Weekend Box Office Dec. 16-18 (The $155 Million Disappointment? + What Happened to Will Smith?)
Photo Credit: S & A
Box Office , Film

Weekend Box Office Dec. 16-18 (The $155 Million Disappointment? + What Happened to Will Smith?)

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” / DISNEY

When is a film that grosses $155 million (and $290 million worldwide) over a weekend considered to be a disappointment? When that film is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” In any known universe, grossing that much over a three-day weekend would be considered extraordinary.

In fact, for the past few months box office projections were actually lower, predicting that the film would open with $100-130 million; a range that for any other film would be gigantic, but for a “Star Wars” films is considered a letdown.

Some are saying that it “fell short” only because it’s going up against last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which grossed some $248 million on its opening weekend. But that’s an unfair comparison. “Rogue One” is a standalone film which chronologically takes place before the original 1977 “Star Wars” film. Also LucasFilm has announced that there will be no “Rogue One” sequels which is a smart move. The official sequel to “Force Awakens” is being shot right now, and there’s also that “young Han Solo/Lando Calrissian” film currently in development; so one could argue that one-too-many “Star Wars” movies chronicling too many different stories would be too confusing, and maybe too much for anyone to take (except for “Star War” geeks). One has to add, however, that if the currently untitled “Force Awakens” sequel opens with $155 million, it would be seen as a major disappointment. Only in Hollywood.

Also “Rogue One” is being helped by some really great reviews, some calling it the best “Star Wars” film since “The Empire Strikes Back”, which must be a relief for LucasFilm and Disney, after all the behind-the-scenes drama that was reported during the making of the film.

A few months ago, there were rumblings that film might be in serious trouble after news that Disney was not happy with the movie and ordered some extensive reshoots of sequences directed by “Rogue” co-screenwriter Tony Gilroy. There were also rumors that Gilroy (who wrote and directed “Michael Clayton” and “The Bourne Legacy”) had supervised the editing of “Rogue”, effectively taking it out of the hands of the film’s director, Gareth Edwards. But whatever happened, it seems that this Gilroy/Edwards hybrid worked and audiences are loving it.

Also Rogue’s spectacular opening is a thumb in the eye to the so-called nationwide boycott against the film by the so-called “alt-right” who called for audiences to avoid the film because of its multi-ethnic cast, which they believe sends some kind of “bad message.” You just can’t please everyone.

The news is not-so good for Will Smith’s latest film “Collateral Beauty,” which came in 4th place with a dismal $7 million. And it has also gotten the worst reviews for any holiday film released this year. Don’t believe me? Here are a few quotes from critics:

— “Despite a few closing scenes that must be seen to be disbelieved, ‘Collateral Beauty’ doesn’t sink to ‘Seven Pounds’s’ appalling depths — which is another way of saying that in some ways, it fails to live up to its own terrible potential.”

— “Sappier than a tree lot and just as wooden.”

— “I don’t think I’ve witnessed a film this year that managed to so completely and utterly collapse into crass garbage in its last few minutes while abusing what little good will it has.”

— “It’s near impossible to make a movie with no redeeming features – but damned if ‘Collateral Beauty’ doesn’t hit the zero-stars jackpot.”

— “‘Collateral Beauty’ is only about an hour and a half long; it feels… like a lifetime.”

And that’s just a small sample of what’s being said about the film.

Thus, the question that needs to be asked here is: what the hell happened to Will Smith and his career of late?

Now granted I confess that I’ve never been a Will Smith fan. At best, I’ve found him barely tolerable and at worst completely insufferable. I’ve always seen his appeal as the “safe”, friendly black guy who white people would feel comfortable with, but just corny enough that he was “hip” enough for them. But the formula worked and for a while he was literally the biggest box office star in the world, 10 years ago. Throughout his career, Smith has starred in 8 films that grossed over $100 domestically, and two of those films made over $200 million alone in the U.S.

But he’s suffered quite a slide in the last few years, with 2007’s “I Am Legend” being maybe his last bona fide (both critical and commercial) hit. Since then, his films haven’t all done well. “After Earth”, “Focus”, “Seven Pounds”, “Men in Black 3”, “Concussion”. Ouch. (As a friend of mine recently said, try naming three good Will Smith movies. It’s tough).

