After dominating the 18-35 demographic for two weeks, “Joker” will face its first serious competition in that group from Sony’s “Zombieland: Double Tap,” the sequel to the 2009 cult hit horror comedy starring Woody Harrelson. But the No. 1 spot will belong to Disney, who returns to theaters with “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” after grossing $1.65 billion with “The Lion King.”
“Maleficent” looks like it’s going to be a bit more of a modest hit compared to Disney’s titanic summer entries, however. Analysts are projecting an opening of around $45-50 million, which would be a drop from the $69.4 million opening grossed by the first “Maleficent” in summer 2014.
That’s not necessarily a big problem for “Mistress of Evil.” This sequel doesn’t need to match the $758.5 million global total of the first “Maleficent” to become a hit. But several sequels to films released five years prior have struggled recently. Warner Bros. in particular had problems with this trend this year with “The Lego Movie 2,” whose domestic run was 60% less than that of the first “Lego Movie,” and “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” which was down 45% from 2014’s “Godzilla.” Even Universal’s “Secret Life of Pets 2,” which was profitable with $429 million grossed worldwide against an $80 million budget, was a far cry from the $875 million success of its 2016 predecessor.
In 2014, critics were polarized about “Maleficent,” but female audiences embraced the film’s feminist message and its dramatic overhaul of the narrative of “Sleeping Beauty.” Angelina Jolie’s performance transformed the villainous Maleficent into redemptive mother figure, earning her praise even in reviews that were otherwise critical of the film.
But as the aforementioned under-performing sequels have shown, just because a concept wins over audiences once doesn’t necessarily mean that they are interested in more of it five years later. “Mistress of Evil” is receiving mixed reviews with a 49% Rotten Tomatoes score, so it will need an audience reception just as strong as the first “Maleficent” to maintain traction as a Halloween offering.
If it does get strong audience scores, the film has a chance at a $500 million global run as the release slate won’t have another film catering primarily to younger women until the release of “Charlie’s Angels” on November 15. Even if it doesn’t, Disney has shown with duds like “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” that it can easily shrug off an under-performing film, which it surely would with “Frozen II” set for release next month.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” sees Jolie return as the dark fairy and adoptive mother of Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who is preparing to be married to her beloved Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). Unbeknownst to them all Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), is planning to use the marriage to drive a wedge between Maleficent and Aurora and trigger a war that threatens to finish off the fairy world once and for all.
Chiwetel Ejiofor also stars with Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville. Joachim Rønning is directing from a script by Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, and Noah Harpster. The film will be released on 3,700+ screens in North America with IMAX, large format and 3D support.
Meanwhile, “Zombieland: Double Tap” will compete with “Joker” for both male audiences and the No. 2 spot at the box office this weekend, as it is currently projected to earn a $25-30 million opening, with Sony projecting a $23 million opening. That would be consistent with the $24.7 million opening earned by the first “Zombieland” in 2009, which adjusts to $29.2 million after inflation.
“Zombieland” was released before stars Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone exploded into the mainstream with their respective performances in “The Social Network” and “La La Land.” With a larger and more well-known cast this time, the budget has grown to a reported $42 million compared to $23 million for the first film.
The first film legged out to a $75 million domestic run from an early October release date thanks to Halloween moviegoers, but in a market where October has become a spot to release a big hit like “Joker” or “Venom,” “Zombieland: Double Tap” will have to do the same with a smaller window of time before Halloween.
“Zombieland: Double Tap” picks up ten years after the original film as Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock continue to fight off zombies while finding new survivors of the undead apocalypse. Original cast members Harrelson, Stone, Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin return along with director Ruben Fleischer and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Cast newcomers include Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, and Avan Jogia.