Comedic thrillers with a weird central idea have scored with audiences lately
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Between the Christmas action comedy “Violent Night” and the self-aware horror film “M3GAN,” Universal has found box office success recently with wild R-rated films featuring darkly humorous loglines. Now the studio looks to do it again with Elizabeth Banks’ “Cocaine Bear,” a comedic thriller that is exactly what its title suggests: a bear going on a rampage after getting its nose into a huge stash of cocaine.
Universal ran trailers for “Cocaine Bear” prior to screenings of “Violent Night” and “M3GAN,” hoping that the audiences for those films would build up an appetite for more absurd movies that can be satisfied this weekend. Produced on a $35 million budget, with most of that spend going to creating the film’s CGI ursine, “Cocaine Bear” is projected for an opening in the mid-teens from 3,500 theaters with the chance to stretch to $20 million if word of mouth from critics and opening night audiences is strong.
In order for that word of mouth to be strong, “Cocaine Bear” must do something that “Violent Night” and “M3GAN” did: make its weird central idea last for 90 minutes. It’s one thing for such a premise to get YouTube and social media engagement from a three-minute trailer, but if early audiences feel like the joke gets old fast, that will dissuade others from spending the time and money to see it in theaters. That is what happened to “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey,” which made $1.7 million from its limited engagement but got panned by critics and audiences for not doing much with its core idea beyond what was shown in the viral trailer.
If “Cocaine Bear” can get traction with audiences, it may be able to exceed the $49.8 million domestic total of “Violent Night,” which turned a profit for Universal on a lower $20 million budget. That would not only be a victory for Universal but also serve as another sign that comedies are making a small comeback in this still-rebuilding box office.
Along with “Violent Night,” films like Paramount’s “The Lost City” ($105.3 million domestic) and Universal’s “Ticket to Paradise” ($68.2 million) won over different portions of the moviegoing populace and turned respectable profits for studios. They’re still not earning the commercial and cultural success that comedies did back in the 2000s, nor will they alone be enough to get the box office back to normal. But the continued success of such films is key to sustaining the box office on weekends where new blockbusters aren’t coming and preventing the deep slumps that the industry saw for several weeks at a time in 2022.
And that is exactly the role that movie theaters need “Cocaine Bear” to fill. The March slate will be the busiest the box office has seen in more than five years with franchises like “Creed,” “Shazam!” and “John Wick” headlining the release list. But before that comes this weekend, and films like “Bear” are needed to provide essential support.
Even at the high range, “Cocaine Bear” isn’t expected to take the No. 1 spot from Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” though how much that film will make in its second weekend after a $120 million Presidents Day weekend launch is still unclear.
While the latest “Ant-Man” film still seems to be popular among hardcore Marvel fans, an 84% audience Rotten Tomatoes score, a 3.5/5 score on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak and a B on CinemaScore suggests that more casual moviegoers aren’t as enthused. Considering that superhero films like “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Black Adam” saw significant drops after similar opening weekend reception, it wouldn’t be surprising to see “Quantumania” fall to a second weekend total of below $40 million.
Also coming to theaters Friday is Lionsgate’s “Jesus Revolution,” the latest faith-based film from the studio’s production partner Kingdom Story Company. Directed by Brent McCorkle and Kingdom co-founder Jon Erwin, the film tells the true story of the titular Christian movement in the 1970s that sought to bridge hippie culture with the more conservative Christian communities of older generations. The film is projected for an opening of around $5 million to $7 million.
Box Office Reporter • firstname.lastname@example.org • Twitter: @jeremyfuster