Horror and action battle for No. 1 spot

The race for the No. 1 spot this Presidents’ Day weekend was a close one, with A Good Day to Die Hard skirting slightly ahead of Identity Thief — the previous weekend’s winner — and Safe Haven,  likely since it was the main option for couples romancing it up for Valentine’s. This was despite that movie having arguably the most insipid twist in a romance since the 9/11 reveal in Remember Me. Just a fair warning.

Even Escape From Planet Earth came in with $21.1 million over the weekend; sadly, the Twilight wannabe Beautiful Creatures bombed with a sub-$10 million gross.

Rock star · In his newest film, Snitch, Dwayne the “Rock” Johnson goes undercover as an informant in order to clear his son’s name after a wrongful arrest. In doing so, he risks both his life and his family’s safety. — Courtesy of Steve Dietl

Rock star · In his newest film, Snitch, Dwayne the “Rock” Johnson goes undercover as an informant in order to clear his son’s name after a wrongful arrest. In doing so, he risks both his life and his family’s safety. — Courtesy of Steve Dietl

Though the new Die Hard did get the weekend crown for being the first action blockbuster of the year, it didn’t do that much better than other Presidents’ Day action flicks such as the Ghost Rider sequel last year or 2011’s Unknown. Though the reviews were downright scathing, it’s still John McClane on a holiday weekend, so many expected it to do better.

Die Hard might have simply been a victim of action-star fatigue.Just earlier this year, Bruce Willis’ Expendables co-stars all bombed with their subsequent movies: Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand, Statham in Parker and Stallone in Bullet to the Head. Using an action star without a complementing cast just doesn’t work in the modern era like it used to.

This situation doesn’t give much hope to one of the new releases this weekend: Snitch, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a father who goes undercover to save his son. The film also stars Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt and Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar be comin’ to the theater!).

The wrestler-actor has had a successful streak at the box office lately with Fast Five and Journey 2. In fact, Johnson is going to be in a new movie at the end of every month until the summer: G.I. Joe: Retaliation in March, Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain in April and Fast & Furious 6 in May.

However, the thing to remember is that those films are either ensemble films or a franchise feature. And in the case of Pain and Gain, he seems to be more of a supporting role to Mark Wahlberg (and arguably Michael Bay himself).

The last time that he was the solo lead in an action film was 2010’s Faster, which bombed despite its release during Thanksgiving weekend. Looking at his career as a whole, his most successful movies have actually been family features such as Tooth Fairy, The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain.

So the interesting thing to consider about Johnson is that, for more than a decade, he has been considered the successor to the legends of the action genre, but has never really had many solo action films to his name. However, by being in other genre films, he’s been able to appeal to multiple audiences in a way that the previously mentioned action stars haven’t been able to do.

Regardless, the film itself seems a bit run-of-the-mill. Even though Johnson’s awareness is at an all-time high (considering he’s the current WWE champion), there’s nothing in the previews that have made this a big draw. Nonetheless, it might just be people want after being so disappointed in the fifth Die Hard last week. A $13 – 15 million weekend is the most likely result; even if it bombs, Johnson still has a big year ahead of him.

The second release of the weekend is Dark Skies, a horror-thriller directed by Scott Stewart (Legion, Priest) and starring Keri Russell as a mom trying to protect her family from a deadly force. This is from Jason Blum, the producer of the Paranormal Activity series, Insidious and Sinister: That alone should tell you what kind of horror to expect from this film.

The trailers and marketing have been effective, but it seems to be skirting around confirming the sci-fi elements (the kid’s shadow is in the shape of an alien, for crying out loud) rather than just embracing what seems to be a cool, interesting interpretation of a sci-fi horror.

Blum has struck gold with this style of horror in the past, not to mention making horror films that appeal to the critics just as much as audiences. Both Sinister and Insidious were able to open around $15 million and finish around $50 million, so it’s possible that it’ll finish with the same take. The thing to hold against this film, though, is that it didn’t have the box office legs of Insidious or the hype of Sinister.

It’ll likely fight it out with Snitch for the No. 1 spot; but as is the case with any PG-13 horror film (like Mama earlier this year), it could break out to a weekend total close of $20 million.

This weekend certainly has plenty of options at the box office. Still, the weekend has a trump card in store: Most people will choose to watch the Oscars on Sunday.


Robert Calcagno is a second-year graduate student in the School of Cinematic Arts pursing an MFA in animation. His column “Box Office Beat” runs Fridays.