AUTUMN ACTION -- 10/24/16


Autumn action: After two months of fall fizzles, Hollywood is about to see some boxoffice sizzle this weekend thanks to "Inferno."

         Last weekend was the first up weekend versus this time last year in five weeks – but it took two mid-sized openings to add up to $50 million-plus and make it happen.

         All films in the marketplace grossed about $125 million – up about 18.4 percent from $105.6 million last year, per comScore. That helped the year-to-date to hold steady at 3.5 percent up from last year, according to comScore -- $9.08 billion vs. $8.77 billion.

         First place went to Lionsgate and The Tyler Perry Company's PG-13 rated horror comedy "Boo! A Madea Halloween" launch with $27.6 million. Nothing for Lionsgate to "boo hoo" about there as "Boo!" reportedly cost only $20 million to produce.

         Written and directed by Tyler Perry (the "Madea" franchise"), it stars Perry, Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely. 

         The franchise's last episode, "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas," opened Dec. 13, 2013 to $16 million and did $52.5 million domestically.

         Paramount and Skydance Productions' PG-13 rated action adventure "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" opened second with $23 million. It also took in about $31 million from openings in 42 international territories, giving it a global cume of about $54 million. "Never" reportedly cost $60 million to produce.

         The original "JR" opened Dec. 21, 2012 to $15.2 million and did $80.1 million domestically. It did much better internationally with $138.3 million, giving it a global cume of $218.3 million.

         Directed by Edward Zwick ("Defiance"), it stars three time Oscar nominee Tom Cruise in the title role.

         Neither "Boo" nor "Never" came close to taking over as the fall's biggest opening to date, the position Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated biographical drama "Sully" has held since its $35 million take off Sept. 9.

         But "Sully" won't continue as the fall's high flyer now that Columbia and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated mystery thriller "Inferno" is on the horizon, landing this weekend at about 3,400 theatres.

         "Inferno" blasted off two weeks ago with a terrific $50 million from 53 international territories. It should be closing in on $100 million internationally by the time it opens domestically.

         A domestic launch of $40 million or more would provide the kind of autumn action that this fall has been lacking. "Inferno" has all the right elements to keep the multiplexes humming.

         It's based on the best selling novel by "The DaVinci Code" author Dan Brown and it's the third film in the franchise stemming from those books. It also has superstar casting with two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, who starred in the franchise's first two episodes.

         Hanks returns as symbologist Robert Langdon, who after awakening in an Italian hospital with amnesia teams up with a doctor (Felicity Jones) he hopes will help him recover his memory. Together, they must race against the clock to stop a madman from unleashing a deadly global virus.

         "Inferno" is from high profile, two-time Oscar winner Ron Howard, whose credits include directing "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels & Demons," the franchise's first two episodes.

         "Da Vinci" opened May 19, 2006 to $77.1 million and did $217.5 million domestically.

         "Demons" didn't do as well, but still came out swinging with its May 15, 2009 opening to $46.2 million. It went on to do $133.4 million domestically.

         If "Inferno's" burning brightly and looking more like "Da Vinci" than "Demons," Hollywood will head into the late fall in much better shape.

         A quick look at this fall's Top 5 openings to date shows how soft this season looks versus a year ago. "Sully" ranks first with $35 million, but on last year's fall chart-to-date it would only have been the third biggest opening – after "The Martian" ($54.3 million on Oct. 2, 2015) and "Hotel Transylvania 2" ($48.5 million on Sept. 25, 2015).

         MGM, Columbia and Village Roadshow's PG-13 rated action western "The Magnificent Seven" is a very close second with its Sept. 23 opening to $34.7 million. But last year, "Hotel T2's" $48.5 million opening was only enough to come in second.

         Third place goes to 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment's PG-13 adventure drama "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," which opened to $28.9 million Sept. 30. A year ago, "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" was third – but with a $30.3 million launch.

         This year's fourth top fall opener is "Boo!" with $27.6 million. In 2015, "The Perfect Guy" placed fourth with its $25.9 million opening.

