Going into the weekend, the new SPIDER-MAN movie was still something of a question mark. It represents the third time this series has been rebooted in only 15 years; would audiences respond favorably? Sony is now working directly with Marvel and that allowed this SPIDER-MAN to be connected into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning appearances by franchise heavyweight Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man and another Avenger whose role is a surprise. The decision to go in this new direction paid off handsomely as the film opened to an excellent $117 million domestic and over $250 million worldwide.

DESPICABLE ME 3 came in second, but dropped 53%, a hefty decline for a big animated movie only in its second weekend. BABY DRIVER had a better hold, going down only 38% for $12.8 million. WONDER WOMAN also continued to hang on in week six with $10.1 million and a domestic cume of $369 million.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT had another major decline, 62% this time, and CARS 3 continued to slide off the track with another 42% loss. THE HOUSE continues to be a complete non-starter for Warner Brothers, with only $18.6 million after ten days.

On the specialty side, THE BIG SICK is performing well for Lionsgate, with almost $7 million after three weeks and Sofia Coppola’s remake of THE BEGUILED has $7.4 million after an equal number of days in theatres.

All eyes this week are on Fox’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. The studio is bullish on the film’s prospects and screened it for critics weeks in advance. Even with SPIDER-MAN’s strong performance this frame, the total is still down a bit from last year at this time, so the industry has high hopes for APES. Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK and the Charlize Theron actioner ATOMIC BLONDE are the remaining big titles for the month, though Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS could also surprise.

Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Courtesy Sony.

 

 

The latest franchise sequel, DESPICABLE ME 3 opened to a more than respectable $72.4 million. What’s worrisome, however, is that this is a good $10 million less than the previous entry. While the drop is not as huge as that experienced by the recent TRANSFORMERS and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, it is still worth noting as it continues the downward trend for several established properties this year. The film has already been in release in some overseas territories for two weeks and is poised to cross $100 million mark there.

While Edgar Wright’s movies have enjoyed critical enthusiasm and developed solid cult followings, none have done especially well at the domestic box office. That changed over the weekend with his latest, the $34 million action/comedy/quasi-musical BABY DRIVER, which opened with a better than expected $21 million and is on target for $30 million over the five day holiday frame.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT dropped 62% for third place, while WONDER WOMAN continues to hold strong with a fifth frame decline of only 37%. Also holding better than expected is the shark thriller 47 METERS DOWN, which dipped only 36% in week three and will likely do $40-50 million before closing, a solid win for Entertainment Studios.

CARS 3 opened lower than usual for Pixar and continues to drop quickly, finishing behind WONDER WOMAN with less than $10 million.

There were also no celebrations at Warner Brothers over THE HOUSE. The film already had produced diminished expectations in light of the studio’s refusal to screen it for critics, quite unusual for a 4th of July title. With a take of only $8.7 million, there is no sugar coating the fact that this is a failure, particularly considering its stars, Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler.

Marvel/Sony’s SPIDERMAN: THE HOMECOMING is the big opening this week, followed by Fox’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Advance word on both is very positive, so they may well escape this summer’s franchise curse.

Lily James and Ansel Elgort in BABY DRIVER. Courtesy Sony.

I have discussed how several previously reliable franchises have had underwhelming entries this year and the trend continued with TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT. With $45.3 million for the weekend ($69.1 million if you include the total from the opening date last Wednesday), this is by far the weakest opening for the series. As is often the trend, China came to the rescue with $123.4 million, the rest of the world was similarly anemic. A global opening of $196.2 million hardly sounds like a disaster, but with a $217 million production cost and millions more in marketing, this will not be the blockbuster the ailing Paramount needs. THE LAST KNIGHT will likely turn a profit, but the question as to whether the company should invest in a sixth movie will likely depend on just how well it fares in ancillary markets. One thing that seems certainly is that production cost will have to come down, something that seems possible as director Michael Bay has indicated this will be his last one. Judging from the scathingly negative reviews, it is probably time for a creative switch anyway.

As has been the case for the past few weekends, the real story is WONDER WOMAN. Latest estimates have it in a dead heat with CARS 3 for the #2 spot. That represents a drop of only 39% and a domestic take of $318 million thus far. The picture has a genuine shot at becoming the most popular DC entry to date.

