The three films going wide this weekend no doubt were aware they’d be opening in the wake of Pixar’s Finding Dory. But I don’t think anybody expected Dory to be such a monster. Its gross actually went up from Monday to Tuesday, and it passed $200 million in only seven days, more than doubling Finding Nemo‘s gross for the same period (albeit with Dory on 1,000 more screens than its predecessor). So while the newbies should have known they’d be in a box office fight, none of them could have known the strength of the challenge. Expectations are probably being adjusted as we speak.
Not that Free State of Jones thought it would be tussling with the big boys. Even with Hunger Games director Gary Ross at the helm, this had the feel of a prestige picture from the moment I first saw the trailer. You could tell by how hard Matthew McConaughey is acting in every single frame of it. He’s swinging for the fences with every line, and I have to admit, his earnestness was a little laughable at times. I know the strategy here is, “Hey, look, something for the adults in the room,” but that was always going to be a rough sell before Dory exploded. Jones will be free, but it might not be profitable.
The Shallows feels more like the kind of summer movie counter-programming we’d expect in this spot. High concept, low budget. Water, sharks and thrills. It worked for Jaws forty years ago, right? Well, Jaume Collet-Serra is no Steve Spielberg, even though he does have a couple of enjoyably silly Liam Neeson thrillers on his resume. Still, that killer premise is going to get people into the theater, and the trailers have been very effective in establishing the mood and the stakes. Whether that’s enough to stand up against Dory’s more friendly ocean dwellers and the last film on our list remains to be seen.
Dory‘s success might actually be a good sign for Independence Day: Resurgence though. Dory‘s proof that distance from the original isn’t an insurmountable obstacle for a sequel; it’s the memory and attachment to the original that drives the sequel’s gross. Finding Nemo is adored, so thirteen years later and we’re still clamoring for more. Zoolander people liked okay, so a new one fifteen years after the fact drew a collective shrug. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Independence Day is as beloved as Nemo, but it’s definitely remembered fondly, a Fourth of July staple and instantly recognizable blockbuster. And as its usually audience opinion of the original that drives the opening weekend of a sequel, I have no doubt Resurgence will do well. Enough to derail the Dory train? Not sure. But if it’s as gloriously aware of its 70s disaster movie roots as the original, at least we’ll get a fun summer movie out of it.
Of course, you don’t spend $165 million just to have fun.