The Hollywood Accountant #1: Is Bridget Jones More Relevant Than Edward Snowden?

Every week of the year, The Guardian’s box office expert Jacky To — our self-entitled Hollywood Accountant — takes an in-depth look at the weekend’s new film releases and predicts their monetary outcome. This week, he contemplates whether new installments of decade-old franchises, “Blair Witch” and “Bridget Jones’ Baby,” will rise above Oliver Stone’s latest hot-button feature.

Is found footage horror dying?

Recent years have not treated the subgenre of found-footage horror well. Apart from the infamous “Paranormal Activity” franchise, horror fans have been withholding their dollars for higher effort, less shaky releases. This year alone, we’ve seen horror films like “Don’t Breathe,” “Lights Out” and “The Conjuring 2” each open to over $20 million, whereas nearly all of their found-footage counterparts since 2014 have opened, deservedly so, in the $8 to 10 million range.

Photo courtesy of Coming Soon
Photo courtesy of Coming Soon

This weekend’s new release “Blair Witch,” however, hopes to scare its way out of this woeful trend. As a direct sequel to 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project,” which many regard as the pioneer and the pinnacle of found-footage horror, the film has high standards to live up to. The original — an indie film with a microscopic budget of $60,000 — earned $29.2 million in its opening weekend and a domestic total of $140 million by the end of its theater run. But unbeknownst to many, a sequel to the classic already exists, titled “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.” That October 2000 film, despite being savaged by critics, had a decent opening weekend of $13.2 million but ended its domestic run with a disappointing $26.4 million. And with an inexplicable $15 million budget  — any film that mostly takes place in the dark and lets its actors hold the cameras should cost much less — “Book of Shadows” only squeezed out a tiny profit and has been forgotten over time.

“Blair Witch,” on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to turn a larger profit as it adhered to the microbudget strategy (it has a reported $5 million budget) that has allowed the subgenre to continue thriving in the face of subpar installments. However, as of today, the film also has a unfortunate 38 percent RottenTomatoes score, which may hinder the film from earning as much as this year’s aforementioned successes (of the three, “Lights Out” had the lowest score: an attractive 76 percent). But on name recognition alone, “Blair Witch” should be able to find its audience and dash ahead of the recent string of found-footage releases. The Hollywood Accountant predicts a $17 million opening weekend.

Is Bridget Jones still alive?

It’s been 12 years since “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and 15 years since the beloved “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Interestingly, both had wide release openings of about $10 million, so it would be reasonable to expect the same for “Bridget Jones’ Baby.” However, with such a huge time gap, it’s hard to gauge whether the “Bridget Jones” fans are still out there and anticipating a new installment.

Photo courtesy of Slate

A good comparison for a revival of an old romantic comedy would be this year’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” which grossed $17.9 million on its May 25 opening weekend and ended its run with $59.7 million. While this is significantly higher than the $597,000 its predecessor earned, the first installment went on to achieve the anomalous record for the highest grossing film to never top any weekend at the box office with a domestic total of $241 million. So technically, the sequel actually experienced a massive drop-off from the original, suppressing any hopes that “Bridget Jones’ Baby” will benefit from nostalgia as much as the studio is hoping.

Other recent sequels to early 2000s comedies include “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and “Zoolander 2.” The first of those actually earned 49 percent more in domestic dollars than its predecessor, while the latter completely flopped, grossing just 64 percent of what the first “Zoolander” made.

All of this points to a muddled picture of how welcome a new “Bridget Jones” movie will be to contemporary audiences. However, if we strictly look at female-led comedies this year, the genre is trending upwards in a huge way. Many of the most recent entries — “Bad Moms,” “How to Be Single,” “Sisters,” “Trainwreck” and almost any movie starring Melissa McCarthy — have outperformed their expectations, so it might be wise to expect “Bridget Jones’ Baby,” which currently sits at 77 percent on RottenTomatoes, to do the same. The Hollywood Accountant is predicting a $13 million opening weekend.

Can “Snowden” sneak up and steal the box office?

With both of the aforementioned releases relying on nostalgia, this weekend’s final wide release, “Snowden,” is instead relying on the opposite: relevancy. Directed by political thriller veteran Oliver Stone, the film is based on its infamous titular character who leaked classified NSA documents to the public in 2013. Two years after a documentary about Snowden titled “Citizenfour” was released to critical and financial success, Open Road Films hopes it’s not too late to capitalize on the controversy surrounding the man and his actions.

Photo courtesy of The Hill

Though it seems at first that “Snowden” doesn’t have much of a chance to take the top spot at the box office this weekend, the fact that every Oliver Stone-directed drama since has opened to at least $13 million shows good promise for the feature. However, “The Big Short,” the most recent release based on a true story and a controversial American topic, grossed only $10 million in its nationwide opening weekend, and that was with the buzz of critical acclaim. The middling reviews that “Snowden” received — a 56 percent RottenTomatoes score — will likely keep it from earning any more than that figure. The Hollywood Account is predicting a $8 million opening weekend.