The year is off to a strange start, even at the box office. Last weekend saw “ ” win in a rare race among three titles for the top spot, but this weekend looks even more complicated. Multiple films will vie for no. 1 — and “Rogue One” isn’t one of them.
Among last weekend’s top grossers, the only one in the hunt is “Hidden Figures.” It will likely will drop to the high teens, and the most likely challenger is the first national expansion of “Patriots Day.” There will also bean even wider break for the major crossover success that is “La La Land,” with “Live By Night” and “Silence” also expanding, if to considerably less effect.
Three new films will open with Paramount’s “Monster Trucks,” STX’s “Bye Bye Man,” and Open Road’s “Sleepless.” All told, that’s seven films moving into more theaters, a traffic jam that’s tied to the Martin Luther King Birthday weekend. In addition to the holiday weekend draw, it falls after the Golden Globes and when awards hopefuls are ready for further play.
But for all those screens, expect this year’s result to fall significantly lower than the $145 million earned by the three-day top 10 in 2016. The live action/animated “Monster Trucks” opens with the infamy of Paramount already proclaiming it as the year’s first $100 million loss. Intended as a franchise starter, it comes from director Chris Wedge (an animated short Oscar winner who went on to helm two “Ice Age” entries and “Robots”) and cost an estimated $125 million pre-marketing. It could end up as low as third among the new openers, none of which are guaranteed to exceed $10 million for the three-day weekend.
Open Road Films
The other two are conventional low-budget mid-January releases, one with strong black appeal in its cast (a default slot seen every MLK weekend). “Sleepless” (a remake of the 2011 French thriller “Sleepless Night”) features Jamie Foxx and T.I. as Las Vegas cops pursuing kidnappers. Its director, Baran bo Odar (making his English-language debut), started his career as an assistant to Maren Ade, director Oscar Foreign Language contender “Toni Erdmann.” “Sleepless” is an independent production handled by Open Road in a return to the general-audience model that they veered from more recently with “Spotlight” and “Snowden.”
Similarly low budget (reported as $6 million) is “Bye Bye Man,” a horror film about four college students in a house possessed by a soul-snatching monster. Like last week’s “Underworld: Blood Wars” it has a female director, Stacy Title. She’s a veteran with a handful of theatrical credits, most notably the 1995 Sundance premiere “The Last Supper,” which was handled by Sony’s Columbia unit as a specialized release.
None of these are likely to fall in the top three, or five. Battling “Hidden Figures” for #1 will be Peter Berg’s Boston Marathon bombing retelling “Patriots Day.” Similar to the director’s “Lone Survivor,” which also platformed at Christmas before its wide mid-January release (to the tune of $37 million three years ago), initially went limited in hopes of awards attention, but co-producer CBS Films always anticipated mainstream appeal. Its initial performance was less than Berg’s Afghanistan war film; with a much more crowded playing field (“Survivor” faced only “The Legend of Hercules” and the expansion of “August: Osage County”), even landing at no.1 won’t be enough to match that earlier expansion’s results.
Also going wider is Ben Affleck’s gangster period film “Live By Night.” Whatever it earns this weekend (guesses also are in the $10 million range for the actor’s first directorial effort since “Argo”), it will be a near-record multiple thanks to a poor platform run. With its $65 million budget, major foreign returns will be needed to get this one into profitability.
Also expanding, but under 1,000 theaters, is Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.” His longtime dream project about Portuguese missionaries in Japan has received a modest response, with little sign of awards support. This could end up the director’s most narrow release (other than some niche documentaries) and his lowest grosser since “Kundun.” (In January 1998, it expanded from its initial platform dates to 439 theaters and $1.4 million.)
And finally, there’s “La La Land.” Its unexpectedly rapid expansion, fueled by continued strong response and its major Golden Globe haul, grows to over 2,000 theaters. Increased advertising and public awareness should give this its best weekend yet, at least $12 million and conceivably higher. And this is all still before the Oscar nominations ahead, which should boost it even more.