The end of summer is officially upon us. Okay, technically that isn’t until September 21st, but as far as Hollywood is concerned, the summer box-office receipts have been tallied, with the winners and losers already determined. What have we learned? For starters, that Brian De Palma wanted to see The Lone Ranger, but it was gone from theaters before he had a chance to; that lower-budget horror films can stand their own against big-budget blockbusters, though audiences prefer their horror either slovenly supernatural (The Conjuring) or strictly high-concept (The Purge), as proved by the weak opening this past weekend of the excellent, reflexive You’re Next; and that Hollywood is still capable of producing mega-bombs, as demonstrated by the alarming disappearing acts performed by films such as White House Down, R.I.P.D., and Paranoia. Finally, we’ve learned that, all in all, not much has truly changed in the box-office landscape over the past 30 years, as summers continue to be ruled by sequels and commercially driven pap, with the occasional indie (like Fruitvale Station, The Way, Way Back, and Blue Jasmine) lucky enough to make a drop in the bucket.
And so it begins, at least that’s what Oscar prognosticator Sasha Stone posted this week about the Telluride Film Festival, which she views as “the start of Oscar season.” Venice is already underway, with out-of-this-world reviews for Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s first film in seven years (it hits North American theaters on October 4th). Moreover, we know that November and December will yield likely Oscar contenders such as Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and August: Osage County, all of which are destined to cross over with box-office success, but what September box-office hopefuls will potentially also deliver on their Oscar pedigree?
No film appears to deliver on this promise more than Prisoners, the English-language debut from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose Incendies received an Oscar nomination in 2011 for Best Foreign Language Film. Prisoners strikes me as quite an important box-office venture—important in the sense that its R rating and 146-minute runtime are outwardly evocative of the kinds of studio-funded, personal filmmaking only afforded to bankable, name-brand auteurs such as David Fincher or Quentin Tarantino. Though Prisoners looks like an auteur venture, it’s being sold as a mainstream thriller, which is easy enough given that it features bankable stars (and previous Oscar nominees) Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, and Viola Davis, and if general audiences respond to the film with negative word of mouth, studios will surely be discouraged from allowing such freedoms to financially unproven directors going forward. Also important to the independent spirit are Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon and, well, that about sums it up, since the remainder of September wide releases are studio ventures pimping either post-summer action (Riddick), Formula-1 racing (Rush), or yet another animated sequel (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2). So, wait a minute. Action violence, Vin Diesel, race cars, falling hunks of meat: The September slate isn’t a summer deviation at all, but some sort of extended Fast & Furious-themed month! Touché, Hollywood.
Until then, the boys of One Direction look to steal the music industry’s spotlight back from Miley Cyrus this weekend with One Direction: This Is Us, helmed (surprisingly) by Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame. Early Fandango ticket sales suggest the fivesome will indeed take that spotlight, and likely follow in the footsteps of the Hannah Montana star’s own concert doc, with somewhere around $30 million for the four-day weekend.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. One Direction: This Is Us: $29.3 NEW
2. Lee Daniels’s The Butler: $13.2 -20%
3. We’re the Millers: $11 -16%
4. The World’s End: $7.6 -14%
5. Planes: $6.4 -25%
6. Getaway: $6.2 NEW
7. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: $5.8-38%
8. Elysium: $4.5 -35%
9. You’re Next: $4.1 -41%
10. Blue Jasmine: $3.1 -22%