Can 'Blair Witch' Scare 'Sully' from the Weekend's Top Spot?

by Brad Brevet

September 15, 2016

SATURDAY AM UPDATE: As expected, Sully is set to repeat atop the weekend box office after an estimated $6.56 million on Friday heading toward a weekend around $22 million, but the race for #1 won't be nearly as close as projected.

Lionsgate's Blair Witch won't even come close to the most modest of expectations after an estimated $4 million Friday will lead toward an opening right around $9-9.5 million and a "D+" CinemaScore won't be helping word of mouth over the weekend or weeks to come.

As if that wasn't enough, Bridget Jones's Baby is also underperforming with an estimated $3 million on Friday, heading toward a weekend around $8.5-9 million. The film did, however, score a "B+" CinemaScore, though with an opening this low that won't help matters much as what was expected to be the largest opening in the franchise is now looking like it may be the smallest.

The only film outperforming Mojo's forecast is Open Road's Snowden, which also brought in an estimated $3 million on Friday and is looking at a three-day weekend around $8 million, though that is hardly a victory for the feature. Snowden did, however, impress opening day audiences, receiving an "A" CinemaScore.

The last of the weekend's new wide releases brings us to Pure Flix's Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, which brought in an estimated $628,000 and is looking at an opening around $1.5-2 million. The film also scored an "A" CinemaScore with opening day audiences and is 90% positive on PostTrak polling so far.

You can check out our chart of Friday estimates here and we'll be back tomorrow with a look at the three-day weekend.

FRIDAY AM UPDATE: Leading the charge when it comes to Thursday night previews was Lionsgate's Blair Witch with $765,000 from ~2,300 theaters. Comparatively, Sinister 2 brought in $850k on Thursday and opened with $10.5 million and Crimson Peak brought in $855k on Thursday and opened with $13.1 million. Getting a bit closer to Blair Witch's release date we have The Visit, which brought in $1.02 million on Thursday before opening with $25.4 million. While Thursday previews don't exactly paint a perfect picture of how a film will before over the weekend these numbers do suggest Mojo's forecast of a $20+ million weekend may be in jeopardy.

Bridget Jones's Baby brought in $364,000 from 2,208 theaters last night. Comparisons for this title are extremely limited with the best to offer would be the December release of Annie, which brought in $360k on Thursday before opening with $15.8 million. For this film, however, that doesn't seem like too apt a comparison.

Open Road's Snowden brought in a reported $390,000 on Thursday night. Open Road reports this number does not include results from Wednesday night's Fathom screenings, putting its Thursday performance on par with Mechanic: Resurrection which opened with $7.4 million and just ahead of The Finest Hours which opened with $10.2 million. The studio has confirmed both the Fathom screenings and Thursday night previews will be rolled into Friday's gross.

You can read our weekend preview below and we'll have Friday estimates for you tomorrow morning.

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Lionsgate's Blair Witch arrives seventeen years after the original film and it's hoping to become the third horror film to top the weekend box office this year. Standing in its way is last weekend's champ, Sully, which has delivered record results over the past few days and is looking at a $20+ million second weekend. Other new wide releases include Universal's Bridget Jones's Baby, arriving twelve years after the last film, and Open Road's Snowden. Meanwhile, Pure Flix debuts the documentary Hillsong: Let Hope Rise in over 800 theaters and Freestyle releases Mr. Church starring Eddie Murphy into approximately 300 theaters. Overall, while there could be a fight at the top with a couple of $20+ million weekends, this weekend's top twelve looks like it will be down from last year by about 10-11% with the top twelve generating around $89 million compared to $98.6 million over the same weekend last year.

2016 has already seen 11 films repeat atop the weekend box office (including Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the beginning of the year) compared to twelve for all of 2015 and Sully is looking to add its name to 2016's list. On top of last weekend's exceptional $35 million opening, the film has since delivered the largest non-holiday Monday in September as well as the largest Tuesday and Wednesday in September ever. That said, it would seem a strong second weekend is in order, with anywhere from a 32-38% drop appearing likely for and a second weekend around $22-24 million. Whether that will be enough for a #1 finish depends on just how hyped horror hounds are for the latest chiller to invade theaters with plenty of advance buzz in its pocket.

