One of the year’s most highly anticipated sequels arrives this weekend to deliver bonafide blockbuster content during a relatively quiet period at the box office, as Warner Bros.’ Stephen King horror adaptation returns with It: Chapter Two. Delivering great characters and plenty of scares, the film hopes to also deliver some much-needed box office juice for the studio amid an otherwise difficult year.
The first It opened to $123 million domestic, on its way to $327 million in North American receipts and a global total of $700 million, making it the biggest R-rated horror release in cinema history, as well as the third-highest opening for an R-rated film (behind both Deadpool movies) and the fourth-highest grossing R-rated movie of any genre (behind the two Deadpool films and The Matrix: Reloaded).
It: Chapter Two is currently tracking toward about $100 million stateside, but tracking is an iffy proposition and we’ve seen plenty of films either blow past expectations or fall far short. Tracking is just a snapshot of the effectiveness of a film’s marketing at a given point in time, and it often underestimates turnout among demographics overindexing on social media.
Some of the expected falloff of opening numbers for the sequel is based entirely on assumptions that the longer runtime will equate to less screenings per day and less audience interest, neither of which is necessarily true, as Avengers: Endgame made glaringly apparent earlier this year.
With no significant challengers opening against it and no recent holdovers looking to score significant numbers this weekend, It: Chapter Two has the field to itself. Additionally, Fandango reports It: Chapter Two is their best-selling horror title of all time, and is the #1 film choice for the September-to-November period according to Fandango’s audience polling.
Recall that the first It film was tracking at $60+ million before opening week estimates eventually rose to $85 million, and then expectations jumped again to $100+ million based on opening day numbers. The final $123 million debut cume wound up far ahead of those numbers, obviously.
So I think anticipation for the sequel and positive audience word of mouth will combine to lift it past tracking estimates toward $110 million range. Yes, Chapter Two so far has a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than the first film, but it’s still squarely in “fresh” territory and audiences don’t generally seem to care much about critical reactions to big highly anticipated films anyway, especially in the horror genre.
The international numbers will likely come in higher than last time, north of $100 million I suspect (and most tracking estimates support that prediction). So my expectation is a worldwide opening of $200-210+ million.
2017’s It had a final multiplier of 2.65x off its $123 million bow. If the sequel manages a lower but still healthy 2.3x multiplier, that’s good enough for $250+ million if it opens to $110 million. It could of course wind up with a final multiplier closer to 2.5x, which – still assuming a $110 million debut – would translate to $275 million. Foreign receipts should be good for $300-350+ million, and perhaps even enough to push the international box office past the $372 million take of the first film.
My guess is a final global total of $600 million on the low end, $720 million on the highest end (buoyed by foreign sales), and roughly $660 million as the midrange estimate. I think it’ll probably play right within the midrange, somewhere between $650-675 million, unless the domestic numbers come in way higher this weekend than anyone expects. If that happens – meaning a domestic bow higher than $123 million – then we’re surely looking at a final tally north of $700 million worldwide.
Off a budget of about $65 million, the prospect of a worldwide tally ten times the production budget is obviously good news for Warner Bros. in a year that’s seen some of the studio’s high-profile releases underperform and none of their films gross $500 million or more in global receipts. They’ve amassed $1.74+ billion in ticket sales around the world to date, so It: Chapter Two has the potential to push them toward the $2 billion mark by the middle of next week, and give Warner their biggest grosser of the year (a crown currently held by Pokémon Detective Pikachu, with $431 million).
Which is all to say It: Chapter Two will be a big hit, which is exactly what the studio needs right now.
What’s interesting is that it’s both a popular franchise sequel, but also a carefully constructed character piece willing to spend lots of time on the relationships and arcs of the ensemble cast (of which there are two this time, since the new adult versions of characters are joined by their younger selves in plenty of flashbacks). Some reviewers have felt the runtime, longer second act, and assortment of flashbacks detract from the film, but I believe they are in fact its strengths.
It: Chapter Two still has plenty of creepy moments and big creature scares, but it also has the heart that made the first installment so good and popular. The adult stars had to live up to the acclaimed ensemble work of the 2017 picture’s youthful cast, and they prove up to the task. Frequently, we can still see the scared kids inside of them as they go about their adult lives, every bit as clearly as we see them in the actual flashbacks.
The relationships, and how they all slip back into old habits together – or struggle to avoid slipping back into them – are kept front and center, even during the action and horror beats. Which is impressive, since the action and horror are never far away. Even the supposedly “slow” middle of the film has plenty of surprise scares and nightmarish imagery to please horror fans, but instead of sidelining or overshadowing the character arcs, it seems to always serve them and provide opportunities for the cast to shine.
