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‘Bad Boys for Life’ Drives a Jolly January at the Box Office

Universal is vying for second place with fading "Dolittle" and surging Oscar contender "1917."

“Bad Boys for Life”

So far, the 2020 box office rebound is real. Time will tell. But early signs remain positive, with this weekend continuing to build on the 12% increase to date over the same period in 2019. Last year the weekend between King Birthday and the Super Bowl took in $105 million. This year has a shot at $125 million, which would be close to a 20% improvement.

If so, thriller “The Turning” (Universal) and action comedy “The Gentlemen” (STX) will play a minor role in that result, along with the calendar, once again. For distributors setting release dates, the second weekend box-office can be as important as the first. With the Super Bowl looming, opening now is risky.

Fortunately current titles should make up the slack, with newbies doing better than last year, when the combined gross of long-forgotten “The Kid Who Would Be King” and “Serenity” totaled under $12 million. At best, new entries could double that number.

The number one ranked holdover “Bad Boys for Life” (Sony) should triple any of the new entries. Even with a post-holiday weekend drop, give it $30-35 million, which is only slightly under its initial opening estimates. Any worries about audience resistance to a stale action sequel starring Will Smith swiftly disappeared with the second-best ever January opening of $62 million for three days. The sequel should reach $90 million through Thursday. The weekend will show whether its domestic total will be closer to $150 or 200 million.

Dolittle

“Dolittle”

Particularly with the Monday school holiday boost, “Dolittle” (Universal) despite its disappointing performance relative to costs managed $28 million for the four-day weekend and a #2 spot. What happens next for the Robert Downey, Jr. misfire will reveal how big a hit the studio will take on the $175 million budget plus marketing costs. (China opens this weekend along with many other foreign territories.)

Don’t expect “Dolittle” to repeat at #2. A normal second weekend drop would put it at the $13-14 million level, depending on word of mouth, with closer to $10 million possible. Still, despite awful reviews, four days into its run on Monday “Dolittle” still grossed $6 million with strong family interest.

Whatever happens, second place should go to a Universal film. Most likely it’s “1917.” Though its second wide week drop of 40% was a bit higher than most similar post-nomination movies that opened in limited release, a 35-40% drop would place it in the $12-14 million range. Anywhere close to that puts Sam Mendes’ film close to the $100-million mark.

Coming from behind is Universal’s formulaic DreamWorks thriller “The Turning” which suffers from low expectations due to its placement on a generally spurned date. That can easily lead to underestimation. Music-video grad Floria Sigismondi (“The Runaways”) directs the latest film adaptation of Henry James’ 1898 novella “The Turn of the Screw,” which has been the basis for as many movies as “Little Women,” most prominently 1961’s “The Innocents.” Rising actress Mackenzie Davis takes on the Deborah Kerr role, updated a century later, as the governess of two wealthy charges in a mansion with unearthly happenings.

This is remarkably Universal’s fifth release in six weeks, and they didn’t even take over another studio. It’s been a rough patch: “Black Christmas” quickly disappeared, and “Cats” and “Dolittle” struggled. Only “1917,” for which their role is solely as distributor, has broken out. Late arriving reviews are not good for PG-13 “The Turning,” which should yield anywhere between $6-12 million this weekend.

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“The Gentlemen”

Christopher Raphael

We do know more about STX release “The Gentlemen.” The British caper features an appealing cast led by Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant in a story about a London marijuana mogul (McConaughey) fending off multiple assaults on his empire. Guy Ritchie is coming off the huge “Aladdin” with a smaller-scale film along the lines of his earlier “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.”

A similar tone elevated action comedy “Knives Out” to its stunning almost $150-million domestic total so far. “The Gentlemen” won’t replicate that: with mixed reviews, strictly male appeal and a British setting, expect an $8-10 million opening. Ritchie has reached big heights with his studio “Sherlock Holmes” tentpoles. Back in 2000, similar “Snatch” starring Brad Pitt performed decently with (an adjusted) domestic take around $50 million.

STX has had success taking on similar pickups like “Hustlers” and TWC hand-me-down “The Upside.” They acquired domestic rights for “The Gentlemen” for $7 million; the movie has already scored $18 million mostly in the UK/Ireland and Australia. The guess here is an opening around $10 million.

The rest of the Top Ten will consist of holdovers at $6 million and lower, with “Jumanji: The Next Level” (Sony) leading the pack.

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