CARS 3 dropped 53%, a rather steep decline for Pixar, while 47 METERS DOWN fell only 33%, a strong hold for a horror movie. However, it should be noted that the film added 201 screens as a result of its belated opening in Canada, so that no doubt helped. After a surprisingly strong start, ALL EYEZ ON ME plummeted a disastrous 78% turning what looked like a breakout hit into possibly just a break even venture given that the film’s foreign prospects are limited.

Edgar Wright’s praised underdog BABY DRIVER zooms into theatres on Wednesday, followed by the latest entry in the Illumination juggernaut, DESPICABLE ME 3.

Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT. Courtesy Paramount.

Yesterday, I posted about how the Han Solo film was in need of a new director, and that veteran Ron Howard was one of the names Lucasfilm was considering for the job. Today, we learned that Howard has indeed accepted the responsibility of finishing the picture.

Filming was reportedly 2/3rds completed when original helmers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired. Production will resume on July 10th for the additional scenes. Lucasfilm did not reveal just how extensive those reshoots were likely to be, but the company is not afraid to go that route. ROGUE ONE director Gareth Edwards was removed from the project at the end of principal photography and replacement director Tony Gilroy oversaw major reshoots covering as much as 60% of the final edit.

Howard worked with Lucasfilm 30 years ago on WILLOW and has helmed a number of acclaimed and popular pictures since, including one certified classic: APOLLO 13. However, he has also developed a reputation for being bland and predictable, and it has been several years since Howard had a hit. His two most recent pictures, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA and INFERNO, was eviscerated by critics.

Still, Lucasfilm’s decision to go with the 63 year-old director is not really surprising, considering their dissatisfaction with young upstarts Lord & Miller. At this point, Lucasfilm largely just wants someone who will toe the line and give them what they want (and allow Disney to meet their announced release date next May).

While Howard has directed comedies in the past, his comic sensibility is certainly different from Lord & Miller. Of course, there is also the question of just how much humour will remain in the movie following this change in direction. It is not clear yet whether the three men will share directorial credit or whether that will go solely to Howard.

Ron Howard. By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When it was announced that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and was reviving STAR WARS, two things were made apparent: some of the movies would continue the narrative of the previous pictures, while others would be prequels or standalone efforts. Furthermore, the latter would have a different tone, providing a look at the STAR WARS universe that was possibly darker than the fan friendly fare that had dominated to this point.

However, whether it is creative fear or the enormity of the franchise, Lucasfilm seems bound and determined to make all of these new STAR WARS films pretty much the same. The extensive reshoots on ROGUE ONE took what was apparently a deeply troubled project and turned it into one that both audiences and critics liked. However, it did so at the expense of Gareth Edwards, the movie’s initial director, who was replaced at the helm by Tony Gilroy.

Now, the issue has started all over again with word that writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have been fired four months into shooting on the still-untitled Han Solo movie starring Alden Ehrenreich. Best known for their work on the 21 JUMP STREET movies and THE LEGO MOVIE, Lord & Miller are a hot commodity in the business and seemed like a good choice to bring an irreverent tone to the series.

However, there were apparently clashes between the two and STAR WARS veterans Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan right from the start of shooting in February. The picture recently took a break from production so that the pair of producers could go over what had been shot thus far. On Monday, they announced that Lord & Miller were being removed from the project.

This raises the question of why these mega-franchises recruit hot young directors and then don’t let them do the sort of thing that brought them notice. Helmers reportedly under consideration to finish the movie include veteran middle-of-the-road types Ron Howard and Joe Johnston, neither of whom are likely to take the movie in a direction the suits don’t want.

Christopher Miller & Phil Lord pictured in 2015 at Wondercon. By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Will Forte, Chris Miller & Phil Lord) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As you may have noticed from my posts over the past few weeks, many Hollywood movies are doing much of their business overseas these days. The reverse is not true; in fact, the box office share of foreign films released in North America has declined in recent years. This comes despite the fact that there are so many theatres opening in both the U.S. and Canada.

