While Disney has held many of the biggest box office hits this summer, the season has also been very good to Focus Features. Universal's arthouse wing has already found big success with the Fred Rogers doc "Won't You Be My Neighbor?," and now looks to keep adult audiences coming in with Spike Lee's confrontational Ku Klux Klan period film, "BlacKkKlansman."
It's the start of what could be Focus' most stacked slate in its 16-year history. In addition to the two aforementioned films, Focus' awards season lineup includes Joel Edgerton's adaptation of the LGBT novel "Boy Erased," the Saoirse Ronan/Margot Robbie-fronted "Mary Queen of Scots," and the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic "On the Basis of Sex," all of which could earn Oscar nominations in January.
But it all starts with the latest Spike Lee joint, which won the Grand Prix after its Cannes Film Festival debut. The film is also the first feature project for Jordan Peele since winning an Oscar for his "Get Out" screenplay, something that Focus has made sure to boast in the film's marketing by prominently displaying Peele's status as a producer on the film.
Focus is so confident in "BlacKkKlansman" that it is releasing the film on approximately 1,500 screens, a considerable jump from previous estimates of 500-1,000 screens on opening weekend.
Prior to that expanded count, independent analysts projected "BlacKkKlansman" to open at $9-10 million, a better showing than last August's prestige release, Annapurna's "Detroit," which needed 3,007 screens to get its $7 million opening. It would also be roughly on par with "The Debt," which made $9.9 million for Focus in 2011 from 1,826 screens. That was Focus' best-ever opening for a film on less than 2,000 screens, a milestone "BlacKkKlansman" might top thanks to the extra screens.
With the blockbuster season coming to a rapid end, August has become an open slot for a film with strong awards potential to gain word-of-mouth over a period of several weeks with little competition. On top of that, Lee, who for the last 30 years has been known for connecting the racism of America's past to the present, wanted the release of his film to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville riots, footage of which is featured in the film's final moments.
"Spike worked really close with us on how we planned to put this film out," Focus' distribution head Lisa Bunnell told TheWrap. "He really wanted this film to come out at a time when Charlottesville was going to be on the news and in the public's mind, and on our end it just made sense to put this film out at the end of the summer."
"BlacKkKlansman" tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black cop in Colorado Springs who looks to make a name for himself in the force by infiltrating the KKK. After winning over the Klan's Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), Stallworth employs the reluctant help of Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who stands in for Stallworth in real life meetings with Klan members, and quickly rises to the top of the Klan's Colorado chapter.
Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, and Paul Walter Hauser ("I, Tonya") also star in the film, with Alec Baldwin and Harry Belafonte making cameo roles. Lee directed the film from a script based off of Stallworth's autobiography, sharing writing credit with his "Chi-Raq" writing partner Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtel.
Also releasing this weekend is Warner Bros. monster movie, "The Meg," which stars Jason Statham as a deep sea diver tasked with taking down a Megalodon, a giant shark that was believed to be extinct. The film will look for overseas markets to find any sort of profit, as the $150 million film is projected to open to just $20 million this weekend. The film was co-financed by WB, Flagship Entertainment, and the Chinese-owned Gravity Pictures. In an effort to reach out to Chinese audiences, the film also stars one of the country's biggest stars, Li Bingbing and is set on a Chinese beach.
Based on the 1997 horror novel "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror" by Steve Alten, "The Meg" is directed by Jon Turtletaub and also stars Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, and Winston Chao. The film does not have a score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Finally, Sony will release the low-budget horror film "Slender Man" on 2,350 screens this weekend, with trackers expecting an opening in the low teens while the studio projects an $8 million start for this film based on the famed internet creepypasta.
The film's release comes as an indie distributor, Phame Factory, has filed a lawsuit against the studio in order to get a judge to rule that it has the right to distribute its own horror film, "Flay," which has an antagonist that looks similar to Slender Man. Sony had sent multiple cease-and-desist letters to Phame Factory, who argues in the lawsuit that Sony did not specify how it violated the studio's copyright hold on Slender Man.