Fall 2016 Box Office Predictions and Analysis

Big box office numbers aren't just for the summer months anymore, but Fall is much tougher to predict...

Welcome to the beginning of the Fall movie season. While not quite as sexy as the summer, it’s still significant because some of the movies opening the next few months will be playing well into 2017, while others will probably will go away without making much of an impact.

In previous years, September and October were the dead months–a time when few movies were able to open with more than $15 million and where studios would dump some of their weaker fare, expecting the box office to slow down after the summer. These days, with the 12-month release schedule that has caused studios to rethink the best time to release their strongest tentpoles, a fairly low-budget thriller or genre film can end up bringing in tons of business and doing way better than expected.

Past Septembers have seen big hits like Adam Sandler’s animated Hotel Transylvania movies, while October has seen the release of two huge sci-fi films in Gravity and The Martian — both which fared well both at the box office and awards season — as well as a number of successful horror franchises like Saw and Paranormal Activity. Previous Octobers have also seen the release of a crazy number of blockbuster three-quels. Both months are also where we start to see the prestigious awards contenders starting to roll out in hopes of catching awards voters’ attention early before the more crowded months of November and December.

As we look ahead at the next few months, we’re going to do things a little different this time, focusing on nine movies likely to bring in the most business over the next few months, and then we’ll talk about a few other movies that have potential to break out, but can’t by any means be considered sure things.

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1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Disney/Lucasfilm – Dec. 16

Last year, Star Wars: the Force Awakens was the highest-grossing movie of the year (and ever), opening with nearly $250 million and grossing $936 million domestically, surpassing the previous record set by James Cameron’s Avatar by $176 million. There’s little reason to think that this year’s Star Wars spin-off movie (don’t call it a prequel) won’t surpass Finding Dory’s current gross of $480 million.  

Unlike The Force Awakens, this spin-off doesn’t bring back the trio of Luke, Leia, and Han that helped that movie do so well, instead introducing new characters to the canon played by Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, and Riz Ahmed with Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen portraying new villains. Thanks to the success of The Force Awakens, the fervor for all things Star Wars is still alive and well, although maybe not nearly as crazy as it was last year. Because of that, expect an opening weekend of under $200 million, but it should still do enough business over the holidays to gross $600 million or more if it lives up to current expectations.

Predicted Opening:  $185 million

Predicted Gross: $600 million

2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  

Warner Bros. – Nov. 18

This is going to be one of the more interesting holiday releases, being that it’s set in the world of J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular Harry Potter books, the film versions of which have grossed $7.7 billion worldwide with about $2.9 billion of that domestically. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stars Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a magician who arrives in 1926 New York to attend the Magical Congress of the United States of America, when his briefcase full of creatures is released. It also stars Dan Fogler and Katherine Waterston, and Rowling’s dedicated fans will be eager to see what she delivers this time.

This is also being set-up as a trilogy so obviously, Warner Bros. is going to be pushing it big time over the next couple of months. Most of the Harry Potter movies have grossed or come close to $300 million except for the finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 which opened with $169 million and made $381 million domestic. It seems like a new spin-off should be able to open in the $90 million range and join the $300 million club domestically.

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Predicted Opening: $95 million

Predicted Gross: $300 million

3. Doctor Strange

Marvel/Disney – Nov. 4

Marvel Studios continues to introduce more of the characters from the comics into their Cinematic Universe, and their latest is a strange one. Doctor Strange, that is. A few years ago, I might have thought it was crazy to try to get people to see a Doctor Strange movie but after the success of similarly lesser-known properties like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, Marvel really can do no wrong. They have director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) at the helm, and the good doctor is played by Benedict Cumberbatch with a cast that includes Tilda Swinton, David Oyelowo and Mads Mikkelson (yes, him again).

There are enough diehard fans of what Marvel has been doing cinematically that it probably will do better than some of the other intro movies like last year’s Ant-Man, though maybe not as much as Thor: The Dark World, which opened on this same weekend three years back.

Predicted Opening: $75 million

Predicted Gross: $210 million

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4. Moana

Disney – Nov. 23

If Disney didn’t have enough big moneymakers this fall and during the holiday season, then this animated movie opening over Thanksgiving weekend, where they’ve previously launched huge hits like Tangled and Frozen, should add even more to their coffers. It’s a Hawaii-based musical fantasy featuring the voice of superstar Dwayne Johnson in the key role of the god Maui. It might not get the teens and 20-somethings that often go to see Pixar movies, but it’s a safe bet for families and kids over the busy box office holiday, as Disney will push the musical aspects of the film, which includes contributions from Lin-Manuel Miranda of the hit musical Hamilton.

