September Movie Recap

Perhaps little exemplifies September more than the fact that The Accidental Husband got its release date bumped again, to sometime in 2009. This is the sort of thing which happened to Charlie Bartlett, to ill effect. It’s not really a read on the quality of the films, but there’s a very real sense that what gets released in September is somehow more disposable. Even in the case of strong performing films, they can never really overcome the second or third tier feeling.

This September? Well, let’s just see.

Bangkok Dangerous

Prediction: $10m Open, $25m Final

Actual: $8m Open, $15m Current, ~$15m Final

At some point, Hollywood will probably realize that it can’t keep bringing over talented Asian directors to make their own films but in the Hollywood way. It just doesn’t work. The past several years has seen the Asian horror genre crash and burn, especially when the original directors are brough along for the ride. And everyone bemoans the career path of John Woo. Even with the high point of Face/Off, none of his stateside work has come close to the depth or visceral enjoyment of his Hong Kong films.

This remake is really no different. Another talented Asian coming to the US and delivering a stinker. This isn’t an indication of the directoral talent, but it might not be just because of producer meddling, either. With hope it won’t unfairly malign the entire Thai film industry. Unlike Japan or Hong Kong, it doesn’t have a strong base of fan support, so there’s a chance that people will take what they’ve seen in the US and cast the same pall over the original work back at home. That would be a shame, because there are some really good Thai films.

As far as this film, though, it’s certainly in line with other shovel work from Nicholas Cage. Ultimately forgettable, it’s seen drops of at least 65% every weekend.

A suggestion: go see Killer Tattoo.

Burn After Reading

Prediction: For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t predict this. Perhaps I thought it was going to get a platform release.

Actual: $19m Open, $55m Current, ~$65m Final

The Coen Brothers’ followup to their Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men has done very, very well for them. It’s clearly not as great a film, but the business has been very strong. They scored their biggest opening (and first #1), and it’s already cruised past all their other films except No Country to be their second highest grosser.

This is a bit of a turnabout for the Coens, actually. Their work history has tended to gravitate between doing limited release films that are well regarded and strong business (for the style of release), and more commercial fare that’s flawed and not as well received. If No Country for Old Men was the limited release film done good, Burn After Reading would be the flawed commercial film. Except that unlike The Ladykillers or Intolerable Cruelty, it’s done very well for itself, despite the problems.

A good amount of credit can probably be given to the marketing department of Focus Features. Highlighting the antics of Brad Pitt did quite well to sell the film even if (upon viewing), he’s a supporting player, not the main character.

The Family that Preys

Prediction: $15m Open, $35m Final

Actual: $17m Open, $36m Current, ~$40m Final

The addition of Kathy Bates didn’t have a large effect on Tyler Perry’s latest. In fact, this is going to be slightly on the low side for him, although it’s not too out of line for expectations. Even if it’s his lowest grossing film since Daddy’s Little Girls, it’s still a massive money-maker.

Perry’s managed to make himself a cottage movie industry. He’s able to produce films at a quick rate (up to two a year), do it cheaply (I’d be amazed if any of his films have cost much more than $10m to make), and is able to consistently reap big profits. He’s probably never going to see a huge grossing-film, and might go his entire career without cracking the century mark, but that doesn’t matter. His next film is going to put his career total above $300m, and it’ll likely do so on less than $60m in total costs. Tyler Perry is gold, and even a relatively weak performance like The Family that Preys isn’t going to undermine that.

Next up has him donning the Madea fat suit again in February’s Madea Goes to Jail. Expect it to hit along the higher end of his films.

Righteous Kill

Prediction: $10m Open, $30m Final

Actual: $16m Open, $38m Current, $40m Final

This isn’t really good news, but neither is it bad. Righteous Kill has had a thoroughly lackluster box office run. Despite the hopeful promise of a good meeting between stars Pacino and DeNiro, the quality of the film wasn’t apparent and audiences didn’t latch onto it, either.

Of the four films released this weekend, it was easily the most expensive, coming in at $60m. While it probably will see a profit, eventually, it’s going to take some time after the DVD release to do so. For the two stars, this probably won’t mean a whole lot. They’re at the point in their careers when they can rest on their laurels pretty well. DeNiro’s going to get a critical bounce-back, at least, with What Just Happened and Pacino’s going to portray Salvador Dali in a film coming out next year.

Director Jon Avnet should be much more worried. He’s had Al Pacino for two films this year and both of them underwhelmed business-wise and were hammered by the critics. Such is not the combination for a long career, unless you’re self-financing (and perhaps not even then.)

The Women

Prediction: $10m Open, $40m Final

Actual: $10m Open, $26m Current, ~$28m Final

Picturehouse went all-out on this release. It premiered in more theaters than either Burn After Reading or The Family that Preys. The advertising was out there, if a bit late in coming, and was rather strong to boot. If we were just looking at promised potential, The Women might be a bit underwhelming.

However, it’s still the second biggest release from Picturehouse by a rather wide margin. It won’t get within sight of the $37m that Pan’s Labyrinth earned, but it is well past the $20m for A Prarie Home Companion. Against a $16m budget, it’s done quite well. I felt I was a bit bullish with my $10m opening, but it hit that fairly easily.

The problem is in the legs. Usually there’s an expectation that films marketed to women will have stronger legs. Conventional wisdom has it that guys are the sorts who want to see the film on opening day, but girls are willing to wait. This seemed to be the case for The Women, which had a decent hold on the second weekend. It turns out that the third weekend was the weak point. Competition took the rug out from under it and it’s not managed to recover.