         Warner Bros. and RatPac-Dune Entertainment's R rated action crime drama "The Accountant" rounds out the Top 5 with $24.7 million. Last year, "The Visit" claimed fifth place with its $25.4 million opening.

         "Inferno"s opening will generate a new fall Top 5 chart next weekend. It looms as a film that's got what it takes to resonate with moviegoers. Some of the key talking points its stars and filmmakers will be making as "Inferno" hits theatres are outlined in its production notes.

         Tom Hanks, for instance, points out: "There is something Dan Brown has figured out – everybody likes a good puzzle, especially one you can actually figure out the clues to one at a time and solve. These movies give that to the audience – it is almost an interactive film, and it has been like that since 'The Da Vinci Code.'

         "Hell for Langdon in the movie is both a state of mind and a very physical experience because he is wracked with pain in his head and he is tortured by the fact he is ignorant of the reasons why."

         "Without a doubt, Robert Langdon goes through his own personal hell at the opening of this movie," explains Dan Brown. "He wakes up in a hospital room in possession of a mysterious artifact for which people are trying to kill him. He must decipher the artifact and follow a trail of clues to find out who wants him dead and why.  At the end of the day, he realizes the stakes are far greater than his own personal drama – the future of the planet is at stake."

         "Inferno" is the franchise's most visually stylistic film so far, with a series of cryptic dream sequences that take audiences inside Langdon's head, lending an entirely different feel than previous installments. 

          "There have been characters that I love as much as I love Robert Langdon, but I always want to push myself to do something different," says Ron Howard. "It's more interesting than repeating yourself. But that's what’s so great about the movies based on Dan Brown's books – each of them is so different and he explores such different themes in each adventure."

         In the film, Langdon must make sense of clues relating to Dante's epic poem.

         "Dante invented our modern conception of Hell," says producer Brian Grazer. "In the book, Dante witnesses sinners on Earth punished by poetic justice. That becomes the basis of the puzzles Langdon has to solve in this movie. Dante described Hell; the painter Boticelli visualized Hell; but only Robert Langdon, the symbologist, can prevent Hell on Earth by stopping the release of a deadly virus."

         Brown's challenge was to take a work of genius that has inspired readers and artists for 800 years and find the elements that would springboard him into a Robert Langdon thriller. The answer came from Brown imagining a modern idea of Hell and coming up with two concepts that fit together well -- an overpopulated world with billions of people unable to find sustenance; and a world where disease kills half the population. 

         For this vision of Hell on Earth, Brown borrows Dante's sense of poetic justice -- to punish mankind for severely overpopulating the world, a villain will release a deadly disease to kill billions.

         "I wanted to create a villain who is deeply troubled by the issue of overpopulation on earth and decides to fix the problem himself," Brown observes.        

Bottom line: Oscar marketers hoping to wind up in awards heaven are busy lining up high profile screening events in Los Angeles to keep their contenders in front of Academy members.

The American Film Institute's AFI Fest, whose 30th edition runs from Nov. 10-17, is now a key vehicle for reaching those voters as well as influential critics and online Oscar bloggers. Not only do the movies get seen, but their stars and filmmakers generate lots of media attention and red carpet coverage.

AFI announced last week that Lionsgate's PG-13 rated musical comedy drama "La La Land" and Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated biographical drama "Jackie" will both be receiving AFI Fest Centerpiece Gala showings. Both pictures have been generating big   Oscar buzzes since premiering earlier this fall at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.

"LLL," which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is from writer-director Damien Chazelle, an adapted screenplay Oscar nominee in 2015 for "Whiplash." "LLL" was a Golden Lion nominee at Venice and won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September. It opens Dec. 9 in limited release and goes wide Dec. 16.

"Jackie," starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Billy Crudup, is directed by Pablo Larraín ("Neruda"). "Jackie" was also a Golden Lion nominee at Venice and won the Platform Prize at TIFF. It opens Dec. 2 in limited release.