“The LEGO Batman Movie” (Warner Bros.), “Fifty Shades Darker” (Universal), and “John Wick: Chapter 2” (Lionsgate) present the strongest week of openers so far in 2017. Combined, they could gross over $125 million. That would be great news not only because we need a strong weekend, but also because these new films represent what’s on deck for the rest of the year.
Whatever happens, this weekend isn’t the same as this time last year, when it was President’s Day weekend and Valentine’s Day on Sunday. That boosted the Top Ten to $216 million, led by “Deadpool” and its unexpected $132 million total. (Two other openers, “How to Be Single” and “Zoolander 2,” opened to under $20 million each).
These three openers are all part of franchises, and they come at a time when non-franchise films flourish. The last eight films to reach $100 million include six standalone entries (although “Split” looks like it will now have a sequel); two others (“Rogue One” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) were offshoots with a degree of originality. Throw in two other recent titles just under $100 million (“Arrival” and “Passengers”), and eight of the 10 best-grossing recent releases are unique efforts.
“The LEGO Batman Movie” plays off two past successes; that alchemy, with its expectation of originality, makes it the likely top-grossing film. The first “LEGO” animated feature opened to $69 million three years back and a great $258 million domestic total. The $60 million-$65 million that serves as the consensus guess for its opening might seem like a disappointment. But the first one came out with less competition and as a presold concept that added to its appeal.
Still, an opening around this level would be a respectable initial showing. It would place it ahead of both “Moana” and “Sing,” the two most recent animated smashes, though holiday-related playdate caveats reduced both numbers.
The first “LEGO” did a majority of its business at home. That wasn’t the case for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which did 70 percent of its business overseas. That’s important to Universal, since the second of the three planned renditions of this story is expected to gross far less than the $88 million two years ago.
The range for “Fifty Shades Darker” is more likely to fall in the $35 million-$40 million range. The curiosity factor will be way down, and the first one only ended up doubling its three-day weekend total, a weak performance beyond the initial audience. Still it’s the right weekend for this and should be adequate for its draw at this point.
"John Wick: Chapter Two"
The least predictable release is “John Wick: Chapter 2.” The first iteration of the Keanu Reeves revenge thriller in October 2014 took in over $14 million its first weekend, with a fairly evenly split worldwide total of $86 million. It had later strength in home viewing, and with a lower budget (the 2014 film cost $20 million) justified a second. Its initial reviews have been ahead of the favorable ones last time (currently 97% on Rotten Tomatoes), so combined with a male fan base that’s been underserved in recent weeks this could hit $20 million or more.
This weekend will end the reign of “Split” at #1 for an unexpected three weeks, with fellow $100 million+ grossers “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land” still just below and likely maintaining decent levels. Last weekend’s #2, “Rings,” could easily drop five positions in its second weekend.
20th Century Fox
The specialized scene is starting to unveil major titles unrelated to the current awards race. Fox Searchlight is the first of the heavyweight companies to launch one with “A United Kingdom.”It’s based on the true story of African prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), who in 1948 met and fell in love with a white British office worker, Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike).
Director Amma Asante previously directed 2014 Searchlight release “Belle,” another historical film that centered on a controversial racial situation in England, which grossed nearly $11 million. It opens in New York and Los Angeles initially.
Turkish documentary “Kedi” (Oscilloscope), about the population of itinerant cats that are an accepted part of Istanbul’s urban scene, opens exclusively at New York’s Metrograph. Strong advance sales are reported by the distributor, so this could become a surprise success.