Even so, a decent result, if not a spectacular one.

Lakeview Terrace

Prediction: $5m Open, $20m Final

Actual: $15m Open, $36m Current, ~$40m Final

When expectations are low, it’s easy to exceed them. For both director Neil LaBute and star Samuel L. Jackson, Lakeview Terrace is good news. The business isn’t big, but it’s big enough to be considered a success. This is especially true considering the film’s slim $20m budget. If there’s any bad news, it’s the tepid critical response. They may have tried for a taught, awards-potential thriller, but what they gave was a modestly successful but forgettable autumn thriller.

For LaBute, this cancels out The Wicker Man and gives him his biggest opening and total tally ever. He’s still a long way away from being a commercial name, but he could build on this to get something bigger.

For Jackson, it’s a nice uptick from most of his recent starring roles. In fact, it’s a bigger opening and final than the much more heavily hyped Snakes on a Plane from two years ago.

My Best Friend’s Girl

Prediction: $20m Open, $60m Final

Actual: $8m Open, $18m Current, ~$20m Final

It’s fairly easy to see where this film went wrong, but there’s a bigger question of why didn’t anything go right for it. While clearly neither Dane Cook nor Jason Biggs are a draw, this was a poor result for Kate Hudson.

Her previous two films (Fools Gold and You, Me, and Dupree) both opened north of $20 million and finished upwards of $70m. Granted, in those cases she was paired up with male leads who were more recognizable and liked than Cook. But even for her solo efforts Raising Helen and The Skeleton Key, she managed greater than $10m openings and $30m finals.

She’s not a huge draw, but she’s modestly successful. My Best Friend’s Girl isn’t even modestly acceptable, though. The combination of Hudson + Cook opened to a good $5m less than Cook + Jessica Alba. Alba’s not a rom-com draw like Hudson, though. I’m going to assume that what happened here is a mixed message. Dane Cook tells the audience that it’s frat boy humor. Jessica Alba says hot babe that frat boys like. Kate Hudson says more female empowering babe. It doesn’t quite gel with Cook’s message. She doesn’t draw guys, he turns off girls, hence nobody goes to see the movie.

Hudson’s next rom-com is Bride Wars which has her up against Anne Hathaway, which should do a lot better than this one.

Igor

Prediction: $15m Opening, $50m Final

Actual: $8m Opening, $18m Current, ~$20m Final

The primary cause for the low gross here is that the visual style of the film far outstripped the quality. Igor looks great, as a sort of cross between Pixar and Tim Burton. However the delivery leaves much to be desired, and certainly doesn’t stand in the company of either.

However, there’s a more important reason for the low final tally. Despite the small opening, Igor held up quite well in its second weekend, dropping under 35% and earning above $5m. However, in its third and fourth weekends, it’s dropped upwards of 60%.

As weak as Igor was on release, it did stand as the only family option for a couple weeks. On its third weekend it got steamrolled by chihuahuas.

Ghost Town

Prediction: $10m Opening, $25m Final

Actual: $5m Opening, $13m Current, ~$15m Final

Ironically, this was the best reviewed of the movies that weekend. The opening was pretty anemic, but we can probably chalk that up to the poor marketing. Despite apparently being a good film (and Gervais is a talented comedian), the advertising made it all seem pretty bland and forgetful, so the audience apparently forgot to go see it. Perhaps it will see some life on DVD.

This actually held up well for a couple weeks, seeing second and third weekend drops under 50%. In that sense, it’s a bit like Igor. Unlike Igor, however, there wasn’t any new comedy competition in the third weekend to account for the 66% drop. Perhaps it just saturated its potential audience by that point.

Eagle Eye

Prediction: $30m Open, $85m Final

Actual: $29m Open, $76m Current, ~$95m final

After three weeks of studios throwing everything they could at audiences to see what would really stick (Burn After Reading, really), this was the first near-certain success. While it’s arguable that Eagle Eye opened at the low end of predictions, it’s held up very well, with two weeks of sub-40% drops.

Shia LaBeouf has done fairly well to establish himself as a bona fide star. While he can’t claim Transformers or Indiana Jones as his, the success of Disturbia and now Eagle Eye has done a lot to build his personal brand, despite some of his off-screen actions. He’s managed the nice trick of appearing in both high-concept blockbusters to get his name and face out, but also strong, smaller fare where his name is the only thing really going for it. Contrast it to Orlando Bloom’s career: managed to get the first part, but hasn’t delivered on the second.

There’s a chance Eagle Eye will see a final tally upwards of $100m. But while it has been holding well, it may just run out of time before the holiday season distracts audiences. The real deadline is November 14, when Quantum of Solace arrives as the next major actioner.

Nights in Rodanthe

Prediction: $15m Open, $60m Final

Actual: $13m Open, $37m Current, ~$45m Final

While the combination of Richard Gere, Diane Lane, and Nicholas Sparks should be some sort of perfect storm for non-comedy romances, this is a slightly underwhelming result. In comparison to previous films in the genre starring Lane and Gere (separately or apart) this is going to finish up almost perfectly average. It probably won’t quite match the $52m the two earned together in 2002 with Unfaithful.