Foreign films have long been a part of what was playing at your local theatres. Early movies were either shot in multiple languages or subtitled. When dubbing became possible, more and more were given local language tracks and shipped all over the world. Even if the films themselves were not all great, they provided an interesting way to either learn about a culture or observe how that culture looks at Hollywood entertainment and the United States.

While a number of imported pictures hit theatres here in the 1950s, it was the really the 1960s where the trend exploded. Booked right alongside the latest Hollywood blockbuster were westerns from Spain, monster movies from Japan, historical spectacles from Italy, and crime thrillers from France. This continued into the ’70s with the addition of numerous kung fu flicks from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The dubbed was often sloppy, but the films were sometimes quite unique, energetic, and original in the way they took on old genre tropes.

People seemed to tire of dubbed films in the ’80s and fewer made it to theatres here that decade. Things picked up a bit in the mid-90s when Jackie Chan’s newfound popularity in the west led to some of his older Hong Kong movies getting new “American” dubs and soundtracks, and bookings in major theatre chains. However, when those ran their course, the well dried up again.

Foreign art films still manage to get screens here, but the number has gone down and so has the time they get in theatres. Your best bet these days as a foreign film fan is streaming services like Netflix or the occasional DVD and Blu-ray release. That’s too bad as, like life, variety is very important in developing a cinematic education.

In the meantime, consider seeing Luc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS when it opens here on July 21st. It’s the biggest European movie ever (€197,000,000) and one that aims to solidly challenge Hollywood at the blockbuster game.

Jackie Chan in RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, the film that launched his stateside career when released here in 1996.

 

Pixar’s latest, CARS 3, topped the weekend, though its $53.5 million gross is on the low side for this studio. However, the CARS franchise has been a major cash cow when it comes to merchandise, so it’s doubtful that anyone at Pixar or Disney are wringing their hands over this result.

The big news of the weekend was the continued success of WONDER WOMAN, which dropped a mere 30% in its third weekend for $40.7 million. That’s an unusually strong hold for a big-budget comic book movie as these typically open large and drop off quickly. The picture’s impressive showing will hopefully spur more studios into making genre pictures with strong female leads.

Third place when to Lionsgate’s Tupac Shakur biopic ALL EYEZ ON ME, which faired much better with audiences than critics, bringing in $27 million. THE MUMMY slid 56% for $13.9 million and while it is grossing well internationally, the low domestic total is still an inauspicious start for Universal’s Dark Universe series.

The fifth spot turned out to be a real surprise. 47 METERS DOWN was originally going to be released direct-to-video last August by the Weinstein Company under the title IN THE DEEP. One week before the discs were scheduled to street, Entertainment Studios bought the movie and opened it wide in theatres this weekend instead. The $11.5 showing is a good start for the company, which has previously only been involved in television. That said, mixed reviews and a “C” Cinemascore indicate that 47 will likely be gone from most theatres by the 4th of July weekend.

The frame’s big disappointment is ROUGH NIGHT, the female-centered remake of the ’90s black comedy VERY BAD THINGS, which came 7th. While Sony brought the movie in for a very economical $20 million thanks to deferred salaries, the $8 million dollar opening frame is quite discouraging, particularly in the wake of similar R-rated fare like BRIDESMAIDS. ROUGH NIGHT will almost certainly recoup once international and ancillary markets are factored in, however.

Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

CARS 3. Courtesy of Walt Disney.

The success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN has raised awareness of the viability of female directors in a business that has been an old boys’ club ever since its inception. However, if you have any sense of Hollywood history, you know that female directors have made some incredible films. Hell, WONDER WOMAN isn’t even the first comic book movie to be directed by a woman: Lexi Alexander helmed PUNISHER: WAR ZONE in 2008 and while it failed at the box office, the movie has amassed a considerable cult following since.

The issue is not talent, but opportunity. Like so many industries where men dominate, women are not getting the creative breaks they deserve. When one does and the film is a critical and/or financial success, the response is: why aren’t more women directing? That’s a good question.

