It’s shaping up to be a quiet weekend at the multiplexes. “The Fate of the Furious” is still revving up its engines, gearing up for what’s expected to be a massive opening when it roars onto screens on April 14, 2017. That leaves a trio of smaller new releases looking to make a mark before Vin Diesel and company blot out everything within the general vicinity of a movie theater. The latest “Fast & Furious” will have no trouble topping $100 million in its first weekend of release.
“This is the calm before the storm,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore.
“Smurfs: The Lost Village” is shaping up to be the strongest performer among the newcomers with a debut of between $15 million to $16 million. The family film is an attempt by Sony to reinvigorate a franchise that deflated. After starting strong with 2011’s “The Smurfs” ($563.7 million globally), the series veered off track with 2013’s “The Smurfs 2,” which made $347.5 million worldwide on a $105 million budget.
Those pictures were live-action and animation hybrids, an approach that the studio has scrapped. “The Lost Village” will be entirely CGI, resulting in substantial cost savings. The latest film has a $60 million budget. Those domestic returns look soft, but Sony is banking on stronger overseas results. Both of the other Smurfs adventures made more than 70% of their revenues from foreign markets, and the studio thinks that this new installment will have similar appeal.
“The Lost Village” has a voice cast that includes Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, and Julia Roberts, and follows the blue creatures as they journey through the forbidden forest and tangle with the evil wizard Gargamel — plot points that were a staple of Saturday morning cartoons for a generation of millennials.
“The Lost Village” may also benefit from a break in family film programming. There isn’t another major release geared at parents and kids until “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” opens on May 19.
“‘Smurfs’ could have staying power,” said Shawn Robbins, senior analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It may end up being stronger because there’s not much competition.”
Then there’s “Going in Style,” a remake of the 1979 heist comedy about a gang of geriatrics who turn to bank robbery to enliven their retirements. The first film had George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg playing the unlikely felons, this version offers up Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Michael Caine as graying crooks. Zach Braff, late of “Scrubs,” directs. New Line and Village Roadshow partnered on the comedy, which cost an economical $25 million to bring to screens. It’s looking at a muted $8 million opening when it premieres on more than 3,000 screens.
Pure Flix’s “The Case for Christ” is the weekend’s other new entrant. The faith-based film will try to preach to the converted and convertible alike, but religious fare can be hit or miss. For every “War Room,” a low-budget, $67.8 million smash, there’s a “Ben-Hur,” a pricey disaster. Pure Flix didn’t release a budget for “The Case for Christ,” but it looks like it falls on the “War Room” end of things in terms of costs. The film should open to a solid $5 million when it unspools across roughly 1,100 screens. “The Case for Christ” centers on an investigative journalist and atheist who ends up converting Christianity after going through an elaborate attempt to disprove God’s existence. Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, and Faye Dunaway (last seen opening the wrong envelope at the Oscars) round out the cast.
Unless interest surges in “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” Fox and DreamWorks Animation’s “The Boss Baby” and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” will grab the top two spots on the domestic box office chart. Look for “The Boss Baby” to pick up another $25 million, while “Beauty and the Beast” should nab another $20 million and change as it barrels towards the $1 billion mark globally.