Twenty years ago audiences turned out in movie theaters in droves to see aliens torch several national landmarks. Powered by a series of catchy ads and posters that showed the White House engulfed in flames as a spaceship hovered overhead, “Independence Day” was the film to see in the summer of 1996. It blew past other hits such as “Twister” and “Mission: Impossible” to become the year’s highest-grossing film, established Roland Emmerich as his era’s “Master of Disaster,” and made Will Smith a star.
Now, the aliens are back in “Independence Day: Resurgence.” For many moviegoers the first film remains the embodiment of blockbuster entertainment, but there’s no denying the fact that in the years since we first made contact, tastes have changed. Superhero movies are now the driving force at the box office. The question is, will moviegoers still show up in force for a movie without a costumed hero?
Right now, Fox, the studio orchestrating the invasion, is banking on an opening of $50 million when it hits theaters on Friday. It’s a solid start, but it won’t be enough to displace “Finding Dory” from the top of the box office heap. The Disney smash is looking at a second weekend of roughly $70 million after it shattered records for an animated film debut, opening at $135.1 million.
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Fox spent a hefty $165 million to get the flying saucers out of dry dock and will launch the picture across 4,067 locations. Smith did not return for the sequel, but Emmerich is once again in the directing chair. He brought back original cast members such as Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, and added newcomers such as Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher to the mix. The monuments getting atomized have also changed. This time Big Ben gets the White House treatment.
It’s shaping up to be a crowded weekend at the multiplexes, with four new wide releases entering the fray. “Free State of Jones” will try to bolster mainstream cinema’s IQ level a few points when it debuts on Friday at 2,815 locations. The historical drama about a Southern farmer (Matthew McConaughey) who leads an armed rebellion against the Confederacy is a big bet by STX Entertainment, a newly launched studio that hopes to make the kind of mid-budget films that major studios have largely abandoned in favor of comic book movies. It cost $50 million to make and will try to prove that there’s an audience for dramas in the height of popcorn season. The studio did defray some of its risk on the film, bringing in a number financial partners, including IM Global, which will handle international rights for the picture. “Free State of Jones” should bow to roughly $12 million domestically.
Sony will counter with “The Shallows.” Just as “Independence Day: Resurgence” seems like a throwback to the days of Irwin Allen, the film, which pits Blake Lively against a shark, calls to mind another ’70s era hit, “Jaws.” “The Shallows” is a much smaller gamble, however, with the potential for more modest rewards. It carries a $17 million price tag and is looking at an opening of $7 million when it debuts on roughly 2,800 screens. The film is one of the first greenlit under Tom Rothman, Sony’s new film chief, after he took over the studio in 2015.
Lastly, Amazon Studios will offer up “The Neon Demon,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s blood-splattered look at the world of fashion. The horror film debuted to mixed notices in Cannes, with some critics digging the fever dream atmosphere, and other reviewers finding it to be a forgettable strut down the runway. Broad Green will handle the theatrical rollout. “The Neon Demon” should debut to between $2 million to $3 million in more than 700 theaters.