Box Office: The Gift Surprises

joeledgerton_thegiftLow costs and smart filmmaking make for a Gift that should keep on giving (via AceShowbiz)

Sure, last week’s No. 1 debut, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, holds the top spot over newcomer Fantastic Four, but that’s hardly the only box-office stunner this weekend.

Perhaps the best surprise is Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, The Gift. The film, which also features Edgerton as an eccentric man whose intentions may or may not be insidious, ranks third with an estimated $12 million. Given its production budget of $5 million and marketing costs of roughly $2.5 million, The Gift already enters the books as a success – more so than any other nationwide debut, easily. (But more on those other nationwide bows later.)

An engaging, well-crafted thriller, (moral) ambiguity is its playground; it forces you to question how we interact with each other and stays with you long after its conclusion. The Gift boasts a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 78/100 on Metacritic, and comparisons to Fatal Attraction (1987), which landed Oscar bids for picture, director, actress, actor, supporting actress, adapted screenplay, and film editing, aren’t too far off.

Only time will tell if The Gift will impact popular culture the way that pulpy Attraction did. (It’s doubtful, but you never know.) It’s worth wondering if distributor STX Entertainment will even give it an awards push, given that it’s their first-ever theatrical release. They also have The Secret in Their Eyes with Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Nicole Kidman to consider.

But the possibility for STX to build a narrative for The Gift as the audience favorite that enters the fray despite straying from what we deem “Oscar bait” is there. At this point, the likeliest component of the film to score attention would be Edgerton’s performance. Depending on how you view the film, he’s either a co-lead or a supporting player, but a supporting-actor push would clearly be the way to go.

fantasticfour_picThe best third act ever, obviously (via Entertainment Weekly)

Moving to another jaw-dropper, it’s too bad that Fantastic Four resembles Sue Storm’s ability to go invisible more than, say, Johnny Storm’s brightly burning flame or Ben Grimm’s massive frame. An estimated $26.2 million is quite paltry for the $120 million reboot, especially when early estimates pegged it for a bow of $40 million or more.

With not-so-fantastic reviews and behind-the-scenes drama more fascinating than the film itself (e.g., deeming it “a Josh Trank film” may be more formal than factual), don’t expect it to stretch like Reed Richards; it’s practically doomed. (Why not join the fun these other writers are having?) Will Fantastic even make Oscar’s initial, 20-film round of voting for determining the eventual nominees for best visual effects?

merylstreep_ricki-coldonePictured: the best shot Ricki and the Flash has at Oscar recognition… and Meryl Streep

Jonathan Demme’s music-filled family drama Ricki and the Flash takes seventh place with $7 million from just 1,603 locations. It’s hardly a great opening for Meryl Streep, but Scott Mendelson at Forbes points out that it may have legs as the last female-centric film with a nationwide bow until A Perfect Man with Sanaa Lathan debuts across the country on Sept. 11.

Oscar Queen Streep, as her nickname suggests, tends to enter the awards conversation for showing up to the set roles in which she “does something” beyond simply playing a character. For example, she belted showtunes and wore unflattering makeup in Into the Woods last year, donned prosthetics and a British accent for The Iron Lady – which won her that elusive third Oscar – in 2011, and sported a French accent in Julie & Julia in 2009.

In Ricki, Streep plays guitar well enough for us – well, me – to buy her as a rock frontwoman, and turns in strong, throaty covers of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, among others. But Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody allow her the space to create a realistic character devoid of (rafter-reaching) Oscar clips – and one of her best contemporary performances alongside Hope Springs (2012) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

But I’m not sure Streep’s extra “something” is enough for a best-actress race as crowded as this one. Again, box-office legs are hardly guaranteed, and those reviews (RT: 59%; Metacritic: 54/100) inspire little confidence. The aforementioned Iron Lady treads similar critical territory (RT: 51%; Metacritic: 54/100), but remember, it had Harvey Weinstein and a year-end release/push.

As it turns out, Sony may not even push Ricki for Oscar attention beyond original song “Cold One” – penned by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice. Still, we should count on La Streep to land a Golden Globe nod as a comedy-or-musical (Ricki is no musical, but it’s a “musical”) actress, even if potential dramedies like Our Brand is Crisis (Sandra Bullock) and Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) also go that route.

Check out the weekend top 10 (based on current estimates from Box Office Mojo) below – and some more box-office bits after that.

  1. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: $29.4 million
  2. NEW!!! Fantastic Four: $26.2 million
  3. NEW!!! The Gift: $12 million
  4. Vacation: $9.15 million
  5. Ant-Man: $7.83 million
  6. Minions: $7.4 million
  7. NEW!!! Ricki and the Flash: $7 million
  8. Trainwreck: $6.3 million
  9. Pixels: $5.43 million
  10. Southpaw: $4.76 million

shaunthesheepmovie_picI still need to see the film, but at least this scene is cute in the trailer. Can’t you just the Minions ruining it? (Photo via Digital Spy)

You may have noticed a wide release missing from that top 10: Shaun the Sheep Movie. The dialogue-free claymated film bleated to just $4 million this weekend. That brings it to a domestic cume of $5.57 million after debuting on Wednesday, but fails to get it into the weekend top 10 despite raves from the critics (RT: 99%; Metacritic: 81/100). Still, Mendelson notes that Lionsgate needs only $15 million in the States to break even with Shaun.

Looking at the animated-feature Oscar race, Inside Out looks the obvious favorite for now. Here’s how (nationwide) animated releases have stacked up this year at the stateside box office:

  1. Inside Out (RT: 98%; Metacritic: 94/100): $335.38 million (eight weekends)
  2. Minions (RT: 54%; Metacritic: 56/100): $302.75 million (five weekends)
  3. Home (RT: 45%; Metacritic: 55/100): $177.03 million (20 weekends)
  4. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (RT: 78%; Metacritic: 62/100): $162.99 million
  5. Strange Magic (RT: 18%; Metacritic: 24/100): $12.43 million
  6. Shaun the Sheep Movie (RT: 99%; Metacritic: 81/100): $5.57 million (one weekend)

Bold indicates that the film is still in theaters.

Shaun may pass Strange Magic‘s domestic cume if its legs are strong, and the critical reception may urge voters to pay attention.

Hotel Transylvania 2 will certainly topple Shaun at the box office, but reviews should keep it from contending – remember the first film? The big wildcard is The Peanuts Movie. People are familiar with the characters, but seeing them on the big screen with either give them the fuzzies or infuriate them, depending on how these characters are treated.

belpowley_diaryBel Powley in Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl (via IMDb)

At the specialty box office, Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl scored $51,000 from four locations. The Sony Picture Classics-distributed coming-of-age drama boasts strong reviews (RT: 95%; Metacritic: 85/100) – including an acclaimed leading turn from Bel Powley and praised supporting performances from Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård, and Christopher Meloni. Maybe an adapted screenplay bid for writer-director Heller?

A still from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (via IMDb)

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet grabs $26,000 from two locations. This opening is comparable to When Marnie Was There‘s $27,388 bow earlier this year, and a little more than Song of the Sea‘s (2014) $21,910 debut. The latter landed an animated-feature Oscar nod; all three were distributed by GKIDS. Reviews (RT: 61%; Metacritic: 59/100) are hardly enthusiastic, but Salma Hayek may launch a big awards push behind her passion project.

Next weekend, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton and Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. debut. The former centers on iconic rap group N.W.A. and comes out of the gate with strong reviews, while the latter… features future Oscar nominee Swedish Jessica Chasatain new “it” girl Alicia Vikander, if nothing else.


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