With the always important “rank doesn’t matter” caveat (it’s how much a movie earns, not where it ends up on the charts), The Upside is giving STX Entertainment its first number one debut. Regardless of whether Warner Bros.’ Aquaman miraculously rallies today and tomorrow for its fourth-weekend win, the Kevin Hart/Bryan Cranston/Nicole Kidman dramedy is a big winner. The Neil Burger-directed film is a remake of a blockbuster 2012 French drama about a wealthy white paraplegic who hires a comparatively poor and down-on-his-luck black ex-con to provide day-to-day care. The movie, which starred François Cluzet and Omar Sy, was a massive success, earning $426 million worldwide (including $166m in France and $79m in Germany) to become, back then anyway, the biggest-grossing non-English-language grosser ever at the global box office.
It has been passed by any number of Chinese blockbusters since, but an American remake was inevitable. The skewed irony of the film was that it the kind of movie about racism and class disparity which allows for rich white folks to feel good about themselves that is commonly associated with American Oscar-bait. So, in a season dominated by Green Book-related controversies, it’s amusing that this American remake of The Intouchables is now set to vastly over-perform at the domestic box office. It is doubly ironic when you consider this success considering controversies related to its top-billed star and how his social media feed (along with a history of arguably homophobic or LGBTQIA-unfriendly humor) capsized a chance to host this year’s Oscars.
Whether the controversies (including a poorly-received interview on the Ellen show which was also intended to promote this picture) helped, they certainly didn’t hurt. Living well is the best revenge, and this one, with an A from Cinemascore, may out-gross the vast majority of the year-end non-musical Oscar biggies by the time it wraps up. If there is any concern that Kevin Hart’s Oscar hosting-related controversies had done any damage to his value as a “butts in the seats” movie star, well, The Upside earned $6.95 million yesterday, including $1.1m in Thursday previews, to take the top spot from Aquaman. We’re probably looking at an opening weekend of between $19m and $21m for the weekend. That is a solid opening for a movie aimed at grownups.
Yes, Cranston and Nicole Kidman added a certain prestige and/or upped the “maybe we should take this seriously” factor, but a comic movie star like Hart opening an adult drama (even if it was cut down to a PG-13) within spitting distance of his comic vehicles (Night School opened with $9.7 million in September for a $27m debut weekend and $77m domestic total) is a big win. Come what may, Aquaman co-star Kidman will have the top two movies of the weekend no matter how this pans out. Unless it nose-dives after this weekend, this will be STX’s 11th profitable theatrical release out of the last 13 offerings. Anything above $17m will put it below Bad Moms ($22m in 2016) as STX’s second-biggest debut weekend ever.
This will either be STX’s first chart-topper ever or just their second second-place-finisher after A Bad Moms Christmas (which opened alongside Thor: Ragnarok). This is their second-straight old-school studio programmer hit following the super-leggy Second Act. That $16m-budgeted Jennifer Lopez dramedy has earned a whopping 5.347x its $6.48m debut weekend. That’s the leggiest “opened on a Friday” movie of last month. This one was a straight distribution deal for the $37.5m-budgeted dramedy (STX and Lantern took it after Weinstein Company imploded right after the film’s Toronto Film Festival premiere in 2017), and thus it’s a win for all parties. And, yeah, if it is at least as leggy as Night School, its theoretical $57m domestic total will put it above the vast majority of year-end Oscar contenders.