Box office preview: Billy Eichner’s rom-com ‘Bros’ takes on high-concept horror flick ‘Smile’

September has been notoriously more off-kilter than normal with no movie opening north of $20 million – at least, so far. The month isn’t over, and two movies opening wide this weekend will make an effort to keep film lovers satisfied until some of the bigger holiday and awards fare. This will be a particularly interesting week since both new flicks will open in north of 3,000 theaters, and they’re so different from each other, business could essentially be split between them. Read on for Gold Derby’s box office preview.

Comedian Billy Eichner made a name for himself with his “Billy on the Street” videos, first on YouTube and then on cable, where he would go up to some unassuming people on the street and yell things at them. (Maybe it’s a little more clever than that.) Eichner has come a long way, and with his new movie “Bros,” he adds screenwriter and leading man to his credits. Teaming with director Nicholas Stoller (“Neighbors,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), Eichner has co-written the first gay romantic comedy to get a nationwide theatrical release.

In the movie, Eichner plays podcaster Bobby Leiber, who is cynical about love and relationships until he meets the rugged Aaron, played by Hallmark regular Luke Macfarlane. Produced by Judd Apatow and featuring other queer icons like Bowen Yang from “Saturday Night Live” and Harvey Fierstein, it’s a very funny entry into the rom-com genre that actually has mainstream appeal. It should also benefit from its great reviews out of its Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere earlier in the month.

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In a perfect world, “Bros” would get the kind of grassroots support from the LGBTQ+ community to push it to greater heights, similar to the push by Asian-American community to boost the opening of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018. (Jo Koy’s “Easter Sunday” – another Universal release – could have used that support in early August, since it failed to cross over to non-Filipino audiences.)

It’s harder to tell how “Bros’” TIFF premiere can translate to box office, especially since Sony’s “The Woman King” premiered that same night and opened with $19 million. That would probably be considered quite a victory for Universal, although at this point, the interest in “Bros” seems to be fairly insular, which means it may instead top out at $15 million.

Going up against “Bros” is Paramount’s high concept horror-thriller “Smile,” which has had such eerie and scary trailers that it has literally made people jump out of their seats from some of the shocks… in the trailer! Written and directed by Parker Finn – based on his 2020 short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept” – “Smile” is relying more on its premise (which has been compared to “The Ring”) than its starpower, with a cast made up of Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey (star of the short), Kal Penn, Jessie T. Usher and Rob Morgan.

Paramount premiered “Smile” at the popular annual Austin genre fest, Fantastic Fest, where it generally got positive reviews — not that it matters, since horror can be fairly review-proof. An even more clever bit of marketing had Paramount planting people at baseball games this past week just standing there, grinning, like the victims of the movie’s curse.

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Fortunately, there are many comparisons we can make of high-concept horror shorts extended to full features, including Andy Muschietti’s “Mama,” which opened with $28.4 million in 2013 and made $71.6 million domestic. Three years later, David F. Sanberg extended his “Lights Out” short into a full feature for a $21.7 million opening and $67.2 million total. Oddly, both those directors went on to become prime filmmakers involved with Warner Bros’ DC Universe movies.

There’s no denying there are many horror fans out there who are looking for big scares in the weeks leading up to Halloween, even if they didn’t exactly rush out to see “Barbarian” or “Pearl” on their opening weekends. It seems very likely that “Smile” will come out the winner this weekend, but maybe by only $4 or $5 million over “Bros,” although “Smile” probably has more historical basis to make $20 million or more this weekend than the rom-com.

The top five should be fairly set, but this might end up being the weekend when “Top Gun: Maverick” finally drops out of the top ten after an absolutely astounding 17-week run in movie theaters since opening over Memorial Day weekend.

A few limited releases of note include A24’s Irish-based drama “God’s Creatures,” starring Emily Watson and Paul Mescal, and the apocalyptic coming-of-age tale “Vesper” from IFC Films.

Check back on Sunday for a recap of how all of this week’s movies fared.

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