Similarly, it isn’t a great result for Sparks. It will earn more than 2002’s A Walk to Remember, but not as much as 1999’s Message in a Bottle. And it’s far behind the breakout success of The Notebook in 2004, although in that case it was bolstered by the much stronger weekday sessions of a summer release.

To be fair, the breakout potential for a romance is going to be rather limited. With romantic comedies, there’s a better chance for crossover, but without the impetus to laugh, most men will wonder what they’re supposed to be experiencing. (Whether or not this is a real reaction or an instance of societal peer pressure is a top I won’t delve into, though.)

It’s not a bad result for Nights in Rodanthe, but given the pedigree of the people involved, it does feel somewhat underwhelming.

Fireproof

Prediction: No prediction

Actual: $7m Open, $20m Current, ~$30m Final

Sometimes films will come out of nowhere. Despite being on none of the typical radars, Fireproof managed to hit number 4 in the box office its opening weekend and has held on quite well.

It does this because it fits its niche. And that niche is Christianity. For the most part, the general-movie public isn’t going to know about these releases unless they’re anomalous and have a large crossover, as happened with Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia. There will be public perception after the fact in some cases, but it’s usually short lived.

Fireproof is notable not only because it managed a strong release, but also the legs its displayed. Relative to expectations, which were near non-existant, this is a bona fide blockbuster. It’s also helped because it cost a slim $500,000 to make. The return on investment here is huge, and it would probably serve well to the movie studios to take a lesson: they can hit the Christian market and hit it well without needing the films to be the next Passion.

Miracle at St. Anna

Prediction: $10m Open, $35m Final

Actual: $3.5m Open, $8m Current, ~$9m Final

While Spike Lee’s ability to weave stories of inner-city racial tension are well accounted, it seems he doens’t quite have the same keen hand on the keel for war films. It seems the consensus is that Lee had some strong ideas to work with here, but wasn’t able to pull them together in a strongly cohesive whole.

I wonder if there might be a wider war movie backlash at play. Films focusing on the Middle East have failed to work for the past several years, but it seems that even films about World War 2 are starting to falter. After a number of successes in the late 90s and early 00s, there have been fewer of late and those that were released haven’t gotten a toe-hold. Clint Eastwood’s twosome of Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima didn’t even manage $50m between them.

It could be that audiences are likely to tune out anything that has a war sensation until the war is actually over. The WW2 films succeeded in a period of high patriotism for what happened in that war. Right now, the general public is very down on the concept of Americans fighting, so they won’t really respect depictions of such, at least not directly. Transformers managed a rather positive depiction of the US Military.

Overall

September wasn’t too surprising this year. It started off with a whimper and then had weeks of the studios throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick. In the end, we’ve got two large successes (Burn After Reading and Eagle Eye), and a number of middling performances along with a few failures. On the upside for the studios, just about everything released was cheap, so most will probably see a profit in the end.

October Movie Preview

This is a bit later than expected. I’ve been working up a video game review that’s lasted quite a bit longer than expected.

October’s one of those middling months. It isn’t a dumping ground, but also doesn’t see the really high profile releases that you get in the Summer or Holiday seasons. In recent years, it’s fallen behind February and March in terms of bigger films, but it’s still prone to having some breakouts. It hasn’t had a $200m earner, but crossing the $100m mark isn’t too rare.

Of course, the big thing about October is Halloween. While it’s not a dumping ground, per se, for the last two or three weekends of the month (depending on the calendar) horror films abound. This year promises to be no different, including the now annual Lionsgate profit generator.

Weekend of October 3

An American Carol

The latest effort from comedy director David Zucker pokes fun at Micheal Moore in an attempt to earn laughs from red America. In it, a Moore-esque character goes through a Scrooge sequence with three ghosts of American spirit to try and learn to love the country again.

Frankly, this looks terrible. While it’s possible, even likely, that someone could do a good send-up of Moore, there’s the obvious pitfall of being polarizing and partisan in the effort. Moore’s work is already divisive, any parody is probably going to be the same in the other direction and from the advertising, that seems to be the case here.

While Zucker has a name for himself as a comedy director, his best work is over two decades old, with the likes of Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun. His most recent films are Scary Movie 3 and 4, neither of which is very inspiring.

Advertising has been almost nonexistant, and the film is only getting a 1600 screen release. Technically wide, but it’s really a minimal effort. Additionally, the presidential race has been intense this year, and with people cued into that, they’re probably not going to want to waste their time looking at a Michael Moore parody.

The only bright spot here is Kelsey Grammar, who looks to have a great portrayal of Patton.

Opening: $5m, Final: $10m

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

While this looks bad and possibly painful for anyone above the age of ten or so, it seems likely that it will do rather well. For starters, recognition is very high. Disney kicked off a fairly effective advertising campaign during the Olympics, which was quite high profile this year. People know about the Chihuahuas.

Secondly, there hasn’t been a strong family entry in the marketplace in months. The last films to target this market and do well were Journey to the Center of the Earth and Wall-E back in July. The audience potential is there in a big way.

And the talking animal genre tends to do very strong. Last year’s Alvin & the Chipmunks cruised past $200 million and there have been the more modest successes such as Charlotte’s Web and Racing Stripes in recent years. Looking further back big hits such as the Dr. Doolittle films and 101 Dalmations tended to dominate. Talking animals can be big, big money.

Opening: $25m, Final: $75m

Blindness

This effort from Miramax is a thriller about an unknown plague that causes people to go blind. Those people are rounded up and put into quarantine. But one woman is able to see and, presumably works to get the people free and properly treated.