True, “Suicide Squad” (released this summer) was a massive worldwide hit, but he was part of an ensemble cast. Would the film have done just as well if his character was played by another actor? No one can really say for sure. But there are no announced plans of a spin-off movie with just his character alone, while a Harley Quinn standalone film is in the works starring Margot Robbie.

It all seemed to start with the “failure” that was “After Earth.” For the average Hollywood actor, a film they are starring in that grosses $244 million worldwide, would probably feel like a gift. But Will Smith isn’t the average Hollywood actor. He’s an international superstar who’s seemingly *transcended* race (as some would say), with appeal to almost every demographic.

So a $244 million cume – as was the case with “After Earth” (although his son was really the star of the movie) – is considered a disappointment in the industry. I should note that the real disappointment was that, of the $244 million, just $60 million of that was domestically-earned. Which means that the bulk of its box office came from overseas.

Keep in mind though that the film’s production budget (minus any marketing costs, which I’m sure were significant) was an astounding $130 million, for a film that looked like it cost about half of that.

Although, in all fairness, we could, again, ask whether “After Earth” was really a Will Smith movie, or more of a Jaden Smith “failure.” But I guess, either way, it’s a “Smith movie,” and Will’s name and face were pivotal in how it was marketed and sold to audiences.

Some would argue that, even though the studio (Sony) erased him and his name from the film’s marketing campaign, word still eventually got around that M. Night Shyamalan was the film’s director. And he wasn’t exactly the most beloved Hollywood filmmaker at the time. According to then reports, Will practically insisted on Shyamalan to helm the film. It makes one wonder why he did that, especially when this wasn’t quite Shyamalan’s forte. The last time he attempted a sci-fi fantasy adventure film it was with “The Last Airbender,” which was ripped by critics and audiences.

Reviews of “After Earth” were decidedly negative, as it still ranks as Will Smith’s worst-rated feature film ever, currently at a low 11% on movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. It topped (or maybe I should say “bottomed”) 1999’s “Wild Wild West” as the worst-reviewed Will Smith movie of all time (“Collateral Beauty” is at 14% last I checked).

And so it was expected that some would start to wonder whether Will’s box office appeal was then beginning to fade – even just a little. As I said after the disappointment that was “After Earth,” his following choices would be really crucial in answering that question. Several critical and commercial duds in a row could spell danger. Just ask the director of “After Earth,” Shyamalan.

As Big Willy himself noted during a press conference for “Focus” just before that film’s release last year: “For me, this film really marks a transition in my life and emotionally and in my career. After the failure of ‘After Earth,’ a thing got broken in my mind. I was like, ‘Oh, wow. I’m still alive. Oh, wow. Actually, I still am me, even though the movie didn’t open number one. Wait. I can still get hired on another movie.’ I realized that I still was a good person… So when I went into ‘Focus,’ I completely released the concept of goal orientation and got into path orientation. This moment, this second, these people, this interaction. It is a huge relief for me to not care whether or not ‘Focus’ is number one or number 10 at the box office. I’ve already gained everything that I could possibly have hoped for, from meeting the people that I met and from the creation of what we did together.And it’s just painting. I’m going to paint, and some paintings are going to be fantastic. Others are going to be not so good, but I no longer measure the quality of myself on whether or not somebody else thinks what I painted is beautiful. [Ali] would say, ‘I’m the greatest. I’m the greatest.’ And when we talked, [he told me] it would be because how much like the greatest he didn’t feel, right? So it was almost a mantra for himself. And that’s sort of a thing that I’ve developed. It’s actually nerve‑wracking for me sometimes to walk into a new space. My experience is, if I just let myself go, it’s a whole lot easier than letting the voices [say], ‘Oh, my God! You know, ‘Focus’ may not be as good as ‘Enemy of the State!’ Rather than letting all those things come in, I just like to leap.”

Nothing like one major box office flop to give you some new sense of purpose, I suppose.

It wasn’t long after “After Earth” opened in 2013 that Mr Smith voiced his desire to take on more dangerous, edgier roles. Doing press for the film in the UK, during the summer of 2013, he said: “There’s something about making movies that just really gets me excited… I love people being wrapped in a story and being able to deliver that emotional punchline at the end. It’s been an absolute necessity that the movie be a blockbuster, but I think I’m going to start moving out of that and finding more danger in my artistic choices.”

