45 years after Elvis Presley’s tragic death at Graceland, he finally gets a lavish biopic with Warner Bros.’ Elvis. The King’s life story is being given the Baz Luhrmann treatment, bringing mid-20th century America to (larger than) life with the director’s trademark extravagance. Austin Butler steps into the shoes of the music legend in his first major lead film role after starring in the shows "The Carrie Diaries" and "The Shannara Chronicles" as well as the upcoming "Band of Brothers"’ follow-up "Masters of the Air" (his best known film role to date is as Tex Watson in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood , and he was recently cast as Feyd-Rautha in Dune: Part Two). Opposite Butler and lending heft to the marquee is Tom Hanks as Presley’s manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker.
Few names in 20th century popular culture are as iconic as Elvis’, but will that translate to ticket sales? There are reasons to be hopeful. The Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was able to hit the zeitgeist in 2018 ($216 million domestic, $904 million worldwide, plus a slew of Oscars), Top Gun: Maverick proved there’s a bonanza to be made from playing to older audiences and to the heartland, and The Great Gatsby ($145 million domestic, $354 million worldwide) showed that there’s a large potential audience for Luhrmann’s brand of over-the-top storytelling. Elvis may not be able to strike the same chord, but a more conservative comp is Rocketman, which opened to $25.7 million and went on to gross $96.4 million domestically and $195 million worldwide.
The good news for the $85 million budgeted film is that critics are taking to it. At 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is Luhrmann’s best reviewed film since his debut Strictly Ballroom 30 years ago, and the musical melodrama is getting praised for its high entertainment value (there was also the film’s 12 minute standing ovation at Cannes). The word-of-mouth could propel Elvis through the summer, especially if some of the music, old and new, can catch on outside of Elvis’ core fanbase. The film contains a few dozen of Elvis’ classic songs, incorporating both the original recordings and vocals from Butler, but with Baz Luhrmann at the helm you can be assured this isn’t your parents’ (or grandparents’) Elvis. The soundtrack features covers and original songs from artists including Stevie Nicks, Chris Isaak, Jack White, Diplo, Doja Cat, Eminem, CeeLo Green, Jazmine Sullivan, Kacey Musgraves, and Tame Impala.
Also going wide is The Black Phone from Universal and Blumhouse. The supernatural horror film stars Ethan Hawke as a serial abductor and killer of children, but things take a turn when his latest victim, being kept alive in the basement, is able to communicate with the “the grabber’s” previous victims through a disconnected phone. As the deceased kids help the boy escape, his sister searches for him following the visions she had in her dreams. It is the first film for Scott Derrickson after directing Doctor Strange, and he is returning to the horror genre where he made his name with films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and Deliver Us from Evil. At 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the best reviewed of Derrickson’s horror outings, and his successful Sinister (also starring Hawke) is a reasonable comp with its $18 million opening, which would be a nice start given Black Phone’s $16 million budget.
Lightyear had a disappointing liftoff at the box office last weekend with just $50.6 million, but we will see whether its second weekend drop qualifies as “falling with style” to give it the famously long legs of other Pixar films. Cars 3 is a good comp with its $53.7 million opening over Father’s Day weekend in 2017. The film dropped 55% in its second weekend and finished with $153 million domestic and $384 worldwide, giving it one of Pixar’s weakest cumes and multipliers (2.8x). There is the hope that Lightyear legs out better, but the respectable A- CinemaScore is actually low for the studio, where A and A+ scores are more common, and it is a notch below Cars 3’s A, so there’s little reason to expect Lightyear to perform any better.
Despite the two new releases, the weekend’s top grosser will likely be one of the two major franchise titles of the past month. Jurassic World Dominion has been playing similarly to its predecessor Fallen Kingdom (Dominion’s second weekend was down 59.2% with $59.1 million, compared to Fallen Kingdom’s second weekend down 58.8% with $60.9 million), and a similar third weekend drop as Fallen Kingdom (down 53% with $28.6 million) could put Dominion ahead of Elvis.
However, don’t be surprised if Top Gun: Maverick zooms ahead of the competition to retake the number one spot in its fifth weekend. The box office phenomenon was down just 13.9% last weekend with $44.7 million, and if it drops less than 33% it will stay above $30 million this weekend. Tom Cruise’s top grossing film ever is on the verge of $500 million in the U.S. and $1 billion globally, and it should get some extra fuel as it opens in South Korea this weekend, a major market for the star (its $49 million gross for Mission: Impossible - Fallout was the third biggest after U.S. and China).