This past Sunday, I joined a group of friends on a Skype session to hold an auction for our Fall Movie League. We have been doing this league for several years now, have fine-tuned the rules and have come up with a pretty solid, fun system. The summer season was held from mid-March to the end of August. Back in March, I wrote a recap of that and did weekly updates on the league. It was a fun exercise and a change-up in the content, and it kept me writing regularly, even if I wasn’t always writing reviews.
Our fall season is slightly modified from the summer. Rather than a $250 million cap, the cap is $200 million. This is mainly because box office business between now and the end of the year is nowhere near as robust as it is during the summer, and so there are fewer movies that are likely to hit the cap or make significant dollars. Because of that, if someone did get their hands on one of the big earners, it would pretty much assure them victory unless we leveled the playing field. Instead of $70 to spend on up to 7 films, we have $60 and up to 6 films to “roster.” Any leftover auction money can be used in an add/drop scenario where we can drop a movie and pick up a new one for a $5 million penalty from the movie’s box office. Each $1 is equivalent to $1 million in box office revenue, so someone with $5 leftover from the auction could conceivably perform an add/drop at no penalty. If another person expresses interest in the movie, there would be a bidding war for it. That hasn’t happened yet.
We ordered the auction bidding based on the order of expected standings from the summer season, with the order being Greg (the summer winner), Joe, Chris, Paula, Tim, and myself (last place). I will be posting a final standings of the Summer Movie League at the end of September, when the revenue window closes officially. Also, Greg’s reward for winning is my punishment for losing. He gets to pick a movie for me to watch and write a running diary of my viewing experience. Last night, he announced that movie. As punishment for coming in last place, I will be watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I was honestly relieved at the selection, because it is a film I have seen previously, and, in my mind, is not even the worst Star Trek film (that would by Star Trek V: The Final Frontier). I will try to be proactive in viewing that sooner rather than later, and that running diary will be posted here for everyone’s enjoyment.
Below are the “team by team” results of the auction, how much the film went for, the release date, and at what point in the auction the film was bid on. Each roster will be followed by a short summary assessment of their roster and their chances.
$38 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12/16) (1st)
$15 Trolls (11/4) (18th)
$2 Bad Santa 2 (11/26) (23rd)
$1 Gold (12/30) (25th)
$1 A Monster Calls (12/23) (29th)
$2 Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (11/11) (31st)
Greg came out of the gates swinging, nominating and eventually getting Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I expected that would be the highest earning movie of the season, and would likely go for the highest bid, but auctions are unpredictable and it actually ended up being the 2nd most expensive film at $38. It’s most likely the surest bet to cap at $200 million. Trolls is an animated film from Fox that comes out in early November and features voice work from Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick in the leads.
After Moana, it could be the highest-earning animated feature this season, but the T-meter could go in either direction for it. Bad Santa 2 is a good value pick at $2. The original made $60 million and was favorably reviewed. The only downside is that it’s a comedy sequel (always a questionable proposition) and it’s a sequel to a movie that came out 13 years ago (also a questionable proposition). Rounding out his roster with Gold, A Monster Calls, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk seems like a smart play as all three seem to be geared towards awards season to varying degrees, and are helmed by Stephen Gaghan, J.A. Bayona, and Ang Lee, respectively. A Monster Calls already has an 83% T-meter.
$12 Arrival (11/11) (5th)
$5 Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (9/30) (6th)
$13 The Magnificent Seven (9/23) (9th)
$8 Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (10/21) (11th)
$9 Office Christmas Party (12/9) (17th)
$3 Collateral Beauty (12/16) (27th)
Arrival is one of my most anticipated movies of the fall. With that said, though, I’m not sure what kind of overall box office appeal it has, though the early reviews (97% after 33 reviews!) are outstanding. Director Denis Villenueve’s two highest grossing pictures to this point are Prisoners ($61 million) and Sicario ($46 million). I think it’s reasonable to expect Arrival to do somewhere between those or slightly above, perhaps as high as $80-90 million. Miss Peregrine’s is a Tim Burton movie based on a popular novel from a few years ago. Burton films have been all over the map in terms of both box office revenue and T-meter, so this one is hard to pin down. The subject matter is certainly is his wheelhouse though. However, only three of Burton’s last nine films grossed over $100 million. At $5, it’s far from a risk.
