Three years ago, Universal rebooted its “Dark Universe” — a stable of classic monster characters still beloved almost nine decades after their Hollywood debut. First was “The Mummy” in 2017, starring Tom Cruise; budgeted around $125 million, the studio hoped to launch a major new franchise.
“The Mummy” wasn’t a blockbuster, but it wasn’t a flop; it made $400 million worldwide. Other studios might believed that was good enough and moved on to “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” and the rest.
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Instead, Universal showed why it is the only Hollywood studio in the same league as Disney. It stepped back, looked at the options, and changed course. Three years later, the next effort is “The Invisible Man” and it’s budgeted at just $7 million — and could open as high as $30 million and at no. 1.
Of course, audiences have defied predictions in recent weeks with “Birds of Prey” falling short of predictions while “Bad Boys for Life,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” and “The Call of the Wild” all were much better than expected. And, more films have overperformed — at least initially — than done worse.
So far, grosses are up over 10% from last year, although the first two months of the year usually rank among the lowest in the calendar. However, the last two weeks have been down and that will likely continue this weekend. The next three weeks face off against a 2019 that saw openings of “Captain Marvel” and “Us,” further threating the year-to-date improvement.
“Invisible Man” has scored an initial 70 Metacritic score, which is quite decent for a genre effort. The premise, which bears no resemblance to the classic film with its gothic castles and European-accented characters — has Elisabeth Moss as the wife of a brilliant but difficult scientist who haunts her after his apparent suicide.
Shifting the story to the woman stalked by the title character is a major shift in focus. It deals with contemporary themes, with Australian director-writer Leigh Whannel a veteran of the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises as well as the microbudget Blumhouse “Upgrade.”
This is rated R (“The Mummy,” from an entirely different team, was PG-13). It’s also the only wide debut this weekend, and recent openers are family oriented. It might also have the benefit of the zeitgeist. Coronavirus dominates headlines; historically, when the news is scary, the public sometimes flocks to horror-genre films. (The initial Universal monster movies came to prominence in the depths of the Depression.)
If it doesn’t take the top spot, the alternative is “The Call of the Wild.” Yes, the Fox production was above the $20 million maximum predicted last weekend by almost 25%, falling just short of ”Sonic the Hedgehog” for #1. But through five days, “Wild” has caught up with “Sonic,” and likely beats it for the full week by about $2 million (getting to $34 million).
It clearly is getting strong word of mouth, particularly among adults. It could see a very strong hold in its second weekend. The guess here is possibly around $20 million, which is probably not good enough for no. 1, but might indicate it could reach as much as $100 million domestic. Now if only it hadn’t cost as much as its CGI-bloated estimated budget of $135 million.
“Sonic” dropped a surprising 55% last weekend, though it’s still strong since it had such a big start. It likely falls less, but $15 million would seem at the high end of its total. Still, that would be good enough for third spot.
The scariest thing about the weekend ahead is, beyond the top three titles, there may be nothing that will gross as much as $5 million. “Birds of Prey” is in freefall, “Brahms: The Boy II” had a weak first weekend, and the rest are long-run hits late in their runs. The initial surge that made early 2020 feel positive already seems to be in decline.
“The Invisible Man” almost certainly won’t do enough alone to make this a parity weekend. Fault the lack of any other new release (an increasing problem) as a big issue. But if it can achieve a gross much higher than expected even a week ago, the results will provide a positive story despite the raw overall totals.
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