So far this September, the box office has relied on one or two films to bring in the majority of grosses. That will change this week with the wide release of Lionsgate/Millennium’s “Rambo: Last Blood,” Fox’s “Ad Astra” and Focus Features’ “Downton Abbey” — three films that aren’t expected to post big numbers, but combined should bring moviegoers from a wide range of demographics to theaters.
All three films are projected to open somewhere in the $16-24 million range this weekend. After a weekend in which “It: Chapter Two” grossed $39.6 million and “Hustlers” grossed $33.1 million, it isn’t entirely clear which September film will take the No. 1 spot.
“This is quite the bottleneck!” comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap. “I thought it was tough figuring out where all the smaller August releases were going to chart. Now we have a bunch of September films trying to find a lane and it’s even harder trying to figure out which film, if any, will stand out from the pack.”
Right now, trackers are giving “Rambo: Last Blood” the edge with projections topping out at $24 million, which would put it around the opening weekend of last year’s “The Predator” at $25 million. Lionsgate is more conservative with a projection of $17-20 million, noting that the only film that has ever reached a $20 million opening before inflation is “Rambo: First Blood Part II” in 1985.
The last “Rambo” film in 2008 opened to $18 million and went on to modest success with $113 million grossed worldwide against a $50 million budget. “Last Blood” will have only two weekends to bring in its core demographic of Gen X and millennial male moviegoers before the highly anticipated “Joker” arrives as heavy competition, so a lower final total may be likely thanks to a steep dropoff in October.
Teased as the fifth and final go-around for Sylvester Stallone as the violent avenger John Rambo, “Rambo: Last Blood” follows the title character as he goes to war against a drug cartel that kidnapped the daughter of one of his close friends. Stallone co-wrote the film with Matt Cirulnick, with Adrian Grunberg directing.
Expected to open the lowest among the three new releases is “Downton Abbey,” the film adaptation of the hit ITV/PBS British period drama. The film is projected to open in the $16-20 million range, but has the lowest bar to clear to profitability with a reported budget of approximately $13 million. Overseas, the film has already grossed over $12 million in 17 markets, including $7.5 million in the U.K. As its core demographic of older audiences tends to show up for films in the later stages of the theatrical run, expect “Downton Abbey” to leg out well into October.
“Downton Abbey” sees the return of the show’s original cast led by Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery as the residents and servants of the famed English manor prepare for a visit from King George V. Michael Engler directs from a script by show creator Julian Fellowes. It currently has an 81% Rotten Tomatoes score.
The biggest bust, however, will likely be “Ad Astra,” another film released by Disney from the struggling 20th Century Fox. The film is currently projected for an $18-20 million opening, which unlike “Downton Abbey” is bad news considering this sci-fi film’s much pricier budget that’s reported to be in the $80 million range.
Unlike recent Fox busts like “Dark Phoenix,” “Ad Astra” has been well received by critics since its Toronto premiere with an 84% Rotten Tomatoes score. But recent history has shown us that good reviews aren’t enough to get a hard sci-fi film off the ground. For every success like “Arrival” or “The Martian,” there are busts like “Annihilation” and “Blade Runner 2049,” films that require expensive budgets but are unable to attract audiences because their complex plots aren’t easily conveyed in trailers in a way that can increase general audience interest.
Even if we consider the other category “Ad Astra” fits into — the astronaut movie — recent history once again brings bad omens. Consider last year’s “First Man,” a film with a top star in Ryan Gosling and a seemingly surefire hit premise: a Neil Armstrong biopic. But despite heavy marketing and awards campaign investment from Universal, the movie was barely able to avoid crashing back to Earth with $105 million grossed worldwide against a $60 million budget.
With “Ad Astra” failing to show numbers that match up with its production cost, another quarter of operating losses for Fox may be reported by Disney soon.
“Sometimes there are certain genres where a film has so much success that it damages the potential for similar films that come after,” Dergarabedian said. “‘Interstellar’ and ‘The Martian’ were such big hits a few years ago that people may be seeing films like ‘First Man’ and ‘Ad Astra’ and think, ‘Oh, I’ve already seen an astronaut film and this doesn’t look that different.'”
“Ad Astra” stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut who goes on an adventure through the solar system to find his missing father, making a discovery along the way that could have huge implications for all of humanity. Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler and Donald Sutherland also star. James Gray directed the film from a script he wrote with Ethan Gross.