Predicted Opening: $55 million (6-days)

Predicted Gross: $175 million

5. Trolls

DreamWorks Animation/Fox – Nov. 4

The second animated movie of the Fall season (chronologically, at least) is the new one from DreamWorks Animation that bases itself around the popular big-haired Danish troll dolls that have found fans of all ages since their introduction in 1959. This one involves two very different trolls, voiced by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick, who team to save “Troll Town” from the “Bergens.” (Don’t blame me. I didn’t write the movie.)

Hoping to find the success of Sony’s first The Smurfs movie or more recently, The Angry Birds Movie, Trolls is likely going to appeal to a younger, female-skewing demographic that won’t have much interest in Doctor Strange, which opens that same week. We’ll see if it breaks some of the bad luck DWA has been having in recent years with bombs like Turbo and The Penguins of Madagascar, but they’re pretty reliable otherwise.

Predicted Opening: $44 million

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Predicted Gross: $155 million

6. Sing

Universal – Dec. 21

Universal Pictures, the studio behind the summer animated hit The Secret Life of Pets, isn’t going to rest on its laurels when it comes to their own holiday family fare. Just in time for Christmas, they have another talking animal movie from Illumination Entertainment, written and directed by Son of Rambow’s Garth Jennings. In this case, the animals aren’t just going to be talking, they’ll be singing, as it has a plot involving a singing competition, like some of the successful reality shows in recent years.

Despite its novel premise, Sing is still going to be lumped in with much more popular movies like Zootopia. Being released after DreamWorks Animation’s animated movie filled with Justin Timberlake’s tunes might also put this at a bigger disadvantage. Sing is opening on the Wednesday before Christmas, which falls on a Sunday this year. Though Sing may have to contend with the Rogue One juggernaut in its first few days, it should pick up a lot more family business on the weekend and the week following Christmas.

Predicted Opening: $30 million

Predicted Gross: $145 million

7. The Magnificent Seven

Sony – Sept. 23

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence in the Western genre with a mix of smaller indies like last year’s Slow West, and high-profile ones like the Coens’ remake of True Grit and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained. This Antoine Fuqua take on the 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven–itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai–is going to benefit from its high-profile starpower as much as being a movie geared towards older males.  

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When your movie stars box office superstars like Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, then you have an almost guaranteed $40 million opening for this mid-September offering, which will kick-off the Toronto International Film Festival later this week. Look for this to be the top choice for guys over a certain age. Even though it has Mark Wahlberg’s Deepwater Horizon opening in its second weekend, it should still do big business in the early fall.

Predicted Opening: $43 million

Predicted Gross: $120 million

8. Inferno

Sony – Oct. 28

Tom Hanks reteams with Ron Howard for their third movie based on Dan Brown’s novels about Robert Langford, this one taking him into the world of Dante’s Inferno and a doomsday cult trying to unleash a deadly virus that will wipe out half the earth’s population. Their first journey into Dan Brown’s world with The Da Vinci Code produced a $217 million blockbuster in the summer of 2006 (it made double that overseas).

Its follow-up, 2009’s Angels and Demons, didn’t fare as well, and you have to wonder whether waiting seven years for a third movie was a smart idea. One imagines the popularity of the book and of Hanks (who will kick off the Fall season with his well-regarded Sully) should help this do well despite a late October release that will try to make some money before the more prominent holiday fare in November.

Predicted Opening: $36 million

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Predicted Gross: $110 million

9. Storks

Warner Bros.  – Sept. 23

Chronologically, the first of the fall’s animated films comes from Neighbors director Nick Stoller. Storks is hoping to capitalize on the success of Sony Pictures Animation’s September-released animated hits, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania and their respective sequels, which account for four of the Top 10 September openers of all time. This one plays on the story kids are told about where babies come from—and it’s not from the sex on display in many of Stoller’s R-rated movies either!—and Warner Bros. has run a fun teaser in front of many of the summer animated movies that could generate some interest.

Then again, it’s daring to try and make a mark in the slower month of September, although the only potential competition in terms of family movies is Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (see below), which probably will be for older kids. Otherwise, Storks won’t have to worry about another animated movie until early November.

Predicted Opening: $27 million

Predicted Gross: $90 million

Other Fall Movies to Look Out For

This is where we get into difficult territory, because any of the below could break out depending a lot of factors (including a few that are presently unknown, like if they’re any good) but I think most of these will end up below $80 million

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Bridget Jones’ Diary (Universal – Sept 16)

Renée Zellwegger returns to the character for which she received her first Oscar nomination, and though it’s been almost 12 years since the disappointing sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and almost six years since Zellwegger’s last film, there should be enough older women interested in seeing her choose between Colin Firth’s Mark and Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey that the absence of Hugh Grant may not bother many of them.