This could be a strong film. The cast is solid, with Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Danny Glover. Director Fernando Meirelles was behind the camera for the spectacular City of God. And the concept of spontaneously going blind could tap into a bunch of people’s fears.

However, while it’s a strong cast, it’s not a cast that draws an audience. Likewise, while Meirelles is a good director, he’s not a draw. City of God was a niche foreign language film and his last effort The Constant Gardener didn’t break out, earning just $33 million domestically.

Perhaps the most damning problem is that it seems rather generic. Plague and quarantine films seem to be fairly commonplace of late. We’ve had The Happening and Doomsday already this year. There’s the upcoming Quarantine, and looking further back are the higher profile 28 Days and Weeks Later films.

Miramax doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the film. The advertising has been fairly tepid and it’s opening in about the same number of theaters as An American Carol.

Opening: $5m, Final: $15m

Flash of Genius

Greg Kinnear stars in this film about Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. After they stole the design from him, Kearns pursued a multi-decade lawsuit against the Big Three and eventually won $30m dollars.

It does look like a heartwarming and inspiring story, which could play well in the long run, but this is going to be a long road to success. The joke here is to wonder whether the film will even earn $30m in total. It’s certainly possible, but only if it sees similar success to Kinnear’s Little Miss Sunshine. Similarity of the feel-good sensation aside, he doesn’t have Steve Carell or Abigail Breslin to help him out.

Little Miss Sunshine also had a true platform release, building up from 7 theaters in late July to over 1500 in September. Flash of Genius is getting a barely-wide 1000 theater release without any build-up. It doesn’t speak of a lot of confidence on the part of the distributor.

Opening: $3m, Final: $10m

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Outside of the chihuahua film, this has the biggest potential. That potential has the name of Michael Cera. Cera came into the public conscience with his role in Arrested Development, but it was last year’s tandem of Superbad and Juno that made him a star. At this point he has the geeky kid with a slight edge down cold and audiences love it.

This film isn’t asking him to stretch his boundries, as he’s playing basically the same role. The marketing acknowledges that, with everything down to the text used in the posters practically screaming that this is the hip, spiritual successor to Juno. Just without the Juno.

The advertising makes it look fun and enjoyable, in the same ‘one wild night’ way that Superbad rode to success. It’s possible, but not too likely, that this could really catch on and be a leggy success, beating out Beverly Hills Chihuahua in the end. More likely that it’ll be a modest success and another feather in Cera’s geeky hat.

Opening: $15m, Final: $50m

Appaloosa

By now it’s already had a couple weekends of modestly successful limited release and is starting to see a platform into the wider markets. The film stars Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, and Renee Zellweger and is directed by Harris in only his second time behind the camera. (He also directed a 2000 biopic about Jackson Pollock.)

This is a gritty western in the veign of 3:10 to Yuma, Open Range, and Unforgiven. Those are likely the films that it would like to emulate. Westerns are a bit dicey, though. While there is a fairly regular business with them, the audience can be picky. Perhaps because of this the ones that break out tend to make news. If Appaloosa can tap into that Yuma or Range vibe, it will probably do similarly well. If not, it could end up like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Opening: $4m, Final: $12m

Weekend of October 10

Body of Lies

Ridley Scott’s latest film has Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe involved in a convoluted spy game. Twists and thrills abound as is customary for this sort of film, with lots of motive questions left for (presumably) the final breathtaking minutes.

Scott is a director who can deliver big films. He directed last year’s American Gangster, and has also seen big returns on Black Hawk Down and Gladiator.

DiCaprio, as well, is fairly consistently a big star. He’s recently been a go-to guy for Martin Scorsese (The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York), and put together a scene-stealing performance in Catch Me if You Can.

Crowe’s seen some of his biggest successes with Scott in American Gangster and Gladiator, but he’s also had A Beautiful Mind and some more modest bright spots like 3:10 to Yuma.

That’s three big names, but it’s not necessarily a rosy picture. While Scott can be big, he can also deliver middling performances like Matchstick Men and Kingdom of Heaven. DiCaprio’s last film was the action thriller Blood Diamond, not an embarassment, but not a breakout either. And Crowe’s had his share of bumps on and off-screen such as Cinderella Man. He also collaborated with Scott on the flop A Good Year.

Taken at face value, Body of Lies should be strong. It’s playing to the strengths of all three men. Adrenaline with a bit of cerebral action has worked for all three in the past and will likely to the same in the future. But there are question marks here.

First, spy movies are a bit dicey. A common pitfall is to make them too convoluted. While it’s probably gratifying to come up with a really twisty story with lots of backstabs and gotchas, there’s a limit to what audiences are willing to take in two hours. If it’s really complex, it should be a novel. The Bourne films probably hit just about the right mark as far as balancing how complex the story should be. They left some things up in the air for a while, but by the end the audience could nod and go ‘Oh, yeah!’ as they figure out what’s been going on. Whether or not Body of Lies can hit that same mark is going to be critical for its long-term success.

Also, the topic of the film is a big question mark. Audiences have shown quite well that they have no wish to view anything related to the Middle East. The film is set there (in Jordan), and if that comes through people are going to tune out, even if the thrills can deliver. Last year’s The Kingdom promised thrills aplenty, with the last half-hour advertised as an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, but the Middle East setting turned audiences off and left it with a thoroughly mediocre performance.