Lionsgate and director Adam Wingard's Blair Witch has a shot at becoming the latest horror film to open over $20 million joining the likes of recent hits, Lights Out and Don't Breathe. Some industry expectations, however, peg the film's opening in the mid-to-high teens, a forecast that seems somewhat conservative, though would still prove to be a strong opening given the film's reported $5 million budget.

Working against Blair Witch are the film's reviews, which haven't been nearly as kind as they were for Lights Out and Don't Breathe, which scored 76% and 87% respectively at RottenTomatoes. By comparison, Blair Witch currently sits at 43%, though a low RottenTomatoes score didn't stop The Purge: Election Year, from opening over $31 million back in July. To that point, however, 16 years didn't separate Election Year from the previous Purge installment.

Nostalgia, no doubt, is what pushes expectations for Blair Witch over $20 million, counter to that is the timeframe between sequels which is keeping industry expectations in check. Based on IMDb page view data Blair Witch has seen its share of high points, and it is currently pacing just a bit behind Lights Out, which opened in 303 fewer theaters, keeping hope alive for that $20 million opening.

Targeting a third place finish is Universal's release of Bridget Jones's Baby into 2,927 theaters, by far the widest release of any of the films in the franchise, which means it is obviously looking at the largest opening of the franchise. Arriving 12 years after Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason left a bit of a bad taste in the mouths of critics and audiences alike, Jones's Baby arrives with solid early reviews (79% on RottenTomatoes) and what looks like an opening weekend around $13-15 million and possibly some long legs if audiences take to it as critics have.

An interesting title this weekend is Open Road's Snowden, a film that is expected by many to open below $10 million. The film, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, has bounced around the release calendar as it was originally slated to open last Christmas before being moved to May 2016 and eventually settling on this weekend. Open Road had a special screening of the film at this year's Comic Con, followed by a live Q&A with Edward Snowden himself, and it just recently screened at the Toronto Film Festival after which it has earned mixed reviews, currently settling in around 57% on RottenTomatoes. The studio began screening the film last night in ~800 theaters accompanied by a Q&A with Stone, Gordon-Levitt and Snowden via satellite from Moscow and, along with Thursday night preview screenings, those box office numbers will be rolled into Friday's number.

Working against the film is the fact Snowden's story has already been told in great detail in Laura Poitras' Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour and films of this sort haven't exactly been lighting the box office on fire as of late. Some titles to consider by comparison include 2013's The Fifth Estate, which also played TIFF and opened with just $1.67 million and last year's Steve Jobs, which delivered strong numbers in limited release but fell flat after going wide, managing just $7.1 million from 2,493 theaters. With Snowden opening in 2,443 theaters is it really wise to expect much more than a $6-7 million opening?

Also getting a moderate release this weekend is Hillsong - Let Hope Rise. The documentary centers on the Australia-based band Hillsong and their rise to prominence as an international church. The film is opening in 816 theaters this weekend and expected to bring in around $2.5 million, which would be enough to secure a place in the weekend top ten.

Leading the charge in limited release is Mr. Church, which Freestyle will release in ~300 theaters, serving as Eddie Murphy's first film in four years. Weinstein Co. and Dimension will premiere Wild Oats in 100 theaters; The Orchard is releasing Miss Stevens in two theaters; and Rialto is re-releasing Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte in two theaters.

This weekend's forecast is directly below. This post will be updated on Friday morning with Thursday night preview results followed by Friday estimates on Saturday morning, and a complete weekend recap on Sunday morning.

  • Sully (3,525 theaters) - $23.0 M
  • Blair Witch (3,121 theaters) - $20.5 M
  • Bridget Jones's Baby (2,927 theaters) - $14.5 M
  • Snowden (2,443 theaters) - $6.8 M
  • When the Bough Breaks (2,246 theaters) - $5.8 M
  • Don't Breathe (3,208 theaters) - $5.1 M
  • Suicide Squad (2,740 theaters) - $3.2 M
  • Hillsong - Let Hope Rise (816 theaters) - $2.5 M
  • Pete's Dragon (1,948 theaters) - $2.0 M
  • The Wild Life (2,493 theaters) - $1.9 M

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo and author Brad Brevet at @bradbrevet.

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