Deepwater Horizon (Lionsgate – Sept. 30)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Fox – Sept. 30)

Opening the last weekend of the month are two very different movies with directors returning to familiar territory. Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg reteam after 2013’s Lone Survivor to recreate the disastrous 2010 BP oil spill, while Tim Burton returns to familiar territory with his adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ popular young adult novel that could easily be sold as “Tim Burton’s X-Men.”  One is based on real events while the other is the highest of fantasy.

Although Burton reteams with Eva Green from his Dark Shadows remake, Wahlberg offers much more star power, and the interest in what really happened on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig and the controversy that followed will probably give it an advantage that weekend. Either way, this should be an interesting weekend to watch to see if one or both will be able to crack the $30 million mark or whether they’ll be hurt by The Magnificent Seven and Storks, released a week earlier.

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Blair Witch (Lionsgate – Sept. 16)

Ouija: Origin of Evil (Universal – Oct. 21)

Rings (Paramount – Oct. 28)

Here’s a trio of horror movies coming out in September or October—one sequel, one remake, and one that’s sort of both. One or two of these should be good for $50 million or more, depending on how well they’re received and whether moviegoers are still as hot on horror as they’ve been over this past summer.

The Girl on the Train (DreamWorks/Universal – Oct. 7)

With the success of David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl in 2014, the rush to adapt other popular bestselling thrillers has gotten Paula Hawkins’ 2015 debut novel fast-tracked to the screen with Emily Blunt playing the title role of a woman who thinks she sees a murder. It’s the latest movie directed by The Help’s Tate Taylor, and while this might not be as prestigious as Fincher or having Ben Affleck starring in the movie, the people who read Hawkins’ book should help this do well, opening on the same weekend Gone Girl did.

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The Accountant (Warner Bros. – Oct. 14)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Paramount – Oct. 21)

This October, we’ll see how far star power goes to getting people into theaters as Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise star in two gritty action-thrillers with the latter being a sequel to Cruise’s 2012 take on Lee Child’s military anti-hero Jack Reacher, which grossed $80 million in the States and $138 million overseas.

Cruise hasn’t had a movie open in October since 1986’s The Color of Money, which was a sequel to Paul Newman’s The Hustler. Affleck has had a few October hits with the Oscar-winning Argo and the aforementioned Gone Girl, but also some big-time bombs like Runner Runner and Surviving Christmas. At this point, it’s unclear whether The Accountant will be considered a prestigious awards flick or just an interesting thriller. Either way, these two movies will be trying to bring in the older guys looking for entertainment, but they’ll be fighting for that same audience.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony/Tristar – Nov. 11)

Allied (Paramount – Nov. 23)

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These are both prestige films from previous Oscar winners opening in November —both involving the military and war in different ways and hoping to target awards voters. Until important critics and awards watchers see and reflect on their quality, it will be too early to tell if they’ll fare as well as Ang Lee’s Life of Pi or any of Robert Zemeckis’ earlier films like Cast Away and Forrest Gump.  Zemeckis is coming off the disastrous showing for last year’s The Walk, and it’s been a while since he’s made a movie that was universally loved by critics, so we’ll have to see if either of these movies make much of an impact.

(One should also note that Mel Gibson’s war movie Hacksaw Ridge will also be released in early November and both movies have a lot of other competition.)

Arrival (Paramount – Nov. 11)

Passengers (Sony – Dec. 21)

The Space Between Us (STX – Dec. 21)

Science fiction movies like Gravity and last year’s The Martian have done very well when released in the last quarter of the year and this year will see no less than three very different takes on the genre. Directed by Sicario’s Denis Villaneuve, Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is getting a head-start on the competition by premiering at all the early September festivals in Venice and Toronto, and rave reviews should help it do well, much like it did those precursors mentioned above.  

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The decision for two studios to release romance-tinged sci-fi films like Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, and The Space Between Us, starring the younger Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson, on the exact same pre-Christmas date and mere days after Rogue One seems like it could hurt one or both of them, although if either of them are good, expect them to find an audience.

Office Christmas Party (Paramount – Dec. 9)

Releasing a comedy in the midst of all the higher profile holiday fare might seem like a fool’s errand, but when you have an easy-to-sell premise–one that almost everyone can relate to–right there in the title, you already have the potential for a big comedy hit ala Bridesmaids and Bad Moms. Add to that the likes of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston (their fifth movie together!) and comedy ringers like T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry, Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer and Randall Park, you have the potential for a very funny movie and a huge breakout hit, as well.

Assassin’s Creed (20th Century Fox – Dec. 21)

Last and hopefully not least is this movie adaptation based on the popular video game series, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, which you’ll note is opening the same weekend as two other sci-fi movies… and five days after Rogue One. The history of video game movies and how badly they’ve been received has been well documented, although Fox and video game developer Ubisoft are hoping that fans of the cinematic games will be interested in how the story and action translates to the screen. Even so, this will be setting a new precedent if a.) it’s any good and b.) it’s successful, especially following Warcraft over the summer.