For Body of Lies to succeed it needs to strike a delecate balance between smart and gripping while simultaneously playing up the spy elements while playing down the Middle East.

Opening: $20m, Final: $60m

City of Ember

This is a post-apocalyptic movie based on a young adult book about a city in darkness that is kept alive by a failing electric light system. As things start failing, a pair of plucky youths search for a way out so that they (and humanity) can survive.

Ember is a fairly solid choice for the transition from book to film. The setting is evocative and by focusing on the light in the darkness nature of the city it could be a visual treat. Additionally, the encroaching darkness is expressive and often successful in film. It taps into such a universal fear that it works for both kids and adults.

However, while there is positive potential here, some questions are also raised. It starts with production studio Walden Media. While the company has had some success, it’s also seen a number of bigger than expected failures. Just this year the second Narnia film failed to capture an audience and limped to less than half of its predecessor. in Ember’s favor, the expectation isn’t that high. Best case scenario is that it turns in a performance along the lines of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Worst case it ends up like Hoot.

Second, while some young adult novels do very well in theaters, most can only expect modest returns. So anyone who’s looking for the next Harry Potter should probably be looking elsewhere. Of course the October release date should have clued people into that.

Third, it just doesn’t look very good. While it’s got veteran actors like Tim Robbins and Bill Murray, the advertising doesn’t have them delivering a standout, and the production looks a bit cheap. Unfortunately it might be because the concept of the city is so evocative in the novel that the transition to screen can’t help but to be a bit of a disappointment.

Journey to the Center of the Earth probably gave Walden a bit of a reprive. Ember isn’t likely to ruin the company, but it’s also not likely to renew a lot of faith in it, either.

Opening: $15m, Final: $50m

The Express

This biopic is about Ernie Davis, a running back for Syracuse University who was the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy, in 1961. The football drama is going to try and tap into the same success that Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, and Invincible all experienced.

Americans tend to love films about an underdog who comes out on top, particularly in a sports setting. Star Dennis Quaid is no stranger to these things, as he starred in The Rookie in 2002 and Any Given Sunday in 1999. These sports success stories are more often successful than not. Recent entries like Miracle, Rocky Balboa, and Coach Carter have all done solid, if not spectacular, business.

The best case scenario here is that The Express will mirror Remember the Titans, but that’s probably a long shot. It needs to be good and to connect with audiences so they keep coming back.

Opening: $20m, Final: $70m

Quarantine

This film takes the zombie breakout context of 28 Days Later and puts it in a claustrophobic setting like Phone Booth and then uses the real-time filming sense of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project. The hope is that it will become a must-see sensation.

The marketing for the film has been a viral attempt to sell it as a real story that has never before been told. This can be a strong tactic, but I think that audiences by now are clueing into it. At best this can be a receipe for a big opening weekend, but these films rarely have strong legs.

There are no recognizable stars and really little to sell the film beyond the concept. Also, with higher profile and possibly better scary films hitting later in the month, the window for Quarantine to succeed is rather slim. On the upside, it looks a bit more compelling than Blindness.

Opening: $15m, Final: $30m

Weekend of October 17

Max Payne

This adaptation of the video game has Mark Wahlberg stepping into the shoes of the titular detective. John Moore (The Omen, Flight of the Phoenix) is behind the camera.

The bad news for this one is that it’s a video game adaptation. Few films in the genre have garnered even middiling approval and business has tended to be weak, more often than not. It’s somewhat ironic that with more and more top of the line video game titles vying for popular supremacy with the biggest films that Hollywood can continue to put forth such weak efforts based on video game properties. But since the biggest names in the video game adaptation business are Uwe Boll and Paul W. S. Anderson, it’s probably too much to expect that people are going to take them seriously.

Somewhat worse for Max Payne is that it’s a bit dated, already. When the game first appeared in 2001, it promised to bring the bullet time sensation of a John Woo film or The (first) Matrix to the computer screen, and it did it quite well, enough that it got a sequel in 2003. However, we’re five years beyond that, and such action has become rather commonplace in video games, not to mention being so rampant in movies that it’s widely parodied. So there isn’t much that feels fresh and interesting here.

What that leaves Max Payne as is a slick-looking noir mystery. It probably has a slim chance to perform like a number of mid-tier comic book adaptations such as Constantine, Sin City, V for Vendetta, or the Hellboy films. Because it has a bit of name recognition, a final tally on par with those is probaby its best case scenario. However, those films were released in the relatively stronger spring period. (Or summer, in the case of Hellboy 2.)

In all likelihood, Max Payne will perform more along the lines of the Resident Evil films. As long as it does better than last year’s Hitman, it’ll probably be a success.

Opening: $25m, Final: $55m

Sex Drive

An ever popular topic for films is having geeky guys trying to get laid while hilarity ensues. American Pie kicked off a recent spate of these including two sequels, Road Trip, and last year’s Superbad. Looking further back are venerable entries such as Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds. Sex Drive falls in line with these perfectly. It focuses on an eighteen-year-old virgin who goes on a cross-country trip to hook up with his internet girlfriend.

The concept’s a bit thin and probably won’t catch on like Superbad did, but it should be strong enough to survive. The film is helped by a strong trailer, capped by Seth Green’s hilarious take on a car-savvy Amish man. The gags are presented well and should tap into some of the same crowd which led the similar films to past success.

