Can ‘Men in Black: International’ Bring in Moviegoers Without Will Smith?

“Thor: Ragnarok” duo Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson go up against “Shaft” sequel

men in black international

This weekend’s box office is expected to be a quiet one with “Toy Story 4” still a week away, but Sony will still have a blockbuster on the slate with “Men In Black: International,” the fourth installment in the 90s alien action-comedy series and the first without stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

In their place are “Thor: Ragnarok” duo Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, respectively playing the top agent and newest rookie in MIB’s London branch. Though the pair have become recognizable names thanks to their work in Marvel and elsewhere, “MIB: International” is still looking like one of the biggest risks of the summer slate.

Unlike more recent superhero franchises where the characters have been the main draw, “Men In Black” comes from a time when actors were the biggest selling points for blockbusters. Back in 1997, Jones was an Academy Award-winning star whose recent work included “The Fugitive” and “Batman Forever.” Smith meanwhile was coming off the huge success of “Independence Day” after jumping from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to the big screen. The pairing paid off, not only for the continued stardom of the two stars, but for the studio, which produced successful sequels in 2002 and 2012.

To replace that iconic pair and get audiences to come back will be no easy task, and right now the numbers aren’t looking good for “MIB: International.” Independent trackers have the film projected for a $35-40 million opening against a reported $110 million budget. Sony, who co-financed the film with Hemisphere and Tencent, is projecting a $30 million opening from 4,200+ screens.

“Chris and Tessa have a track record of having great chemistry onscreen together, but I just don’t see ‘Men in Black’ having four-quadrant appeal in 2019, especially without Will Smith,” said Boxoffice’s Shawn Robbins. “I think a lot of families are holding on to their movie ticket money for when ‘Toy Story 4’ comes out.”

While it won’t be as big a bust as last weekend’s “Dark Phoenix,” it’s looking like this film will leave Sony relying even more on next month’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” to make this summer a successful one.

“Men in Black: International” is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Kumail Nanjiani, Emma Thompson, and “MIB” veteran Tim Blaney also star.

Also releasing this weekend is Warner Bros./New Line’s “Shaft,” the fifth film in the famed 1970s blaxploitation series and a direct sequel to the reboot released in 2000. The film is projected for a $20 million opening against a $30 million budget co-financed by Netflix, who is releasing the film on streaming overseas in two weeks.

“Shaft” sees Richard Roundtree and Samuel L. Jackson return as John Shaft and his nephew, John Shaft II. Jessie Usher also stars as Shaft II’s estranged son and FBI agent JJ, who must reconcile with his father and work with him and his great uncle to uncover who murdered his best friend. Tim Story directed from a screenplay by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow, with Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp also starring.

Finally, Amazon Studios/30WEST’s “Late Night” will expand nationwide after getting a four-screen limited release in Los Angeles and New York. The comedy starring and written by Mindy Kaling earned one of the highest per screen averages of the year so far with $246,305 for an average of $61,576. This weekend, trackers have it projected for a $5 million opening.

Directed by Nisha Ganatra, “Late Night” stars Kaling as Molly Patel, a chemical plant engineer who finds herself thrust into the world of late night comedy after she is hired by veteran host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) and tasked with making her show culturally relevant again. But that proves easier said than done, as Molly has to deal with the struggles of being a woman of color in a writers room dominated by white men. The film has an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes.