On a weekend that feels a lot like the under card at a championship bout at the box office, Ron Howard‘s big-budget nautical disaster epic “In the Heart of the Sea” will take on Brian Helgeland‘s British crime saga “Legend,” which expands nationwide.
Adam McKay‘s oddball take on the 2008 financial crisis “The Big Short” debuts in limited release for Paramount, as well. The dark comedy has awards hopes and an ensemble cast that includes Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling.
“In the Heart of the Sea” — the weekend’s only wide opener — tells the story of the Essex, a whaling ship that lost a run-in with a gigantic sperm whale, inspiring Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” While it may open at No. 1, it will likely rank as one of the biggest flops in Howard’s career, and it’s another misfire in a very tough year for perennial powerhouse Warner Bros., which financed the $100 million epic with Village Roadshow.
Originally scheduled for a March release, Warner Bros. in January shifted it to the week before “Star Wars” opens. That all but rules out a strong holdover in subsequent weeks for “In the Heart of the Sea,” which has a 64 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Howard’s directing credentials are impressive, with an Academy Award for “A Beautiful Mind.” His resume also includes “Frost/Nixon,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “Apollo 13.” But his last real box-office hit was “Angels & Demons” in 2009. It feels like a missed opportunity for star Hemsworth as well, whose only real commercial success outside of his work in Thor in the Marvel movies has been “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
“The fact that the promotional materials are focused on the whale, rather than Howard or Hemsworth, is not a good sign,” said Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock.
Elsewhere, “Legend” stars Tom Hardy in dual roles as the twin British crime kingpins Reggie and Ronald Kray. Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Paul Bettany and Tara Fitzgerald co-star in the R-rated tale. It averaged an unspectacular $4587 in 61 theaters last weekend.
There haven’t been many comedies about the recent U.S. financial crisis, but “The Big Short” is just that. Director Adam McKay is best known for Will Ferrell comedies including “Anchorman” and its sequel. Paramount would love to see “The Big Short,” which is at 77 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, pick up some awards heat ahead of its wide release on Christmas Day.
But the main event, of course, is the Dec. 18 opening of the hugely anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” A lot of potential moviegoers have already bought tickets to Disney’s sci-fi sequel and will try to get some holiday shopping in ahead of the return of Luke Skywalker and the gang, the analysts feel.