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Monday, July 27, 2015

Ant-Man Holds #1 Against Pixels

Well this is a surprise.  Last week I reported that Ant-Man had enjoyed a strong weekend opening and beat Minions at the #1 spot by a small enough margin to indicate I wasn’t at all hopeful for a sequel.  From there I had assumed, like a lot of other critics I think, that Ant-Man would respectively slip from #1 this week and settle into the middle tear slots before exiting theaters in later August.  Instead Ant-Man held the #1 spot for a second week, passing the 100,000,000 mark on projections and is currently ranked as the 16th highest grossing film of the year.  That might seem like a high number but similarly offbeat oddities like Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Marvel’s own Thor have managed to turn top 20 success into decent box office clout.   
Obviously the year still has time left for Ant-Man to get bumped from its holding, especially given that Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Spectre, and Star Wars are all waiting in the wind but this is still big news regardless.  Meanwhile Adam Sandler’s Pixels may not be dead on arrival but it’s a strong statement of development that his movie couldn’t overcome a middling Marvel product in its 2nd week the way Grown Ups 2 beat Pacific Rim two years ago. 

 Going forward I think it’s pretty clear what these developments will lead to going forward.  On the Sandler front I don’t think this will honestly damage his brand that much, just maybe send him scurrying back to more comfortable genres.  Sandler’s been trying to pull off more family friendly films for 4 years now and he’s only ended up with diminishing returns.  If Sandler does make a concerted response to this year’s box office reports the real indicator of his next project will probably come form Hotel Transylvania 2 later this year as the original is the only one of his recent efforts to find real purchase in a family market.  If that goes sour I doubt the king of broad comedy will ever move beyond the standard Happy Madison packet of lowest common denominator idiocy.  

The bigger impact of Pixels disappointing response will be felt in the various “geekification” projects that have been starting to pop up in its wake.  Pixels’ projected success had actually been gathering a good deal of studio attention as we all marched indifferently towards it.  The best example of this I can point to is the sudden and bizarre revival of interest in the Rampage adaptation that had been all but forgotten for years now.  Rampage was a golden age arcade game that got a film adaptation in the works awhile back alongside a lot of other adaptations that now seem to have gone nowhere like the Dead Island trailer movie.  Suddenly though, some development began happening on the film again when the Rock got cast in the lead role as part of his post-2013 career revival. 
There’s still every possibility that movie will still get made but I’m hoping Pixels losing to Ant-Man sends a clear message to studios about this kind of thing.  Pixels’ approach, the approach that studios have been jonesing to implement for a while now, is to just take the surface level ephemera of geek culture and slather it over a mediocre crowd pleaser in order to scoop up lucrative nostalgia/nerd dollars.  Ant-Man goes in almost the complete opposite direction, jettisoning most of the main characters key visuals and source material beyond the basics but delving deep into what made folks like Hank Pym or Scott Lang enduring in the first place.  I’m hoping there’s a clear enough message in this to maybe avert a decade’s worth of lame, surface level adaptations that just slather video game or nerd visual cues over top of boiler plate flicks. 

Speaking of Ant-Man this is obviously good news for Marvel’s little hero who could.  This is the second time Ant-Man has beaten a favored opponent at the box office and it’s certainly more than I or most other critics expected.  This Friday’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation will probably knock it out of that #1 spot but I could see Ant-Man holding a respectable 2nd place through most of Augusts’ uninspired competition.  The biggest indicator though will be where it places against next week’s Fantastic Four reboot.  This will mark 4 weeks into Ant-Man’s screening period but conversely audiences have shown very little interest in the upcoming Fantastic Four film so far.  While I don’t think Ant-Man is a sure thing between these films I do think they’re more likely to beat Fox’s copyright continuation flick than I thought it was last week.  I’m still not completely convinced these are the kind of numbers that will spell sequel for Ant-Man but they’ve definitely moved Ant-Man 2 out of the fantasy zone and into the realm of legitimate possibility. 

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