Family-friendly entertainment ranges in quality from the heights reached by Pixar's best - as well as such truly unique titles as The LEGO Movie - to the kind of hollow offerings that are all bells and whistles and little more (see: the Planes franchise). No matter how good or bad, though, movies targeting a young audience generally tend to do well at the box office, which is why Sony has been careful with (release-)dating three such upcoming project: Goosebumps, Pixels and the fully-animated Smurfs reboot.
Elsewhere, Focus Features has set a release date for a decidedly not-kid-friendly title in London Has Fallen: the sequel to the 2013 action genre throwback Olympus Has Fallen, with Gerard Butler reprising his role from the first movie as terrorist-thrwarting U.S. Secret Service agent Mike Banning.
Goosebumps, a film inspired by the R.L. Stine's best-selling scary book series for kids, was previously set to arrive in theaters in Spring 2016, but Sony's gone ahead and pushed it up to August 7th, 2015. The Jack Black vehicle will now face-off with Ubisoft Motion Picture' first release, Assassin's Creed, during its opening weekend. The former is far more interested in attention from the juice box crowd than Creed, though, so it's a fair bet that these two films will be able to coexist in peace during their debuts.
In a meta-twist, Black is playing Stine in the Goosebumps movie. The film's plot involves the author teaming up with two young teens (Prisoners actor Dylan Minette and Odeya Rush from the upcoming The Giver adaptation), in order to recapture the various monsters who've escaped from his books and into the real world.
By the sound of it, the Goosebumps script - credited to Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer, Turbo) and Mike White (School of Rock, Nacho Libre) - is a potpourri of recycled family/fantasy tropes, but that's kind of what you expect in a Jack Black-starring kids' movie by Rob Letterman - the director of Shark Tale and Guilliver's Travels. Hopefully, the film is okay on its own merits; failing that, maybe it'll inspire a new generation to read Stine's original novels.
Pixels is also arriving in 2015, with a May 15th release date that should allow it to serve as counter-programming to the grisly post-apocalyptic Mad Max: Fury Road and jukebox musical sequel Pitch Perfect 2 (which shall also be aiming for an older demographic). The voice cast for the animated feature includes Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Kevin James (Grown-Ups 2), and Josh Gad (Frozen), and is described as follows:
When aliens misinterpret video-feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war against them, they attack the Earth, using the games as models for their various assaults. President Will Cooper has to call on his childhood best friend, ’80s video game champion Jules Brenner, now a home theater installer, to lead a team of old-school arcaders to defeat the aliens and save the planet.
Pixels is based on Patrick Jean's short film, scripted by Timothy Dowling (Just Go With It) and Tim Herlihy (Bedtime Stories), and directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).
Pixels, it would seem, represents an attempt to make a Sandler movie that's palatable for the young ones; that was also partly the case for Hotel Transylvania (which was a box office success), though that film also had the inspired animation sensibilities of Genndy Tartakovsky to help sell it to the masses - something Pixels does not. We'll see if that affects the box office take, though.
The same goes for Sony's plans to reboot the Smurfs franchise; that project has been moved back from its August 14th, 2015 to a theatrical debut date just under a year later on August 5th, 2016. Following The Smurfs 2 grossing $347 million domestically - but only $71 million in the U.S. - Sony has made what sounds like the smart choice to drop that line of live-action/CGI films (which awkwardly blends adult irony with the squeaky-clean Smurfs brand) for an all-animated movie. Here is what the film's director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet) had to say on the date change, via the official production blog:
"Remember, this is not a sequel nor a prequel. It’s a whole NEW Smurf adventure! As a director, I’m very grateful to be given the proper time to make the movie I want to make and not have to compromise the quality on any front. Most all animated features, especially those from major studios, require at least 3 - 4 years to make (some far longer), and while this Smurfs movie will still be on a faster track than most, I’m really happy Sony has made this important decision. Quality is a huge priority and it is no small task to achieve, especially on an animated feature."
We also have what is likely to be the R-Rated London Has Fallen, which shall be distributed in theaters around the U.S. by Focus Features, starting on October 2nd, 2015. So far, there's only one additional film slated to arrive that day - namely, Frankenstein, the upcoming re-imagining of the sci-fi/horror classic starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe. Neither of these movies should light the box office on fire nor affect one another's gross too much, as they'll be appealing to different types of genre fans.
Here is the official synopsis for London Has Fallen:
The sequel to the worldwide smash hit Olympus Has Fallen begins in London, where the British Prime Minister has passed away under mysterious circumstances. His funeral is a must-attend event for leaders of the Western world. But what starts out as the most protected event on earth, turns into a deadly plot to kill the world's most powerful leaders and unleash a terrifying vision of the future. Only three people have any hope of stopping it: the President of the United States, his formidable secret service head (Butler), and an English MI-6 agent who rightly trusts no one.
While Olympus Has Fallen's husband-wife writing duo Katrin Benedikt and Creighton Rothenberger are back for the sequel, the Focus Features press release doesn't mention if any of Butler's Olympus costars (like Aaron Eckhart or Morgan Freeman) will return in the followup; the involvement of Olympus director Antoine Fuqua is, likewise, up in the air right now. Olympus was arguably an enjoyable new variation on a tried-and-tested formula, but it remains to be seen if a sequel is taking it too far.
Lastly, a couple of new Weinstein Company awards season contenders have U.S. release dates now:
- Big Eyes, a biographical artist drama starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz and directed by Tim Burton, from a script by screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt). It opens in the U.S. in time for the 2015 Oscars qualification on December 25th, 2014.
- The Imitation Game, the biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, will hit U.S. theaters on November 21st, 2014.
Pixels opens in U.S. theaters on May 15th, 2015, followed by Goosebumps on August 7th, 2015, London Has Fallen on October 2nd, 2015, and the Untitled Smurfs Reboot on August 5th, 2016.