After the poor showing last weekend, studios are hoping for better results with this week's releases, which include the fifth Resident Evil movie, a 3D re-release of Finding Nemo and the limited roll out of The Master.
The Resident Evil series (Biohazard in Japan) kicked off in 1996 when Capcom unleashed their survival horror epic onto an unsuspecting gaming public, to great success. Since then the franchise has gone from strength to strength, with various sequels and spin-offs across a multitude of formats, along with novelizations, comic books, action figures and much more. The games alone have sold in excess of 50 million copies, with a sixth one in the original series due at the end of the month. A move into film seemed inevitable and by 1999, Sony and Capcom announced horror supremo George A. Romero had signed on to script and direct Resident Evil - something that came about when he directed a commercial for the Playstation release of Resident Evil 2. However, dissatisfied with what Romero turned in (despite it following the plot of the first game quite closely), Capcom fired him from the project and looked to move in a different direction. In 2000 they hired Paul W.S Anderson, a British director who had seen success with his Mortal Kombat adaptation in 1995.
Instead of attempting to adapt the game's plot, Anderson took elements of the story (monsters, general location, the corporation White Umbrella) and created a new take on the original. Instead of the game's leads, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, he came up with Alice (played by Milla Jovovich), a woman who wakes up in the legendary mansion of the first game, suffering from amnesia. Alice would go on to become the central character in the entire film franchise, with Anderson eventually introducing characters and situations from the other games. The first Resident Evil film was released in 2002, and despite getting a mauling from both critics and fans, it went on to earn over $100M on a budget of $33M. The sequel, Apocalypse, was quickly greenlit and would see a now super human Alice taking the fight to the streets of Raccoon City. The director would not return for this second feature, opting instead to script and produce while working on Alien Vs Predator. The sequel also introduced the characters of Jill Valentine and Carl Olivera, who appeared in the first and third videogames respectively. A slightly increased budget yielded an even greater return, with Resident Evil: Apocalypse making $129M in total global ticket sales.
It would be three years before Alice and Co. would return to screens, in the 2007 release, Extinction (at one point, the film was to be called Afterlife, but that title eventually went to part four). By now, the viral outbreak of the first film had decimated the entire world, and a ragtag group of survivors find themselves travelling through a sand-covered Las Vegas on their way to what they hope will be a 'safe zone' in Alaska. Initially separated from the group for their own safety, Alice rejoins and they set off to discover a nearby underground facility run by White Umbrella. This third film featured the game characters of Claire Redfield (played by Ali Larter) and the legendary series villain, Albert Wesker. Highlander director Russell Mulcahy took the reigns, while Anderson once again produced and scripted. Despite the law of averages dictating that sequels generally make less money, Extinction went on to become the biggest of the series so far, making $147M. Instead of handing a fourth film over to another director, Paul W.S Anderson opted to return for Resident Evil: Afterlife. Alice would return too, as would Larter's Claire Redfield and Sienna Guillory's Jill Valentine.
The major new addition would be Prison Break's Wentworth Miller, taking on the role of Chris Redfield, brother of Claire and one of the main protagonists in the original game. The picture would see Alice continuing her attempt to locate the safe zone discovered in the third film. On the way, she is attacked by Claire, who is now under the control of Umbrella. In Los Angeles, Alice and the now-cured but amnesiac Claire join a new group of survivors (which includes Chris) and they set off to find the Arcadia, a boat thought to be a safe haven that turns out to be an Umbrella research vessel. A post credit sequence made way for the inevitable fifth entry. Much was made of the fact that Afterlife was shot on the same camera system pioneered by James Cameron and used on the shooting of Avatar. The fourth film would be the first shot in 3D and went on to more than double the global take of the third film. All told,Resident Evil: Afterlife made $60M in North America (a series best for the territory) and an astonishing $236M overseas. By the time a fifth feature was announced, the franchise had made $675M on a total budget of $183M. And those figures covered just theatrical revenue - all the films to this point have enjoyed long and lucrative lives on DVD/Blu-Ray.