Opening: $20m, Final: $65m

Weekend of October 24

Saw V

The first Saw film was a bit of a word of mouth sensation, captivating and claustrophobic, it left the viewer chilled with its somewhat unique take on the serial killer sub-genre. The success spawned a sequel, which was even bigger. This spawned another sequel and what we now have is that every year since 2004 there has been a new Saw film.

To say this is surprising is an understatement, because the primary villain, Jigsaw, died in the third film. However never one to let logic get in the way of profits, the producers have seen fit to extend the series at least until it stops making money. Saw V promises even more convoluted plot twists and traps than its predecessors.

The trend is fairly clear at this point. Business has been falling since the second, and it seems possible that Saw V will see a lower gross than the $55m of the first film. Audiences are clearly tiring of the concept at this point and horror fans are probably in the mood for something a little different. To give Saw credit, it’s outlasted other entries into the torture horror genre by a couple years.

Opening: $25m, Final: $55m

The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D

While Lionsgate has been recycling the same concept in a new film each year, Disney’s merely recycled the same film. First released in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas earned $50m. A small re-release in 2000 didn’t add much to the total, but they remastered it for a 2006 release which pumped another $8m to the tally. Last year added another $15m. So yet again it’s getting a high-profile, if limited release.

There’s obviously nothing new here, but the familiarity can be a strength. The film is very well received and has some extremely dedicated fans, so Disney’s choice to bring it back each year makes a fair bit of sense. Whether or not it continues to see rising grosses remains to be seen, but it should do well enough that it will get another such release next year, when it can probably hope to cross the century mark for the first time.

Opening: $5m, Final: $15m

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

High School Musical 3 is perhaps the only film to see two TV and home video releases before graduating to the big screen. The first film in the series had a stunningly powerful debut of over 7 million viewers on the Disney Channel in 2006, followed by an equally strong DVD release. At the time I figured that the sequel would get a theatrical release. Apparently Disney decided that if it wasn’t broke, they weren’t going to fix it and the sequel followed the same path. It garnered over 17 million viewers, showing that the audience for the HSM films was dedicated and large.

Apparently deciding that they can earn even more with a big screen release, Disney’s done the transition for the third go-round. Besides the two TV releases, the path has been paved very well for HSM3. Mamma Mia! and Hairspray both showed that musicals can succeed very well. Miley Cyrus showed that Disney Channel audiences are willing to make the trek to the theater if the payoff promises to be good.

Perhaps most important, however, is how transitive High School Musical is. While the Disney Channel has a rather specific demographic the appeal here is quite a bit wider. There are a number of post-college people who are fans so expecting to see groups attending outside the expected demographic shouldn’t be surprising.

Perhaps the only odd bit here is that it’s getting released at the same time as The Nightmare Before Christmas… a musical from the same company. It’s possible that there might be some cannibalization in opening weekend profits, but I don’t think it’ll matter in the end.

Opening: $35m, Final: $90m

Pride & Glory

Lost in the shuffle this weekend is likely to be Pride and Glroy, a crime drama starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. They play police officer brothers in the NYPD who get embroiled in dirty cop deeds. Norton investigates the wrongdoings and family strife ensues. Jon Voight plays their father.

In truth this looks like a fairly solid effort, showcasing the acting talent that Norton has (especially in his smaller fare) and a possible second wind for Farrell’s career. It could be a very good film and an attempt at a relatively early awards contender.

However, the release date is pretty bad. The weekend is already crowded and marketing space is going to be limited. The one strength Pride and Glory has is that it might serve as good counter-programming. With younger-skewing crowds going for any of the other three films, older (mostly male) audiences may choose this instead. If they know about it.

Opening: $10m, Final: $30m

Weekend of October 31

The Haunting of Molly Hartley

This film is about a girl who is trying to fit into a new school after recovering from an attack by her deranged mother. Psychological and supernatural events ensue, possibly leading her down the same path to insanity.

This film fills the same niche that The Covenant did in 2006. Ironically both films star Chace Crawford, who may be onto an early career mistake of getting typecast. While it seems like this is an obvious niche: a PG-13 scarefest for kids who can’t get into the more gory R-rated horror flicks, most kids are probably going to pass or sneak into those other films anyway.

What’s worse is that there’s really only one day where this can do effective business. People want the screams for Halloween, but not afterwards. That means it might expect a strong Friday, but there are still two more days on the opening weekend to fill. So much like The Omen, this could be a one and done venture, with the majority of its total business coming in the first twenty-four hours.

Opening: $10m, Final: $20m

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Kevin Smith’s latest film has a pair of roommates taking extreme measures to make sure they can pay their rent. Snappy dialogue and a budding relationship are likely to ensue. Smith can certainly deliver the funny, and is fairly well respected as a comedy director, and he has a loyal following, but so far he hasn’t had a hit.

Enter Seth Rogen, comedy’s latest golden boy. Despite really only having two starring roles and supporting in a few more, it seems that he can do no wrong at the moment. Thus far he’s worked closely with Judd Apatow and has seen stunning success in Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. Besides Zack and Miri, he’s got Observe and Report with Anna Faris and Funny People with Adam Sandler, both due next year. He’s also been tapped for The Green Hornet, with Stephen Chow.

While working with Smith might be a bit outside Rogen’s comfort zone, it should work out quite well. They have a good similarity in comedic styles and Rogen’s very much in the public conscience at the moment. It should be a match made in heaven and could lead to Smith’s first breakout hit.