The Magnificent Seven is somewhat of a risk. At $13 dollars, reviews have it hovering in the mid-to-low 60s on the T-meter (currently 65%). There is a wide range of box office outcomes for westerns in recent history as well. The Revenant, True Grit, and Django Unchained all made over $160 million, whereas The Lone Ranger, The Hateful Eight, and 3:10 To Yuma all made less than $100 million. The ensemble cast could bolster it too. The first Jack Reacher film made $80 million and got to 62% on Rotten Tomatoes. I think similar numbers can be expected this time around, with maybe a slightly higher T-meter. I think Office Christmas Party has a chance to be a modest comedy hit. Last year, The Night Before made $43 million. The year before that, Horrible Bosses 2 took in $54 million. There’s an audience for one R-rated comedy in between the Thanksgiving-Christmas period. Collateral Beauty features a loaded cast, and a story that feels a little Capra-esque. It could return good value at $3 if it gets some awards buzz. What is interesting about Joe’s roster is that he only spent $50 for his 6 movies. That’s either shrewd or poor spending. We’ll find out which.
Chris:$39 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (11/18) (3rd)
$16 Assassin’s Creed (12/21) (15th)
$3 Deepwater Horizon (9/30) (21st)
$2 The Founder (12/16) (28th)
There are some patterns developing in the league. Greg, like the summer, did not take any movies that release early in the season. Joe snagged an early potential heavy hitter. Chris, as is his custom, made sure to get one of the sure big earners, and likely at the expense of his overall numbers. Fantastic Beasts is one of the handful of movies that is pretty sure to hit the $200 million cap. But he only has four total movies on his roster. Beyond that, he added Assassin’s Creed for $16, a film based on a video game, which is about the most unreliable of any kind of movies. The highest earning video game adaptation of all time is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider at $131 million fifteen years ago. Looking at the list of video game adaptations on Box Office Mojo and one word comes to mind: putrid.
Deepwater Horizon is a Peter Berg/Mark Wahlberg collaboration, which yielded $125 million when they did Lone Survivor a few years ago. On the flip side, this is the first of two Berg/Wahlberg collaborations due out this year, and the other one is primed for awards season in the same release period as Lone Survivor was. The Founder features Michael Keaton, who has been in the last two Best Picture Oscar winners. It was also pushed back from an August release for awards season. Still, I’m not sure what the public interest is in watching a biopic about the founder of McDonalds. Overall, it comes back to the strategy of only having four movies. It just seems like limiting your upside by having two fewer movies than everyone else and giving yourself two fewer chances to hit on a lottery ticket pick.
Paula:$27 Doctor Strange (11/4) (4th)
$10 Inferno (10/28) (8th)
$7 Storks (9/23) (10th)
$9 The Accountant (10/14) (14th)
$2 Rings (10/28) (16th)
$1 Edge of Seventeen (11/18) (22nd)
Paula was very active in the early part of the auction, and had filled her roster by the 22nd of the 34 total movies selected. Whether it was her strategy or not, her roster eschews the prestige movies of awards season and goes straight for the populist picks. Being a Marvel movie, Doctor Strange most likely has a built-in floor. Of the entire M.C.U. only The Incredible Hulk ($134 million) in 2008 in the early stages of the M.C.U. has failed to clear $175 million domestically. Inferno is the latest adaptation of the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code made $217 million, but was only 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, while Angels & Demons was slightly more favorably reviewed (37%), but only made $133 million. It’s hard to believe that this film, coming seven years after Angels & Demons, will get a better reception than the previous two.
Storks is one of the animated features vying for money behind Moana. The Accountant features Ben Affleck as an autistic assassin if I’m understanding the trailer correctly. Seems like it will do similar numbers to Jack Reacher if I had to guess. Rings is a sequel to the hugely successful The Ring, which made $129 million in 2002. The Ring Two, which featured the same returning cast, bombed and only made $76 million. This movie is 11 years later and features none of the original cast. Edge of Seventeen is a coming of age teen comedy drama starring Hailee Steinfeld that could make some modest earnings to pad Paula’s final numbers.
