M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split”

Once again filmgoers have been blessed with another unwanted and unnecessary sequel. Was there anyone – and I mean anyone – who was anxiously waiting for a sequel to “xXx”? Seriously anyone? If so raise your hands.

Thought so…

The first “xXx” movie for Sony Pictures with Vin Diesel came out, believe or not, 15 years ago, in 2002, and was a huge box office hit, grossing over $142 million domestically. However the 2005 sequel subtitled “State of the Union” with Ice Cube in the lead role, was a total bust, bust barely making just over $26 million in the States. That pretty much put an end to any further “Triple X” movies. Well for a while at least…

But then Paramount, over a decade later, for some reason, decided to resurrect the the franchise with Diesel back in the lead in “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” (I wonder how long it took the screenwriter to come up with that name?). However, surprisingly, the results aren’t that awful. The film grossed $20 million this weekend, coming in at second place. But with dreadful reviews and bad word of mouth, it’s almost certain to drop huge in the following weeks.

But once again, this, more than anything, shows the desperation and fear of originality in Hollywood. Paramount was obviously looking for a another film franchise to make money from, like the “Mission Impossible” series with Tom Cruise, while their “Star Trek” films seem to have run out of gas at the box office. So they looked around and decided that bringing back “xXx” was a good idea. They most likely thought that Diesel was a hot property again because of the huge success of the recent “Fast and Furious” movies, and figured audiences would flock to see him again in a sequel to a mostly forgotten film. But as anyone could have told them, they were wrong.

Talking about resurrections… the biggest surprise this week must be the career revival of M. Night Shyamalan. Fifteen years ago, the Pennsylvania based writer and director was one of the hottest filmmakers around, thanks very successful films like “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable” and “Signs”. Then he began to stumble with some pretty lousy films, and his own seeming overbearing ego. Though his 2004 film “the Village” was wildly panned, it still made a ton of money; but after that, things really began to go haywire for him. His follow up films, “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening”, were flat-out disasters critically, as well as duds at the box office. His next film “The Last Airbender” did make some money, grossing over $319 million worldwide, but it was widely-hated, and justly criticized for the whitewashing of the main characters in the film, and pretty much killed off any chances for a possible franchise.

But that wasn’t the end. Then came the unbearable “After Earth” starring Jaden and Will Smith – a film so bad that even Will Smith admitted later it was a big mistake. It was both a critical and commercial flop, not even breaking when the worldwide grosses were added up. By the time of its release Shyamalan’s rep was such poison that his name wasn’t even mentioned in the marketing or promotion of “After Earth”, for fear that audiences would stay away if they saw that he had directed it. It didn’t help. They stayed away anyway.

So with your career in decline, what was Shyamalan to do next? His answer was to regroup, throw out the ego and go back to his earlier roots making smaller, lower-budgeted, suspense movies. And the results have worked so far. His 2015 film “The Visit”, which was made for a very modest $5 million (compared to “Airbender’s” $150 million cost, or “After Earth’s” $130 million budget) got some of his best reviews since “Unbreakable”, and it did extremely well grossing $100 million worldwide.

Shyamalan then set his sights a little higher with this new psychological thriller for Universal/Blumhouse titled “Spilt”, which was made for $9 million. Despite mixed reviews, somehow its premise and the marketing must have enticed the public because the film was No.1 this weekend, making a staggering $40.2 million, putting the film solidly in the black in just the first three days.

No doubt Shyamalan is right now at home in Pennsylvania fielding phone calls from Hollywood studios and producers who refused to return his calls just a few years ago, and are now anxious to work with him again. The question for him is, does he decide to play Hollywood’s game again or continue on his new independent path, which is working well for him right now?

As for “Hidden Figures”, it continues to show some very strong box office legs, coming in third this weekend with $16.2 million, and a total gross of $84.2 million to date; meaning the film is well on its way to doing over $100 million domestically, perhaps around $120-125 million before all is said and done. The film is set to open overseas over from now through March and possibly beyond, with opening dates already set for several countries across Europe, Asia and South America. In addition to Canada, the film is also currently out in Hungary, Italy, Spain, Norway. It’ll be interesting to see how a film with 3 African American women leads plays in Taiwan (where it’s set to open on January 27) or Estonia (where it’ll open on February 17), for example. We’ll also be watching overseas box office numbers once they start to come in.

“Rogue One” has just passed the $1 billion mark worldwide; while the animated film “Sing” will pass the half billion mark by next week. Meanwhile The Weinstein Company’s film about Ray Croc and the creation of McDonald’s fast food chain, titled “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton, floundered (see how clever I am?) with just under $3.8 million, despite some rave reviews. However The Weinstein Co. may have hurt the film by being very iffy about it at first, planning to push it late last year as a serious Oscar contender, but then suddenly backing off and almost quietly releasing the film this weekend to little advance publicity.

Two openers from last week – the Jamie Foxx action thriller “Sleepless” and the horror film “The Bye-Bye Man” – fell, with “Sleepless” dropping 55% from last weekend. But “Bye Bye” took a whopping 74% dropoff from last week meaning that word of mouth for the film is awful. And though I haven’t been tracking it for a few weeks, in case you’re curious, “Moonlight” is still hanging on with just under $16 million to date.

This weekend’s top 12 grossing films follow below.

1) Split Uni. $40,190,000
2) xXx: The Return of Xander Cage Par. $20,000,000
3) Hidden Figures Fox $16,250,000 Total: $84,238,751
4) Sing Uni. $9,036,530 Total: $249,361,725 $75 5
5) La La Land LG/S $8,350,000 Total: $89,680,497
6) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story BV $7,036,000 Total: $512,201,563
7) Monster Trucks Par. $7,000,000 Total: $22,612,000
8) Patriots Day LGF $6,000,000 Total: $23,639,945
9 N The Founder Wein. $3,758,000
10) Sleepless ORF $3,706,444 -Total: $15,193,348
11) The Bye Bye Man STX $3,560,000 Total: $20,119,630
12) Moana BV $2,510,000 Total: $236,784,702