The path to the screen for the fifth feature is a little different to the other parts in the series. At one point, Anderson was planning on shooting parts five and six back to back but eventually decided to concentrate on just one film (he has since stated that should part five be a success, part six would be the series' finale). When the feature was announced in March 2011, little was known about the direction it would take but a month later, website Bloody-Disgusting.com discovered it would be a prequel and carry the subtitle 'Begins'. Word also came that Alice's role would be more in line with an extended cameo, which made sense if the picture was indeed a prequel. This seemed to be confirmed when on-set photographs revealed Raccoon City vehicles along with a number of cast members who featured in the first film. However, by August of 2011 the title had been changed to Retribution, Alice's role returned to that of the main lead, and game-series favourites Leon S. Kennedy, Barry Burton and Ada Wong would also feature. Shooting ran from October to December, taking in such locations as Tokyo, Moscow and Time Square in New York. The official plot synopsis shed little light on how new and old characters fitted into the film and the second trailer served only to confuse the matter further - Alice seemingly waking up to a family life in Raccoon City which is suddenly interrupted by marauding zombies. With filming complete, extensive post-production got underway to meet the September release date. Screen Gems know that Resident Evil: Retribution will have little competition (old or new) this weekend, but must be well aware of Dredd the week after, which will share an almost identical demographic (though the character is largely unknown in North America). That said, the series has never performed that well domestically anyway, the best being Afterlife's $60M haul. Expect a decent opening but a quick decline, followed by huge overseas numbers. Should we get ready for Resident Evil 6 in two years time?
Pixar first dabbled with 3D when they re-released the first two Toy Story films on a double bill back in October 2009. Originally set to run for just two weeks, it proved so popular that it stayed in theatres for a further three, making $30M overall. It also acted as a pre-cursor to the third Toy Story feature released in the summer of 2010, also in 3D. Disney too got in on the act, converting both The Lion King and Beauty and The Beast into 3D to great box office success, the films making $94M and $47M respectively during their theatrical 3D re-release. While Disney set about convertingThe Little Mermaid (Due September 2013), Pixar had turned its attention to another water-bound creation - Finding Nemo. Nemo was originally released in 2003 and quickly went on to become a critical and financial smash around the globe. The tale of a kidnapped clown fish and the father who sets out to rescue him made $339M in North America, with a further $524M overseas. It became Pixar's most successful release, a title it kept until the release of Toy Story 3. Finding Nemo was also a smash hit on the home market, selling in excess of 40 million DVDs. On top of all that, it won a number of animation awards, including the Oscar for best animated feature. With the studio sticking to their policy of one new movie per year, a 3D re-release offers them an extra revenue stream and also serves as a huge advertisement for a picture's eventual Blu-Ray 3D debut (Nemo's is due December). With very limited competition fromParaNorman, and a 2,900 screen roll out, there's every chance Finding Nemo will open in the top spot, comfortably eclipsing The Lion King 3D's opening frame take of $30M.
In December 2009 it was reported that writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson was working on a script for what would become known as The Master. Set post World War 2, the story follows a charismatic man named Lancaster Dodds who starts a religious movement. A drifter (Freddie Quell) who crosses Dodd's path ends up becoming his second in command, but as the number of followers quickly multiplies, Quell finds himself questioning the master's motives and his own beliefs. Inspiration for the story was said to have come from a number of sources, including tales told to Anderson by actor Jason Robards on the set of Magnolia, along with elements from the lives of John Steinbeck and L. Ron Hubbard (the latter's influence quickly becoming a talking point for the picture). Unused scenes from There Will Be Blood, Anderson's 2007 epic, would also go into the screenplay. The director had Philip Seymour Hoffman in mind for the role of Lancaster while writing the script and sent the actor completed sections to read and offer feedback upon. Indeed, it was Hoffman who suggested the writer shift the focus of the story off Lancaster and onto Quell.