The stereotypical answer is that women are not the right fit for the sort of films that most viewers watch these days. That’s nonsense. If you say that women cannot direct action movies, you have clearly not seen any that Kathryn Bigelow has made. If you think women are not good for comedy, think Penny Marshall (BIG), Nancy Meyers (WHAT WOMEN WANT), Lisa Cholodennko (CLUELESS), and Valerie Faris (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE). If you think women cannot direct horror, well, there’s Kathryn Bigelow again (NEAR DARK), along with Jennifer Kent (THE BABBADOOK), Mary Harron (AMERICAN PSYCHO), Karyn Kusama (JENNIFER’S BODY), and Ana Lily Amirpour (A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT).

I could go on, but you get the point. You name a genre and I can name several women who have made terrific movies of that type. One hopes that the success of WONDER WOMAN will lead to more offers being extended. In the meantime, you can do your part through buying tickets to films directed by women. Lucia Aniello’s ROUGH NIGHT opens today, and Sofia Coppola’s award winning remake of THE BEGUILED hits theatres on June 30th.

Patty Jenkins (right) with Gal Gadot on the set of WONDER WOMAN. Courtesy Warner Brothers.

 

 

 

We have already looked at the first two thirds of the hot weather lineup in the previous two Summer Blockbuster posts. August is traditionally the time when major releases start to slow down, but there are still a number of big pictures on the horizon for you and the family.

August 4: THE DARK TOWER
There was a period in the ’80s and ’90s where we seemed to be getting Stephen King adaptations every month. Things have slowed considerably since, aside from the occasional television project, so the author’s fans are looking forward to this long-in-the-works version of his classic book. Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star as the supernatural rivals.

DETROIT
Acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow is back, this time helming a story about events leading up to the massive riots that took place in 1967 Detroit.

August 11: ANNABELLE 2
The original ANNABELLE was one of the surprise hits of its year and the evil doll is back and ready to claim a new set of victims. The previous film was savaged by critics, but very popular, so the producers are probably hoping to repeat the box office, while also getting more positive notices.

August 11: THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE
The previous NUT JOB is another movie that certainly didn’t garner many good reviews, but it did well enough to spawn this sequel, which is opening well past the major family film competition. Expectations are low, but if your kids dug the first one…

August 18: THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD
This buddy comedy actioner stars Ryan Reynolds as the world’s greatest bodyguard, who is tasked with protecting a hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) who must arrive alive to testify at the International Court of Justice. Given the stars’ backgrounds, expect many bullets and MF-bombs to fly.

August 25: POLAROID
The last weekend in August is a traditional time for horror movies to open and this one sounds like it mixes elements from both FINAL DESTINATION and THE RING.

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson in THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD. Courtesy Summit Entertainment.

Universal’s Dark Universe got off to a disappointing start with THE MUMMY, which managed only $32.2 million, $25 million behind the second weekend of WONDER WOMAN. The Tom Cruise action/horror film did better internationally (which is typical for the star), but Universal really needed a more enthusiastic reception for the introductory vehicle to their monster series. Reviews were withering and the B- CinemaScore suggests that audiences are not liking it much either.

As mentioned, WONDER WOMAN managed second place, dropping only 45%, a fantastic hold for a comic book feature. Fox’s animated feature CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS also had a successful second frame, bringing in another $12.3 million.

The latest PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY entries managed spots 4 and 5, while the horror thriller IT COMES AT NIGHT debuted 6th. A24 has a history of taking chances on offbeat fare that would normally not open wide. NIGHT is the latest and scored with critics, while audiences rebelled with a D CinemaScore. The film’s $6 million gross is already more than the production cost, but this will likely be gone soon and won’t duplicate the surprise success the company enjoyed with THE WITCH.

BAYWATCH limped into 7th place, while Bleeker Street’s drama MEAGAN LEAVEY had an underwhelming debut with $3.7 million. ALIEN: COVENANT and EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING rounded out the Top 10.

The latest Pixar sequel CARS 3 opens Friday, along with the raunchy girls-night-out comedy ROUGH NIGHT. TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT and DESPICABLE ME 3 are the other big releases for the remainder of the month.

Want a preview of the remaining June titles? I wrote about them here and if you are thinking ahead to July, here is the lowdown on the big features opening that month. Will franchises continue to under perform? Will superheroes remain the only dependable genre? Time will tell.

Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

THE MUMMY is off to a weak start. Courtesy Universal.