Who says movies based on original ideas and not established franchises or IP are dead? Okay, yes, everyone says that. But at least in the case of “1917,” those people are wrong. For this week.
After a strong couple of weeks in limited release, Sam Mendes’ World War I one-shot film “1917” not only debuted atop this weekend’s domestic box office but did so in truly impressive fashion, as it bested even the most optimistic predictions. Earning an estimated $36.5 million in its first weekend of wide release, the recent Golden Globe-winning film has firmly established itself as the first big hit of 2020.
With no major stars (though Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others briefly appear), the buzz surrounding “1917” revolves around two things — the quality of the film, especially after its Best Drama Picture win at the aforementioned Globes, and the fact that director Mendes and DP Roger Deakins have crafted a film that is told in real-time over the course of what appears to be one, long shot (although we all know that some CGI and editing tricks helped greatly along the way).
Here’s the crazy thing— the big debut for Mendes’ film might not be a singular occurrence for “1917.” With a CinemaScore of ‘A-’ (showing that audiences seem to agree with the Rotten Tomatoes score of 90%), the Golden Globe win, and the potential big day tomorrow when Oscar nominations are announced, “1917” could be looking at another great weekend a week from now. While many of the prestige films debuted in December, hoping to capitalize on the holidays, Universal held “1917” back to be the first big release of the new year and that has apparently paid off in a big way. With “Star Wars” and the big holiday films beginning to fade away, audiences can go to the theater and find another exciting, and really great, film waiting for them.
But “1917” wasn’t the only big debut this weekend. The Tiffany Haddish/Rose Byrne comedy film “Like A Boss,” debuted with a solid $10 million, while the drama “Just Mercy,” starring Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, and Brie Larson, also earned $10 million. Both are mid-budget films that are hoping to carry through the month of January with a few solid weekends. Oh, and let’s not forget about “Underwater,” starring Kristen Stewart, but we’re going to save that one for the end.
Even though “Like A Boss” currently sits at a dismal 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, audiences aren’t so hot on the film, giving it a ‘B’ CinemaScore. For raunchy comedies, a ‘B’ isn’t terrible. So, we could be looking at the film holding its own into the rest of the month, as the only “comedy” that is set to be released is “Bad Boys for Life” next weekend and honestly, those are two different beasts altogether.
As for “Just Mercy,” the road ahead isn’t as easy. The stats seem to point to a long run for the film, with an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and a great ‘A+’ CinemaScore, but there is going to be some pretty strong competition vying for those adults looking for a good prestige drama. While there aren’t a ton of films that will be going after that older audience, the theaters are packed with films that scratch that prestige itch, including “1917.” Also, let’s not forget the reality of the matter, as there are only a limited number of screens available and some big films on the horizon, including “The Gentlemen,” “The Turning,” “Dolittle,” “Bad Boys for Life,” and “The Rhythm Section” all coming in January. Oh yeah, and February kicks off with “Birds of Prey.” So, the hard truth is that “Just Mercy” is going to have to prove itself in the next week or so to hold onto screens as we move into February.
Finally, we have to talk about “Underwater.” The deep-sea thriller/monster movie starring Kristen Stewart as a new take on the classic Ripley role from “Alien.” Well, unfortunately for Stewart and Disney/Fox (yep, they’re behind this), it doesn’t appear that “Underwater” has a long franchise future ahead of it. Debuting towards the bottom of the top 10, “Underwater” earned a measly $7 million over the weekend. And the prospects look grim for weeks to come, as the film only has a 53% Rotten Tomatoes score and a terrible ‘C’ CinemaScore. (Hey, at least it’s not an ‘F’ like last week’s “The Grudge!”)
But no one really cares about the future of “Underwater.” The real story here is Kristen Stewart. After last year’s “Charlie’s Angels” was a huge bomb, there were a lot of eyes on “Underwater,” hoping that maybe Stewart can be the blockbuster leading lady that her reputation would point to. Well, that’s apparently not the case. Like, at all. Of course, this is no shade on her acting ability, as her indie output has proven she’s a really great performer. But either she’s just had a string of bad luck (let’s be real, ‘Angels’ and “Underwater” are not great films, no matter who stars), she’s not the A-lister that can carry a movie, or maybe (probably) a bit of both.
Compounding this issue further is the fact that Robert Pattinson seems to be headed in the opposite direction. Sure, it’s probably a bit unfair to compare the two, but given their “Twilight” history and how they’ve both been indie darlings over the last several years, it’s hard not to look at Pattinson and Stewart and see two diverging careers. One is coming off two box office bombs in her first big post-“Twilight” blockbusters and the other is almost assured to have two of the biggest films of the next couple of years when “Tenet” hits this year and “The Batman” arrives in 2021.
All that to say, it’ll be really interesting to see how Stewart moves forward with her career. She has a couple of roles ahead of her, but after that, it appears that she’s finally going to begin production on her directorial debut, “The Chronology of Water.” Perhaps, she’ll take some time off and focus on work behind the camera instead of actually on the big screen? We’ll find out.
And for those only interested in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” well, it’s not looking great and currently, ‘Rise Of Skywalker’ (at $478 million domestically), trails where ‘The Last Jedi’ was at this time, four weeks into release by nearly $100 million (‘Last Jedi’ was $572 million at week four). If anything, the news is only getting a bit grimmer after its 4th weekend, earning only $15 million. The film dropped -55%, making it clear that there’s really no surprise surge coming anytime soon. Yes, the film will still break $1 billion (likely next weekend), but a conservative estimate now would sit at a $1.1 billion total at the end of its run. (Hell, it may skew lower and finish below ‘Rogue One’ ($1.056 billion), and if that’s the case, then it would end up actually lower than “Joker.” Ouch.)
Next weekend, we have two big debuts, with “Bad Boys for Life” and “Dolittle” both hitting theaters. One is the return of a franchise that people probably have already forgotten about and the other is the first post-‘Avengers’ role for Robert Downey, Jr. Needless to say, there will be a lot to talk about, no matter what happens.
Here’s the full top 10 for January 10 to January 12:
1. 1917 – $36.5M ($39M Overall)
2. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – $15M ($479M)
3. Jumanji: The Next Level – $14M ($257M)
4. Like a Boss – $10M (Debut)
4. Just Mercy – $10M ($10.4M)
6. Little Women – $7.65M ($74M)
7. Underwater – $7M (Debut)
8. Frozen II – $5.8M ($459M)
9. Knives Out – $5.7M ($140M)
10. Spies in Disguise – $5.1M ($55M)