After a humdrum weekend at the box office, in which “Ralph Breaks the Internet’s” $16 million haul was enough to top domestic charts, multiplexes should get a boost from a trio of new arrivals.
Studios are re-entering the fray after a quiet post-Thanksgiving frame, and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” looks to be the title that ends “Ralph’s” three-week reign. Sony is projecting a $30 million launch when the web-slinging superhero enters over 3,800 North American venues. Industry analysts are far more bullish and anticipate that early buzz could lift its start to north of $39 million. Even the lower end of that range will be enough to best “Mortal Engines” and “The Mule,” the other newcomers this weekend.
The upcoming animated adventure spotlights Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), a half-Puerto Rican and half-African-American teenager from Brooklyn whose Spidey senses start tingling when he visits an abandoned subway terminal with his uncle (Mahershala Ali). This rendition, which cost $90 million to produce, takes place in a universe where (are you sitting down?) more than one Spider-Man exists. Hailee Steinfeld, Jake Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, and John Mulaney round out the voice cast. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street,” produced the latest feature from Sony’s arsenal of Marvel characters and hope to prove once again that Stan Lee’s rich comic-book empire is all but immune to superhero fatigue.
“Spider-Verse” has already racked up plaudits, including a Golden Globe nod for best animated feature, and boasts an impressive 99% on Rotten Tomatoes (for reference, “Black Panther” has a 97% rating). Oscars gold could even be within reach, assuming the Academy is ready to give some love to the Spandexed heroes who save the day — and often the box office. Weeks before “Spider-Verse” opens in theaters, Sony announced the development of a sequel and spinoffs set in the shared multiverse. Peter Parker is no stranger to the big screen, the most recent flick being “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” The 2017 iteration, with Tom Holland as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, earned a massive $880 million globally and a follow-up will bow next year.
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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will face the fiercest competition from Universal’s “Mortal Engines,” a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure from “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson. The dystopian sci-fi saga set in a world where motorized cities prey on each other is expecting a mid-teens debut between $10 million and 17 million when it bows in 3,000 theaters. That could signal disaster for the studio considering the CGI spectacle cost $100 million to produce. Reviews have not been kind toward the adaptation of Philip Reeve’s YA novel (Variety’s Andrew Barker calls it “unwieldy, then baffling, then exhausting, then finally unintentionally hysterical”), and it holds an unenthusiastic 36% average on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie has already begun its rollout in 43 international territories, including Korea, Russia, Australia, where it’s earned $20.1 million. It’ll be an uphill battle for “Mortal Engines” to break through a crowded holiday frame and attract the kind of audience it needs to justify its expensive price tag.
Warner Bros. is targeting a different, older crowd with “The Mule,” Clint Eastwood’s latest undertaking about a nonagenarian who gets caught smuggling cocaine for the cartel (that old chestnut). Eastwood directed and stars in the R-rated crime drama that’s based on a New York Times article, marking his first acting gig since 2012’s “Trouble With the Curve.” The last time the 88-year-old led a movie was his acclaimed 2008 drama “Gran Torino.” The veteran filmmaker has directed or starred in more than 50 films that have brought in over $2.6 billion in box office receipts worldwide. In addition to Eastwood, “The Mule” cast includes Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena, and Dianne Wiest. Despite its prime awards season release, the studio insists that “The Mule” is not intended to be an Oscar contender. It’s expected to pocket $12 million to $20 million from 2,588 screens.
Elsewhere, Fox is bringing the Merc with a Mouth back to cinemas for a PG-13 take of “Deadpool 2.” The retitled “Once Upon a Deadpool” will play in around 1,550 North American locations through Christmas Eve. Trailers for this entry hint that Deadpool will retell the heroic sequel as a bedtime story to Fred Savage in a “Princess Bride”-style parody. During its initial run, Ryan Reynolds’ R-rated superhero comedy pocketed $734 million worldwide, with $318 million of those returns coming from North American markets. That version wasn’t released in China, but the new clean(er) cut means the Middle Kingdom could finally give the raunchy mercenary a chance. The studio partnered with F— Cancer (the organization temporarily changed its name to Fudge Cancer to be more kid-friendly for the two-week re-release) so a portion of U.S. ticket sales will go to the charity’s campaign dedicated to early cancer detection and prevention.
With awards season now in full swing, a number of indies are hitting the specialty box office. Annapurna is releasing “If Beale Street Could Talk” in four venues in New York and Los Angeles. “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins is eyeing another fruitful awards season with his adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel that has already received plenty of superlatives since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival. Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry have been lauded for their performances in the romantic drama about a young black woman who seeks to clear the name of her husband who is falsely accused of rape.
Meanwhile, IFC Films is taking “The House That Jack Built,” a psychological horror film written and directed by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, to 30 locations. It will also be available on cable VOD and for rent on Hulu and Amazon on Friday. The story about a highly intelligent serial killer has gotten a polarized response, to say the least. The extremely gory film depicting graphic murders, many involving women and small children, prompted more than 100 people to walk out of its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a warm welcome back for von Trier, who was previously banned from the festival in 2011 after making offensive comments about Nazis. Those who could endure the brutal on-screen slaughters gave the movie a 10-minute standing ovation… so perhaps there is something out there for everyone. At the very least, it’s a reminder that some audiences have stomachs of adamantium.
Rounding out the weekend is Sony Classics’ Oscar hopeful “Capernaum.” Nadine Labaki directed the drama about a young boy who sues his impoverished and indifferent parents for giving birth to him. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes and has been selected as Lebanon’s entry for foreign language film at the Academy Awards.
The domestic box office is on track for a record year, currently pacing 9.9% ahead of 2017, according to Comscore. It looks to cross $11 billion in revenue even before “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Aquaman” hit theaters around Christmastime. That’s just what Hollywood wanted in its stocking.