Hunger Games,” and before that “Seabiscuit,” a surprise summer hit (and Best Picture nominee). But its chances this weekend are lessened by tepid reviews. Still a result between $10-15 million seems possible, though with a $50 million budget it will need strong word of mouth to make it a success since it boasts mainly domestic appeal.
Sony fleshes out its schedule with low-budget genre films that can gain traction. “The Shallows,” about a surfer (Blake Lively) stranded in shark-infested waters, is the latest effort by Jaume Collet-Sera, whose thriller and other genre successes include “The Orphan,” “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” (though “Run All Night” stumbled last year). This one is lower budget (around $17 million), and looks to fall under the $10 million mark.
Nicholas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” (Amazon/Broad Green) is going somewhere between limited and wide, with signs of a strong fan-base interest on social media based on the director’s earlier films led by his biggest success “Drive.” Following its divisive reaction at Cannes, this has gained traction with its stylish look at female beauty through the experience of a model (Elle Fanning) who becomes the obsession of a group of Los Angeles women who envy her appeal.
Winding Refn’s previous Cannes-debuted “Only God Forgives,” equally controversial, had a strategic Radius release on Video on Demand three summers ago. Broad Green is hoping for theatrical interest in its 775 theaters. It’s tough to create an immediate success from a film that has longer-term cult appeal, but this looks to justify something other than a big city platform if the on-line and other interest is any judge.
The more limited special arena sees two Sundance 2016 attention-getters opening: Todd Solondz’s “Wiener-Dog” (IFC) boasts an ensemble cast in a series of comedy scenes involving a dachsund. It landed better reviews than A24’s “Swiss Army Man,” though the latter with its out-there story of one man (Paul Dano) stranded on an island finding hope in life when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore has been getting considerable attention. Both will play to somewhat different audiences than recent specialized hits like “Hello, My Name Is Doris” and “Love & Friendship.”