So this shift, if you will, is clearly something he’d been pondering for some time now. And more danger in his artistic choices is something we here at S&A have been hoping for, also for some time. I remember when it was announced that he was Quentin Tarantino’s first choice to play Django, and all the discussion that followed about whether Will was *courageous* enough to take on a controversial project like that. Although I should note that he has since revealed what his reasons were for not taking the part, and they had nothing to do with fear of controversy.

So, here we are. Will Smith has said that he’s ready to make the shift from primarily family-friendly, PG13 action adventure fare, to more “dangerous” roles and projects, as he put it, in the above quote.

But given the films he’s made since then, we’re still waiting for him to act on that statement. But maybe what he said in the earlier quote is what we should instead focus on – that he essentially has stopped worrying about whether or not his movies are great, or box office hits, and he’s just going to do what feels right for him, everything else be damned.

We’ll see.

Smith’s next film, which is scheduled to be released next year, is “Bright”, produced by Netflix; and with a $90 million budget, it’s the most expensive film ever made by the company. Though the storyline is still being kept underwraps, “Bright” allegedly centers on a South Central LA cop (Smith) who is paired with an Orc cop – some sort of Tolken-like “Lord of the Rings” Middle Earth, half human/half monster type of thing. Also on his slate is the “Bad Boys” threequel (“Bad Boys For Life” as it’s currently titled) which no one on this planet has been asking for. In other words, the near-term outlook for Smith isn’t quite, bright, pun intended. Just more of the same. One wishes Smith would do something to challenge himself, like a project with a really interesting director such as Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, J.A. Bayona or Jeff Nichols. But he keeps playing it safe, and the result is that he’s grown stale, and audiences aren’t really responding. They clearly want something different from him; or maybe exactly what he did before he decided to change his focus following the apparent disaster that was “After Earth” – the big budget action/adventure movies done Big Willie style.

But don’t cry for Mr Smith. He’s done and continues to do very well financially, as one of the highest paid actors in the business, and one of the few whose payment deal structures include collecting a portion on the back-end. Plus, he’s still popular enough; the question is for how much longer…

And in what would be overlooked box office news, “Fences” opened in a very limited release on just 4 screens in NYC and LA, earning the second highest per-screen average after “Rogue One”, at $32,000 per screen. Hopefully the news will continue to be good for the film when it opens wide on Christmas Day, a week from today.

Disney’s “Moana” continues to hold on very well in second place with $161 million so far, and $280 million worldwide. A question I have is whether an animated film with state of the art animation, interesting characters, catchy musical numbers and cute animal sidekicks, but made with black characters and aimed at the general audience, would be just as successful. And I’m not asking for Disney or Dreamworks to make one, but let’s say if an independent animation company produced one themselves. I ask that because “Moana” is a really wonderful, charming and funny film, populated entirely with people of color; so why wouldn’t one with black characters and the same ingredients do as well? Or is it simply that Polynesian islanders are widely acceptable, but black people still just aren’t? You tell me.

And as for the only other major film that opened wide, the highly-acclaimed modern-day musical romance, “La La Land”, expanded to 200 screens this weekend, jumping from 15th to 7th place in earnings, and had the third highest per screen average after “Fences”, generating just over $5.2 million in box office revenue to date.

This weekend’s top 12 grossing films follow in the list below:

1) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story BV $155,000,000

2) Moana BV $11,664,000 Total: $161,858,745

3) Office Christmas Party Par. $8,450,000 Total $31,518,267

4) Collateral Beauty WB (NL) $7,000,000

5) Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them WB $5,030,000 Total $207,681,095

6 7 Manchester by the Sea RAtt. $4,156,338 1Total $14,016,643

7) La La Land LG/S $4,020,000 Total $5,260,166

8) Arrival Par. $2,775,000 Total $86,468,367

9) Doctor Strange BV $2,036,000 Total $226,086,027

10) Nocturnal Animals Focus $1,391,380 Total $8,812,746

11) Trolls Fox $1,300,000 Total $147,355,937

12) Allied Par. $1,245,000 Total $38,453,917

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