Hollywood will be watching closely as two ambitious new film outfits roll out their first movies on Friday: the psychological thriller "The Gift," the first release of STX Entertainment, and the Meryl Streep vehicle "Ricki and the Flash," the relaunch of Sony's TriStar Productions label that has been largely dormant since the 1990s.
Neither will challenge this weekend's likely No. 1, "The Fantastic Four," the Marvel superhero reboot that's expected to top the box office with around $40 million for Fox.
Both are tracking under $10 million, so topping that would be an auspicious start given the more modest budgets (and expectations).
A fourth new release -- "Shaun the Sheep," a stop-motion animated film from the U.K.'s Aardman Productions ("Wallace and Grommit") -- opens Wednesday on 2,200 screens and is aiming for $5 million for Lionsgate by Sunday.
Burbank-based STX, founded last year by producer Robert Simonds with TPG Capital managing partner Bill McGlashan, intends to fill a niche with story-driven films in the $20 million-$80 million range. "The Gift," the directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton, cost just $5 million but it's easy to see why STX chose the PG-13 thriller as its first release.
Adam Fogelson, chairman of the film group at STX, had a fruitful relationship with "The Gift" producer Jason Blum when he held a similar post at Universal Pictures and they teamed on low-budget hits including "The Purge," "The Boy Next Door" and "Ouija."
And the low cost almost guarantees profitability for the film produced and shepherded by Rebecca Yeldham, even though STX split distribution with Blum's Blumhouse firm, with the latter taking foreign rights.
The film, starring Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a young married couple whose world goes into a tailspin following an encounter with an old high school acquaintance (Edgerton), has wowed critics so far, with 94 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It opens in 2,503 theaters..
Meanwhile, "Ricki and the Flash" is the first Sony release for Tom Rothman, who was tapped two years ago to relaunch the stagnant TriStar division. In February, the former Former Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Tom Rothman was named to replace Amy Pascal as Sony's chairman.
"Ricki," starring three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep as a fading rocker, is aimed squarely at women over 25. That's a group that typically doesn't rush out to catch films on opening weekend, and Sony is hoping word of mouth will enable the PG-13-rated rock tale to have several successful encores in the coming weeks. The film is opening on just 1,600 screens so per-site grosses should be strong.
The reviews for the $18 million production, directed by Jonathan Demme from a script by Diablo Cody, are just pretty good (67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
Streep plays a rock singer coming to grips with family members she put on the back-burner for her career. Maggie Gummar, Streep's real-life daughter, co-stars, along with Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, real-life rocker Rick Springfield and Audra McDonald.