It’s Johnny Knoxville and Tom Holland to the rescue — at least for low-grossing theaters this month. Knoxville and his merry band of pranksters from “Jackass Forever” (Paramount) opened Thursday night to $1.65 million, while Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster movie “Moonfall” took in $700,000 initially. Storms in the central part of the country shut down some theaters and otherwise dampened both figures.
February’s domestic box office take can’t be much worse than January’s: The $390 million total is just 44 percent of the same month two years ago, shortly before the pandemic began to spread around the world, shutting down many theaters in its wake. Normally, February grosses about 75-80 percent of January. This year should be better.
Last month had a strong start with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which added $164 million to its box office take after opening in December. That figure accounted for 43 percent of the box office total for all films. The Sony-produced Marvel film will likely add only another $30-40 million to its take this month. The rest of the holdovers, including “Scream,” won’t do much more.
To get to any sort of passable total, eight new wide studio releases will have to step up, with at least two — “Jackass Forever” and “Uncharted” (Sony/February 18) — looking the best positioned to make some real money. A key reason for concern this month is also an opportunity: there’s an unusually low franchise/sequel quotient among February’s new releases.
If box office results are better than expected, it would point to signs that audiences are responding to two elements lacking in many recent releases. The first: originality in non-franchise films; the second: comedies, which have not proven to be hits in recent months at the box office. If the month’s new releases do reasonably well, it could offer a boost to exhibition’s future, equal to what “No Way Home” has achieved, even if their combined performance is far less than the superhero juggernaut.
“Jackass Forever” is the fourth film in the comedy stunt franchise and the first in 12 years. The younger fans of the initial 2002 film may now have children old enough to see the R-rated film. One major question “Jackass” will help clarify: whether comedy tastes — often transient — can sustain themselves. Perhaps the gap between films will make this new entry, which also includes a variety of new stars, feel fresher. Pre-opening estimates guessed at a $15-20 million opening weekend, though if word of mouth is like the buzzy Twitter response, the film might go higher.
Sony and its “Spider-Man” star Holland return to the multiplex with “Uncharted,” out on February 18. The long-gestating video game adaptation had a Christmas 2020 date before pre-COVID production delays, only to be pushed twice more in the following months. The Ruben Fleischer-directed adventure now opens on President’s Day weekend (February 11 in U.K./Ireland).
Like many actors who are strongly identified with one popular character, Holland can’t automatically transfer his “Spider-Man” appeal to a different franchise. Leonardo DiCaprio managed to boost “The Man in the Iron Mask” to the equivalent of a $34 million opening in 1998, just missing beating out his “Titanic” in its thirteenth week as #1. “Mask” was a historical action film, seemingly one with less obvious appeal than “Uncharted,” which has a built-in fanbase of longtime players.
Expectations are that it could be the biggest opener for the month, with a possible $20 million weekend with higher potential. Along with “Jackass Forever,” these are the sole titles with hopes (as of now) for that kind of opening take. Compare that to early 2020, just before COVID struck: The first two months of 2020 saw seven films open over $20 million on their first weekend, four over $30 million, two above $50 million.
Along with lower expectations for new titles, fewer are being released. In 2020, 22 wide releases opened in the first two months of the year. The total this year during the same time period will be just 13. The thin quantity of new releases is an issue that is not going away, and one that continues to plague movie theaters.
“Moonfall,” the latest Emmerich-verse release (yet another one of his existential threats to humanity efforts) with a price of around $150 million, is one of the most expensive independent films ever made. Lionsgate’s share of the expense is much lower, but unless there is some last minute surge of interest post-Twitter exultation over initial screenings (mostly on its over-the-top nature and celebration of stupid human behavior, of a different sort than “Jackass”) it isn’t expected to open over $10 million.
Next weekend, three films will open against the Super Bowl, two of them aimed at older audiences. As February 11 is the closest Friday to Valentine’s Day, the rom-com “Marry Me” (Universal, also playing on Peacock) is on offer. The film stars Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, and Colombian singer Maluma. The long-delayed “Death on the Nile” (Disney), a victim of COVID and concern over ensemble member Armie Hammer’s personal scandals, is also debuting in theaters. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it was made prior to his soon-to-be Oscar-nominated “Belfast.” Both films are projected to open somewhere in the $15 million range.
The absence of other recent action titles likely led to Briarcliffe choosing the same weekend to release their “Blacklight.” This year’s (first, somehow, there are still more to come) Liam Neeson-against-all-comers thriller is headed for a lesser result. “Dog” (United Artists) stars Channing Tatum and a German shepherd in a comedy about getting to a funeral on time. It goes February 18, and will also likely take in under $10 million.
The Foo Fighters star in “Studio 666” (Open Road) the following week, playing themselves as a band recording an album in a haunted mansion. Expectations are on the lower side, but sometimes oddball ideas can click, particularly with the added value of big names.
Elsewhere, the struggling specialized world will have some opportunity to show that it is recovering. Neon opens the acclaimed Oscar contender “The Worst Person in the World” today, with its limited release expanding through the month. The Norwegian drama, a potential Best International Film nominee, has a somewhat younger-skewing relationship story than many specialized titles, while still hitting what would normally be multiple sweet spots for that audience.
Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” (United Artists) finally opens on February 25 in a national, but not fully wide, release. The Oscar nominations, announced on Tuesday, should also bolster efforts to maximize or return top nominees to the box office fray. There is certainly room for them.
Overall estimates for this month are inexact at best: $300 million looks like the low end, with $400 million (even better than January, if two or three films perform strongly) still possible. February 2020 took in $638 million, meaning that, at best, this month will take in just 60 percent of that total. There is, however, good news: falloff looks to be less than January, and March will seeing the opening of the much-anticipated “The Batman” (Warner Bros.). Looks like the cavalry is coming.