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Weekend Box Office Should Keep Pace Despite Super Bowl Dead Zone

The big studios usually run away from Super Bowl weekend, but two modest newbies and some specialty titles are filling the breach.

"The Rhythm Section"

“The Rhythm Section”

Paramount

This Super Bowl weekend, fewer movie tickets will sell than any weekend this year. But ticket sales should still improve over last year. Because studios always steer clear of this weekend, believing that football fans won’t venture into theaters for all three days, soft grosses are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This year’s weekend uptick could reach a projected $95-100 million, compared to $74 million last year.  January 2019 might have sold the fewest tickets in a month in decades. But don’t count on the year ahead to yield a huge bounty: 2019 opened six releases that grossed over $400 million domestic, which may not happen in 2020.

Most of the good news this weekend will come from holdovers. The two newbies, “Gretel & Hansel” (United Artists) and “The Rhythm Section” (Paramount), represent more fresh studio product than usual for this date. But their combined gross might be little more than the $12-13 million total that some past single releases have done.

“Gretel and Hansel”

Orion Pictures

The stakes are lower for the revisionist children’s horror tale “Gretel,” with its bargain-basement pre-marketing cost of $5 million. That’s a break: the high-end estimate for its take is $8 million. This marks the third horror film of the month, and last week’s “The Turning” didn’t even hit $7 million.

Both horror films share the possibly limiting PG-13 rating (anathema to many horror fans, particularly for a lesser known brand). “Gretel” is aimed at teenage girls with a story of two pre-teen siblings; it has a respectable, not great 55 Metascore. United Artists is marketing the movie as smart horror (Alamo Drafthouse mounted pre-opening event screenings). It will need strong word of mouth.

“The Rhythm Section” is much riskier. The Blake Lively action film comes from James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Anderson and is directed by cinematographer-turned-“Handmaid’s Tale”- Emmy-winner Reed Morano. It comes with a $50-million budget and some release date delays, partly due to a Lively production injury.

The “Gretel” plot resembles “Taken,” “John Wick” and other recent male revenge films with a plot about an angry woman seeking out the people who caused her family to be killed in a plane crash. It had shown little tracking response, so the decision to have it screened was an understandable gamble even if the response might not help get it above a gross of $10 million or less.

“Bad Boys for Life”

That leaves two hit holdovers to salvage the week. “Bad Boys for Life” (Sony) and “1917” (Universal) should repeat at #1 and 2. The Will Smith-Martin Lawrence sequel smash, approaching $130 million at the end of week two, more than doubled Sam Mendes’ Oscar contending hit last weekend. The latter should fall less with an expected respected $18 and $12 million to add to its already $110 million domestic haul.

Guy Ritchie’s caper “The Gentlemen” (STX) could eke out third ahead of the two new films, or fall as low as #5, with a drop from its initial $11 million to somewhere in the range of $6 million. “The Turning” (Universal) may fall out of the Top Ten on its second weekend. “Dolittle” (Universal) is not collapsing, though hardly thriving. “Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Little Women” (both Sony) are sure bets to stay afloat, with the latter refusing to vacate screens as it heads for Oscar weekend. “Knives Out” (Lionsgate) has a chance to stick around.

Julia Garner stars as Jane in THE ASSISTANT, a Bleecker Street release.Credit: Ty Johnson / Bleecker Streetr1_g_r709.110487.tif

“The Assistant”

Ty Johnson

The specialty companies are stepping into the Super Bowl breach. “The Assistant” (Bleecker Street) is a #MeToo drama about a young woman’s sexual harassment from her movie producer boss. From veteran Italian master Marco Bellochio, Italian Oscar submission “The Traitor” (Sony Classics Pictures) is a tale of Sicilian mob bosses fighting over control of heroin in the 1980s.

Opening wider is the annual collection of Oscar-nominated short films handled, as usual, by Magnolia.

Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole” (Kino Lorber) opened on Wednesday with easily the best reviews so far this year (Metascore: 87). The Cannes prize-winner was Russia’s International Film submission, making it to the semi-final round but not nominated. The exquisitely shot 1945 Leningrad drama about two women coping to survive should see interest from core art houses in coming weeks.

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