As is standard at the end of August, the box office is set to cool off substantially this weekend; it's looking abnormally bad this year, though, with all three of this weekend's new nationwide releases poised to fall short of $10 million. This means The Expendables 2 will repeat in first place, albeit with the lowest number one gross so far this year. Also worth keeping an eye on is the performance of conservative documentary 2016 Obama's America, which is expanding in to over 1,000 theaters after a strong run in limited release.
Playing at 2,255 locations, Premium Rush seems to have the most potential among the three new nationwide releases, though that isn't saying much. After successfully shaking the child star label thanks to roles in cult hits like Brick and (500) Days of Summer and memorable supporting turns in Christopher Nolan blockbusters Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is taking his first stab at anchoring a major studio release with the bike messenger thriller. Unfortunately, after pushing it back from January 2012 to its current date (presumably to take advantage of Dark Knight Rises buzz), distributor Sony Pictures hasn't given the movie much of a marketing push at all. The material that has been shown has ranged from underwhelming to confusing, with the catchphrase "Ride Like Hell" occupying much more poster space than the movie's actual title. Sony is currently anticipating somewhere between $6 and $8 million this weekend.
Hit and Run opened to a measly $625,000 from 2,698 locations on Wednesday, and will expand slightly to 2,870 theaters on Friday. Dax Shepard's independently-produced action comedy secured such a large number of locations thanks to distributor Open Road Films, which is co-owned by theater chains AMC and Regal. The movie has been screening all over the country for months, though any positive buzz seems to have been drowned out by now. With its terrible Wednesday debut, it's unlikely Hit and Run gets to $5 million for its five-day start.
Possibly because of their discontinued relationship with the movie's production company (Dark Castle), Warner Bros. doesn't even seem to be trying with supernatural thriller The Apparition, which is only going out at 810 locations this weekend. In the past decade, WB has only had three nationwide releases open at fewer than 1,000 locations: Spartan debuted to $2.01 million at 832 venues, A Sound of Thunder opened to just $917,398 at 816 theaters, and The Phantom of the Opera grossed $4 million from 622 locations (though that was muted by a Wednesday Holiday opening). With hardly any promotion, and a lot of its thunder being stolen by next week's more-specific supernatural thriller The Possession, it's hard to imagine The Apparition getting above these meager levels.
With the nearly-inevitable underperformance of all three new movies, the story of the weekend could be the nationwide expansion of 2016 Obama's America. Based on co-director Dinesh D'Souza's book The Roots of Obama's Rage, the documentary appears to take a conservative look at President Barack Obama's past and then speculate how that will impact future policy decisions should Obama be re-elected in November. The movie opened at one location on July 13, and was flying under-the-radar until last weekend when its per-theater average jumped 42 percent to $7,365 despite nearly tripling its theater count to 169. That kind of momentum is practically unheard-of, and suggests word-of-mouth is very strong.
To take advantage of this buzz, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures managed to book 2016: Obama's America in 1,090 locations this weekend, which is the widest release for a political documentary since Michael Moore's Sicko in 2007. On Wednesday, Fandango reported that the movie was accounting for a whopping 34 percent of ticket sales on the site, which guarantees the movie a Top 10 finish this weekend. In fact, while it won't get anywhere close to Fahrenheit 9/11's $23.9 million debut (a similar anti-president doc released during the heat of a re-election campaign), it's almost guaranteed to set a new weekend record for a conservative documentary ahead of 2008's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed ($2.97 million at 1,052 locations).
Forecast (August 24-26) 1. The Expendables 2 - $12.2 million (-57%) 2. The Bourne Legacy - $9 million (-47%) 3. ParaNorman - $8.6 million (-39%) 4. Premium Rush - $8.2 million 5. The Campaign - $7.1 million (-46%) -. 2016 - $5.8 million (+466%) -. Hit & Run - $2.7 million ($3.8 million five-day) -. The Apparition - $2.5 million
Bar for Success Premium Rush is an action movie from a major studio opening at over 2,000 locations; even with a light marketing campaign it really ought to be debuting to at least $10 million. The standard is a little lower for Hit & Run, though it should be getting close to $10 million through five days. With such a middling release, The Apparition should be commended if it can even get to $5 million. Finally, 2016: Obama's America needs to at least match its $2.6 million total this weekend to justify the quick expansion.