One thing this sequel has more of than the first film is humor, and for the most part it’s welcome and works. Part of what makes the characters so likable is the fact we feel these are really friends coming back together after a long time apart, and despite the terrible circumstances they are happy to be together again and engage in the sort of joking and loving jests you’d expect from grownups remembering their youth. At other times, the jokes help take some of the edge off of moments of terror, since the almost three hour runtime could’ve been emotionally exhausting without the humor to alleviate some of the tension at times.
However, one of the few complaints I have about the film is that there are a few moments when it would’ve been preferable to avoid humor and to instead let the full tension and terror remain unhindered. Instead, in those two or three specific instances, the humor comes too fast before the scares and other emotions can really set in, and it undercuts the sense of horrors and shocks too much.
Luckily, in a film of this length, those few instances don’t hurt the overall strength of the film; but it’s unfortunate since one of those scenes in particular should’ve been more intense, and would’ve been if not for the laugh-line.
I’m at a loss to understand why some of the negative reviews of the film include complaints about the flashbacks, since the scenes of the characters as kids are excellent, serve multiple purposes, and never slow the pace (since the pace is already intentionally patient). The flashbacks always reflect what’s happening to the adults, while filling in important background that was (by design) absent from the first movie. The emotional stakes and outcomes are always served by the flashback sequences, and the kids were such good performers and characters it’s nice to get to visit them again.
Skarsgård as Pennywise is as horrifying this time as he was previously, and we get to see a deeper layer to his personality here. It’s a testament to the film’s devotion to character that even the monster gets emotion and backstory and desires beyond just eating people and causing fear.
Visually, It: Chapter Two is a treat, as was the first film. It finds new ways to make Pennywise freakishly disturbing and scary, new monstrous forms for him to take on, and even some unexpected elements of joy and amusement in his personality. There is also a wonderfully creepy and amusing reference to one of my all-time favorite horror movies, the name of which I won’t mention since I don’t want to risk spoiling the surprise, but you’ll know it when you see it since it’s rather overt (in both the visuals and the dialogue).
Director Andy Muschietti delivered a superb first It film, and has created a worthy sequel here. He is always mindful that these are the same characters we saw last time, and uses lots of overt as well as subtle cues (including repeating camera shots and choice of certain angles for the same character in both youthful and grownup form) to remind us and to match up his adult stars with the child stars. Muschietti seamlessly switches gears from quieter personal moments to bursts of supernatural suspense and frightening attacks, or rather blends them so that the attacks and dread consistently reinforce those personal moments.
This latter point is really a reflection of Stephen King’s books, since King is a master not only of horror but – more importantly – of characterization. His monsters and horrors are always rooted in the people themselves and their lives, the fear inseparable from the personal moments of the human beings in his tales. That’s why King’s books are so popular, why they resonate with us so much, and why the scary things lurking in them disturb us so much. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman has faithfully and powerfully distilled those strengths of King’s work into the It movies, which is why both films are among the best adaptations of the author’s work.
While the runtime of 2 hours 50 minutes is admittedly a bit long for a horror film, it’s hard to really point to much I’d cut out to shorten it. There are a few flashbacks that arguably could be trimmed or excised entirely since their contribution to the main plot is limited, but those scenes also hold a lot of good character moments and enhance the emotional impact of the rest of the film (and of the outcomes for various characters in those flashbacks).
Most likely, editing the film down to the 2 hours 35 minutes runtime of its predecessor would require eliminating a couple of subplots for a few characters, and losing some backstory from flashbacks. This would no doubt make some of the film’s detractors happy, and perhaps please a segment of the audience who dislike getting more movie for their money, but the film would be lesser without those moments so I’m glad they’re included.
I must admit, I’m fascinated by the hypothetical potential for re-editing the first and second films together to jump back and forth in time the way the novel does (the book isn’t split into the past and present like the films, it alternates between them throughout), and releasing this as a miniseries on Netflix akin to what Quentin Tarantino did for The Hateful Eight. With deleted scenes included, It and It: Chapter Two combine for about 335 minutes, which is enough for six episodes of 55 minutes each. If not for a miniseries release, then perhaps an Ultimate Edition Blu-ray could work for viewers willing to endure a marathon 5 hour 35 minute edit of the two films together, to get the most faithful adaptation comparable to the novel.
It: Chapter Two might not be as near-perfect as the first film, but it’s close enough and good enough to make fans happy and entertain most audiences. And it’s definitely going to wind up on my next list of the best horror films in recent years.
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