Tim:$19 Sing (12/21) (2nd)
$37 Moana (11/25) (7th)
$1 Ouija: Origin of Evil (10/21) (30th)
$1 Why Him (12/21) (32nd)
$1 Masterminds (9/30) (33rd)
$1 Keeping Up With the Joneses (10/21) (34th)
Going back to the patterns theme mentioned in looking at the roster Chris formed, Tim is known for targeting animated flicks, knowing that there is always a built-in audience for them and a decent amount of them received generally favorable reviews. Therefore, it is not surprising to see him end up with Sing and Moana. Sing has a strong vocal cast and is directed by Garth Jennings. Moana is a Disney film and features music by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame. It’s safe to say that Moana will most likely cap. In fact, I got into a huge bidding war with Tim over it, only dropping out because I was not prepared to spend as much on it as Greg paid for Rogue One.
Because he spent so much on those two, he ended up supplementing his roster with four of the last five picks in the auction with $1 bids. Ouija is another Tim mainstay, grabbing a horror film, especially in October. Limited ceiling, but limited floor as well, not accounting for the T-meter. His last three are all comedies. Why Him could be a modest alternative viewing option for the Christmas season. Masterminds and Keeping Up with the Joneses are two comedies featuring Zack Galifianakis. Masterminds, originally slated for an August 2015 release, has been pushed back several times because of financial difficulties for its studio, Relativity. That’s not usually a good sign, and there probably has not been too much marketing because of that. Keeping Up with the Joneses seems like the better bet to make any money between those two.
Me:$19 Passengers (12/21) (12th)
$8 La La Land (12/2) (13th)
$6 Birth of a Nation (10/7) (19th)
$14 The Girl on the Train (10/7) (20th)
$1 Patriots Day (12/21) (24th)
$9 Hacksaw Ridge (11/4) (26th)
My strategy going into this was to target one sure earner, and supplement them with award bait movies. And I wanted movies that I was fairly certain would get positive reviews. That’s not exactly how it ended up going down. In fact, going back to the theme of trends, it’s possible I executed a better version of my summer movie strategy, getting movies that are unlikely to cap, but could all be solid earners and almost all will be well-reviewed. It’s a high risk, high reward strategy that did not come close to paying off in the summer, but given the different dynamics of the fall season, and better selections, it could yield better results. Passengers is a Christmas release that has not had a trailer yet, but it’s a space adventure romance movie starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, two of the hottest stars working today in terms of box office openers. The estimated budget is $120 million, so this is not a small movie. It’s targeted to have mass appeal with maybe some limited prestige crossover.
La La Land is a musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone that is written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the writer-director of Whiplash. Reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have been stellar, with people saying it is a Best Picture contender. It currently sports a 95% T-meter off of 41 reviews. The downside is that Gosling and Stone have not proven to be significant box office generators and Whiplash only made $13 million. Meanwhile, Birth of a Nation has been widely talked about since Sundance this past January, but Nate Parker, the writer-director-lead actor of the film, has come under scrutiny stemming from a rape case 15 years ago. Reviews are strong (84% on 31 reviews), but does the controversy turn audiences away? The Girl on the Train is releasing right in that October spot where Gravity, Gone Girl, and The Martian have opened and gone on to do big business. My hope is that it is a film in the vein of Gone Girl and does similar business with slightly lower reviews. Patriots Day is the 2nd Peter Berg- Mark Wahlberg film, this one about the Boston Marathon bombing. I’m banking on the fact that it’s a patriotic film being released in the same slot as Lone Survivor and American Sniper were. Hacksaaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s return to the directing chair. It’s T-meter is at 93% after 14 reviews coming out of the Venice Film Festival. It sounds like an awards contender, and despite the damage done to his reputation in Hollywood, it feels like there is an audience out there that wants to welcome him back. I could see this movie outperforming modest expectations.