Opening: $25m, Final: $70m

Overall

While a number of releases this month aren’t too inspiring, the last two weekends could be very big. Somewhat strangely, the frightfests look to play second fiddle to the comedies this year.

August Movie Recap

With the amazing high of The Dark Knight in July pushing the yearly tally for 2008 beyond the heights of 2007, the big question for August was whether it would be able to keep up the pace. There weren’t any expectations for this August to beat last August (not after the exemplary performance from both The Bourne Ultimatum and Superbad), but staying within spitting distance would help keep the year on pace.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Prediction: $40m Open, $130m Final

Actual: $40m Open, $100m Current, ~$105m Final

If, at the beginning of the year, you had looked at the two Brendan Fraser films and tried to guess which would be considered a hit and the other a miss, you’d probably have guessed that if any, this would have been the hit. It’s not a flop, and given the overseas success it’s likely to turn a tidy profit when all is said and done, but the domestic tally is disappointing. In comparison, Journey to the Center of the Earth manages to switch itself up twice this summer as a success story, doing it here and with Prince Caspian.

The reason for the lack of success here can mostly be summed up in the loss of fun from the earlier films. Fraser is still game, but in light of what moviegoers can get in 2008, there wasn’t any life around him. The lesson to take from this is that if you want to revive a franchise, you don’t give it to Rob Cohen to direct.

Swing Vote

Prediction: $10m Open, $45m Final

Actual: $6m Open, $16m Current, ~$16m Final

For the most part, Americans don’t like politics in their movies. They don’t like films that focus on the failures abroad, and they don’t like films that focus on the troubles at home. When things are relatively bad, Americans don’t like to be reminded that they, as a country, are fallable and mortal.

So over the past couple of years, the extreme failure of any film to deliver a message about the state of the US in relation to the rest of the world isn’t too surprising. Swing Vote didn’t have any of that, but my comparison to Dave was way off the mark. In retrospect, this makes sense for two reasons. First, the state of the US in 1993 was perceived quite a bit better than it is today, so a lighthearted comedy about the presidency could work quite well. Instead we’ve got a situation where all Americans are focused on the election. Second, the election itself is providing far more entertainment than any movie could deliver.

Ten years ago, Swing Vote might have worked perfectly, but not today.

Pineapple Express

Prediction: $30m Open, $110m Final

Actual: $23m Open, $41m Five-Day, $85m Current, ~$95m Final

The first of many August movies to get a Wednesday release without any holidays, in this case it was done to try and offset the loss of business due to the Olympics. Intially, it seemed to work quite well, because it earned $12m on it’s opening day. By Saturday, it seemed it had failed, because the business wasn’t up on Friday at all. But on Sunday, things looked good again, because it had barely dropped. It was truly one of the weirdest five-day openings we’ve seen in quite some time.

Pineapple Express hasn’t displayed the legs of the stronger Apatow films like 40-Year-Old Virgin or Superbad, but it’s not done that poorly, either. For a film that cost $27m to make and had the prime of its run go up against Michael Phelps, this is quite rosey.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Prediction: $10m Open, $45m Final

Actual: $11m Open, $43m Current, $46m Final

Much like Pineapple Express and the first Traveling Pants film, this got a Wednesday release. It’s not been a breakout, but neither has it been a disappointment. There’s a showing of quiet consistency with this film, which probably means we could see a third Pants film in the not too distant future (assuming the stars don’t get too old to play the parts.) The book series has two more volumes, so there is room.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Prediction: $45m Open, $140m Final

Actual: $15m Open, $33m Current, ~$35m Final

There really isn’t much of a market for Star Wars outside of the hardcore fans. And apparently this turned them off as well. What this means for the forthcoming TV series remains to be seen, but it’s a terrible result for the film. I believe Lucas saw $100m as the break even point for this one.

Tropic Thunder

Prediction: $30m Open, $110m Final

Actual: $25m Open, $37m Five-Day, $96m Current, ~$110m Final

Like Pineapple Express, this got a non-holiday Wednesday release. It wasn’t quite so spectacular from the start, earning half as much on the opening day, but it’s held up much better. It managed to grab the #1 spot from Batman and hold it for three weeks, only losing the position this past weekend to Nicholas Cage, and even there just barely.

The difference between this and Pineapple Express is the budget. While the Apatow comedy had a small $27m budget, this one apparently cost at least $90m to make. It’s still likely a success, since the home video market will certainly cover the costs, but the road is a bit longer. There’s a chance it might break even with the overseas totals, but that’s not guaranteed. This is a film that’s aimed rather strongly at American audiences.

Mirrors

Prediction: $5m Open, $15m Final

Actual: $11m Open, $27m Current, ~$33m Final

While the shine has certainly come off of Asian horror remakes, there’s still a bit of life left in the genre. The run for this one is eerily reminiscent of February’s The Eye. This is probably an okay result for distributor Fox, as horror tends to be a cheap genre.

The House Bunny

Prediction: $10m Open, $30m Final

Actual: $15m Open, $37m Current, ~$55m Final

Call this one a win for Anna Faris. She can probably do enjoyably dumb better than anyone else in Hollywood, and her success here probably means she’ll have more of a career than Scary Movie sequels. In six or seven years, she’ll probably be ready to do a daring dramatic turn that’ll get her an Oscar nomination.

