Chris Rock Takes On The 'Saw' Franchise In ‘Spiral’, Warner Releases Taylor Sheridan/Angelina Jolie Thriller ‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’
The summer movie season continues on its road to recovery and normalcy, with four new wide releases hitting screens. Still, studios are holding back their big guns for now, as roughly one-third of theaters remain closed and capacity restrictions remain in place at many locations. The past few months have shown promising box office results from films such as Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, but it may still take some time before the box office returns to its former glory, with the major test coming over Memorial Day weekend when Cruella and A Quiet Place Part II face off.

Coming in the first place this weekend will likely be Spiral, the ninth entry in the Saw franchise, this time with a new take that puts Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in the lead roles. Rock also executive produced and worked on the story for the film, which is his first theatrical starring role since 2014’s Top Five. Despite its mixed reviews (53% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes), it currently stands as the best reviewed film in the Saw franchise, besting the original film’s 50% Tomatometer. The series saw its box office peak with the second film (grossing $87 million), with a mostly steady decline since then, and the 2017 Jigsaw (grossing $38 million) failed to rev up the franchise’s engine, though its low budget meant the film could still turn a profit.

Spiral acts as both a sequel and a reboot, and could be the key to revitalizing the franchise with its new direction drawing in a new audience. Had it been released as intended on May 15, 2020 in a non-pandemic world, we may have a better sense of how much the new blood (not to mention gore) would help at the box office. As it stands, Spiral’s performance will tell us more about how films can fare in the late stage of the pandemic rather than tell us how successful the series' reinvention is. Surpassing the $16.6 million opening of Jigsaw is possible but would come as a surprise, and IMDb’s page views show Spiral to be well behind Jigsaw in the weeks leading up their respective releases.

Warner Brothers continues with its hybrid releases and should take the number two spot with the Angelina Jolie starrer Those Who Wish Me Dead. Releasing day-and-date theatrically and streaming on HBO Max, the film is seeing solid reviews (70% Tomatometer) which suggest that writer/director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) is continuing his streak of intelligent white-knuckle thrillers. For Jolie, it marks a return to the thriller genre, having previously headlined Salt and Changeling. The weekend box office compared to its streaming numbers may give a clue as to what kinds of films audiences are willing to return to the theaters for.

On a lower profile is Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile. Distributed by Focus Features, the film’s release is long overdue, having premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2018, winning the audience award there as well as at SXSW the same year, despite mixed reviews (57% Tomatometer). Bekmambetov departs from his big-budget fare (Wanted, Ben-Hur) for a low-budget, "screenlife" film. If that's a new term for you you're likely not alone. "Screenlife" is described as a "new film language," so named by Bekmambetov himself, describing a work in which the action takes place on the screens of protagonists’ various devices, a la the Bekmambetov produced Unfriended, Unfriended: Dark Web and Searching. The more serious subject matter of Profile, about a journalist investigating ISIS, may not have the same broad horror/thriller appeal of the other three films, and its two week pre-release page views are lagging far behind Unfriended, which opened to $15.8 million, and is more in line with one of its comps Friend Request, which opened to $2 million.

Offering some counter-programming to the weekend’s darker fare is Finding You, being released by Roadside Attractions. The sunny looking rom-com is garnering a similar amount of pre-release page views as Roadside Attractions’ less cheery, but still romantic, Words on Bathroom Walls, which opened limited last August and had a total gross of $2.5 million after expanding. Though Finding You was not widely screened for critics, the handful of reviews out thus far have been positive.

The week’s most significant limited release is Army of the Dead which is directed by Zack Snyder and debuts on Netflix one week later. Around half of its roughly 600 screens will be Cinemark locations, while AMC and Regal will not be showing the film. It may be Zack Snyder’s smallest theatrical release yet, but it is the biggest for Netflix, and it may signal a change in their theatrical strategy which thus far has been limited to the awards season.

Also launching ahead of its streaming launch is Christoph Waltz’ directorial debut Georgetown. Paramount and Vertical are putting out the film in limited theaters just four days before it goes to VOD. On the other hand, IFC’s horror film The Djinn has a simultaneous VOD and limited theatrical release. On the documentary front, Music Box opens the The Perfect Candidate and Greenwich Entertainment is releasing Us Kids.