With scripting complete, work began on financing. Originally the picture was set to be a Universal production but they passed over budgetary concerns and issues with the script (as did The Weinstein Company). In the meantime, Jeremy Renner was cast as Quell (at this point known as Freddie Sutton) and rehearsals got underway with a view to shoot in August 2010. However, with funding still not in place (a deal with River Road amounting to nought) the project stalled. It would take until February 2011 before The Master's $35M production budget could be secured - Megan Ellison, the daughter of Oracle founder Larry Ellison, setting up a production company to provide the money for this and Anderson's next picture. A casualty of the delay was Renner, who could no longer fit the picture into his schedule due to working on the fourth Mission:Impossible film and The Bourne Legacy. He would be replaced by Joaquin Phoenix, returning from an acting hiatus to play Freddie (The actor having spent an extended length of time reinventing himself as a rapper for what turned out to be mockumentary, I'm Still Here). Reese Witherspoon, who had been tentatively attached as Lancaster's wife, Mary Sue, made way for Amy Adams to take on the role.
With the cast and financing in place, The Master commenced filming in June 2011, with Anderson opting to shoot in 65mm (It is the first theatrical feature to use 65mm since Branagh's Hamlet in 1996). With L.Ron Hubbard being an influence on the story, a number of outlets were quick to label the film as a history of Scientology in all but name, resulting in producer JoAnne Stellar publicly denying the accusation. Harvey Weinstein, whose company ended up signing on to distribute the picture worldwide also stated that the film was not about the origins of Hubbard's religion. Anderson did go on to admit that Hubbard was an influence on the story, as were others, but that he knew people would latch on to that aspect and run with it. The similarities are there - Dodd's release from the army, the year the religion was set up, the location of that event, and even The Master's wife's name, all echoing Hubbard's life. Hoffman too bears a likeness to the founder. The director went as far as screening the film for famed Scientologist Tom Cruise, who was said to have had issues with aspects of it.
What those were is unclear but the Boogie Nights director left the film unchanged. What couldn't be argued was the power of the picture, with early footage screened at Cannes wooing many who witnessed it. The first trailer of sorts debuted in May 2012, with a more conventional one appearing in June. The strong word of mouth continued to come, but a late August screening appeared to split opinion, but in quite a bizarre way. A number of critics loved the film, while others felt it was the kind of picture that couldn't be summed up with a quote or capsule review. What all were in agreement with were the three lead roles, many already singling them out for Academy award glory (Phoenix in particular). In fact, recognition would come sooner as The Master won awards for both director and actors at the Venice Film Festival last weekend (the picture had originally won the Golden Lion but new ruling disallowing any one film from wining more then two awards stopped it from taking the top prize).The Master opens at four locations this Friday, with expansion the week after.
Along with The Master, a number of other films are receiving a limited release this weekend. First up is Ten Years, a film developed, produced and starring Channing Tatum. The ensemble picture follows a group of friends who come together for their high school reunion, a time for reflection on life, love and regret. Ten Years also features Justin Long, Rosario Dawson and Max Minghella, along with a number of real-life partners, including Tatum's wife Jenna Dewan and Minghella's girlfriend, Kate Mara.
Arbitrage is a dramatic thriller, starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth. It's the story of a hedge fund broker forced to make some difficult decisions when his life, both personal and professional, begins to unravel. Directed by first-timer Nicholas Jarecki (who sought to fund the film independently), Arbitrage has already scored a number of strong notices but may quickly be forgotten without further expansion.
Finally, Liberal Arts is another comedy drama getting a limited airing this weekend. Starring How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen and Allison Janney, it sees a teacher returning to his college town and falling for a student. This marks Radnor's second film as writer and director, following his Sundance Award-winning happythankyoumoreplease.
John GoslingYou can follow me on Twitter at @goosenman and @boxofficevoodoo.