Of course, it’s the film that forces us to guess its gross that holds the most curiosity this week. Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” opens in eight New York/Los Angeles theaters to start its theatrical play ahead of a November 27 Netflix debut — and in far fewer theaters than it should be.
While Netflix is slowly adding dates weekly after its premiere, this is not a typical platform run. For one thing, among its initial theaters, the Egyptian in Los Angeles and the Belasco in New York aren’t even first-run locations — and while venerable, they’re far removed from plush stadium seating at premium locations. Two Los Angeles dates were added last minute, post-Sunday newspaper ads.
Netflix’s website for “The Irishman” lists theaters booked that have provided showtimes and have tickets on sale, and thus is incomplete. It currently lists around 60-70 theaters scattered through North America in addition to dates in the U.K and Ireland. For most people, seeing “The Irishman” in a theater will require significant effort. That seems to be acceptable to both Netflix (who is in the streaming business) and most theater operators (who are inflexible in their window requirements).
Spot-checking ticket sites show the IFC Center (about 1,100 total seats per day) and 57 West (500 seats) nearly sold out. The Belasco has seats for all shows, but if requesting three together for the five weekend shows (total 6,000 seats) options are limited, which suggests good presales. In Los Angeles, The Landmark seems to be close to sold out and the Alamo, which is playing only one screen with 50 seats, is almost sold out. The Egyptian has one sold-out screening so far, with seats available at the Monica and the Village.
The film runs 210 minutes with no intermission, and it will be available on Netflix in a few weeks. That might explain why, despite advance reviews nearly equal to the year’s best, some locations’ online ticket sites show available seats at some non-prime shows. Limited seating and showtimes overall suggest this will have high numbers, but hardly record breaking.
As for those films this weekend that don’t conceal their box-office performance, we have four new wide releases, three of which are originals. However, it’s more than likely that total grosses again will drop behind the same period last year in the face of tepid results.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” will be an easy #1, but it’s another $200 million franchise sequel that will see a mediocre domestic reaction. Meanwhile, “Harriet,” “Motherless Brooklyn,” and “Arctic Dogs” all project at $10 million or under.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” has hands-on writing and producing roles for James Cameron and reunites Arnold Schwarzenegger with Linda Hamilton. Apart from its AARP feel from its older cast, it’s a fairly standard big-budget effort. Guesses on its opening weekend gross have fallen to under $40 million. “Dark Fate” should have strong foreign appeal, but it has already opened to less than stellar results in some overseas territories. That said, its total could double the other three openers, each smaller but facing different requirements to succeed.
“Harriet,” a biopic about emancipation heroine Harriet Tubman, follows its Toronto premiere with a wide national release along with hopes for awards attention. The predicted range is between $8 million-$10 million, bolstered by some initial strong group and school sales.
“Motherless Brooklyn,” directed by Edward Norton, debuted at Telluride. The 1950s-set detective mystery, which Norton also adapted and stars opposite Willem Dafoe, was a risk even at a modest $26 million reported budget. This is a more review-dependent film, which at best are mildly favorable, and is Warners’ second adaptation of a critically acclaimed novel. However, “The Goldfinch” couldn’t even manage $6 million for its run; this will certainly do better in its 1,332-run opening weekend.
“Arctic Dogs” from Entertainment Studios is a family animated film with a reported cost ($60 million) way beyond any expectation of its domestic gross. Expect no more than a $5 million opening.
Other specialized openings include Errol Morris’ Steve Bannon documentary “American Dharma” opening at New York’s Film Forum a year after its festival premieres, and the well-reviewed “Light from Light” starring Jim Gaffigan in a a Tennessee-set paranormal activity story that premiered at Sundance. It opens in New York and Philadelphia.