“The Girl on the Train” was a literary sensation when it hit stores in 2015. The knotty tale of an alcoholic who must piece together a mystery rose to the top of the best-seller list, becoming a must-read and eventually selling more than 11 million copies.
Hollywood quickly came calling, DreamWorks snapped up rights to the story, hired Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson to star, and transplanted the setting from the United Kingdom to the good old U.S. of A. The film hits theaters on Friday, when it is expected to open in first place at the box office, with roughly $26 million from 3,135 theaters. That’s a strong result given its $40 million production budget. The hope is that the film will play like “Gone Girl,” another best-selling novel that successfully made the transition to screen, ultimately grossing $369.3 million worldwide. The reviews for that one were better, however. Critics have been mixed on “The Girl on the Train,” handing it a 53% “rotten” rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Universal and all of the studios with films in the marketplace will remain glued to the Weather Channel this weekend. Hurricane Matthew is expected to make landfall as early as Thursday, hitting the Florida coastline as a potential category 4 storm. South Carolina, North Carolina, and other southern states have already begun evacuating people in coastal regions. There’s a good reason for the concern. Hurricane Matthew slammed Haiti and Cuba earlier this week, killing more than ten people. The rough weather could depress ticket sales, depending on the intensity of the storm and its footprint.
“This kind of major storm is going to have an impact,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “When people are worried about their lives and safety, going to the movies is obviously not a priority.”
Reviews have been stronger for “The Birth of a Nation,” the biopic of slave revolt leader Nat Turner that sparked a bidding war out of the Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight ultimately prevailed in those all-night negotiations, landing the film for a record-setting $17.5 million. But the studio had a powder keg on its hands. Allegations that Nate Parker, the director, writer, producer, and star of the film, raped a college classmate more than a decade ago have threatened to overshadow the film’s release. Although Parker was exonerated of the charges, news that his accuser committed suicide years ago and the fact that his co-writer on the film, Jean Celestin, was convicted of sexually assaulting the woman (though years later had the charges overturned), have made it a story that refuses to go away. Fox Searchlight will open the film wide, instead of building up slow with the hopes of capturing awards attention. It will kick off in 2,100 theaters and should make $8 million. It will need to get a boost from word-of-mouth if Fox Searchlight wants to make back the money it spent to land the film when pundits at Sundance were breathlessly predicting the picture had a date with the Oscars. Those awards ambitions may have immolated in the white heat of the controversy.
With “The Birth of a Nation” and “The Girl on the Train” going after older audiences, “Middle School: The Worst Years” will try to attract younger crowds who are more finely attuned to the horrors of bad skin and playground bullies. The adaptation of James Patterson’s best-selling books follows a teenager who plots an ambitious series of pranks intended to embarrass the school’s tyrannical principal. CBS Films backed the $11 million production and will release it through its distribution partnership with Lionsgate. It’s looking at an $8 million debut.
Industry-wide, multiplexes would benefit from a little more excitement. The fall box office is down nearly 9% year-over-year, as films such as “The Magnificent Seven” and “Sully” have failed to match the windfall enjoyed by “Hotel Transylvania 2” and “The Martian.”
“Not enough movies caught fire last month,” said Shawn Robbins, senior box office analyst at BoxOffice.com. Robbins predicts it will be a slow upward crawl to November, when “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Doctor Strange” galvanize the box office.