Death Race

Prediction: $10m Open, $25m Final

Actual: $13m Open, $30m Current, $40m Final

Some people are calling this a failure, but I’m really not sure why. He makes films that end up in the $25-$45m range, and he does that consistently and usually enjoyably. The niche he’s found in providing low-brow, low-budget, high-thrills entertainment in the dregs of summer is something that Hollywood should celebrate, frankly. It’s not like they have to pay the guy a ton. Death Race is playing right in line with his films.

If anyone deserves the blame here, it’s probably Paul W.S. Anderson. Had this film cost $25m, everything would have been golden, but it cost $45m and it’s considered a failure. It’s not a failure, because it would be nearly impossible for this to lose money after the home video release, but there’s still some headline focus on the theatrical release as the profit-maker.

Next up for Statham is Transporter 3, where he gets a massive holiday upgrade from Labor Day to Thanksgiving.

Fly Me to the Moon

Prediction: $5m Open, $10m Final

Actual: $2m Open, $8m Current, ~$10m Final

There was a plan here, I think, to try and use this film to springboard a studio to getting more computer animation films in wider release. It didn’t work. Neither did the 3D release.

Babylon A.D.

Prediction: $20m Open, $45m Final

Actual: $9m Open, $17m Current, ~$25m Final

Vin Diesel apparently passed on the lead role in Hitman for this. Not that passing on Hitman is anything to be ashamed of, but with Diesel in that role instead of Timothy Olyphant, it might have even gotten to $50m. Instead we’ve got this film, which is a less-good Children of Men. In fact, it’s so bad that director Mathieu Kassovitz disowned it before the release. Not entirely, since this isn’t an Alan Smithee film, but he did contend that the studio had ruined it.

For Diesel, he’s got Fast & Furious coming out next June, which reconnects him with fast cars and Paul Walker, who has arguably had a better career than Diesel since they starred together in the first film. If it doesn’t fly, Diesel might end up taking the Wesley Snipes career route.

College

Prediction: $8m Open, $15m Final

Actual: $2m Open, $4m Current, ~$6m Final

With the success of Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, and The House Bunny there really hasn’t been room for other comedies. There are many reasons this film is a failure, but I think that one stands out: “Best. Weekend. Ever.” is a terrible tagline to try and sell a film. I bet they wish this film was as successful as Eurotrip ($17m final).

Traitor

Prediction: $2m Open, $5m Final

Actual: $8m Open, $17m Current, ~$30m Final

After an extremely soft Wednesday release of under $800,000, Traitor managed to surprise a bit over the long Labor Day weekend, with over $11m in six days. It hasn’t garnered strong critical praise, but this is going to be Don Cheadle’s biggest headlining film. It’s even bigger than some which have paired him with bigger stars, such as Reign Over Me with Adam Sandler.

Disaster Movie

Prediction: $5m Open, $10m Final

Actual: $6m Open, $11m Current, $17m Final

Slowly but surely, the [x] Movies are dying and may soon be but a bad memory. I’m not sure how long that will take, though, as they’re dirt cheap to produce.

The Rocker

Prediction: $15m Open, $55m Final

Actual: $3m Open, $6m Current, $6m Final

Well, it got bumped a few weeks, so instead of competing with Step Brothers and Pineapple Express for comedy dollars, it ended up competing with Tropic Thunder, The House Bunny, Disaster Movie, College, Hamlet 2, AND Pineapple Express. There’s really no good news here except that the film only cost $15m to produce. The opening (actually $2.6m) is the worst for any film to open in 2500 theaters or more.

Moreover, it’s second-to-third weekend drop of 84% is terrifically bad, in the territory of Uwe Boll films and Gigli. It also lost the second most theaters going into the third weekend, beaten only by Meet Dave. Rainn Wilson might have wanted to try his hand at movies in the TV offseason, but he really needs to get in on a film with some bigger stars to carry him along.

Overall

The Dark Knight’s total is up over $510m, and it’s almost certain to get to $530m. It’s entirely possible that it shoots past $550m, if only because of IMAX screenings. $55m of its total has come from the bigger than big screens and they’re apparently still selling out on weekend. Plus there’s a chance that WB will re-release it for the Oscar season. If they do, it’s possible that it would nudge past Titantic on the all-time list. Of course, the money is likely better if they just do a DVD release in time for the holidays, but there are a lot of bragging rights to being number one. And it’s not likely that the record would fall any time soon. The only real chance is if Star Wars gets another theatrical release which earns it $140m or more. After the reception of The Clone Wars, that’s not too likely.

Also, while there’s some good in August, it wasn’t enough to keep ahead of last year’s pace. 2007 managed to pass $7 billion by the end of the Labor Day weekend. 2008 isn’t quite there and is running about 1% behind right now.

September Movie Predictions

The weeks following Labor Day typically are a bit dark for movies. Kids have gone back to school, thus the cineplexes don’t have the benefit of strong weekdays to bolster grosses, and after the four months of intense movie advertising and high concept affairs, audiences typically want a breather. Because of this, September is historically the weakest month for movie business. It’s the only month that doesn’t have a $40m opening film, and in fact only three have ever even crossed the $30m threshold.

The other historically weak months have a bit of help to bolster their thresholds. January has latent holiday business, not to mention the occasional high profile release. April comes at the tail end of the fairly strong spring period, which has started to see some rather high profile blockbusters. And October has the ever successful Halloween period to drive up the scary movie business.

September doesn’t really have the latent summer business, because it’s mostly dried up by the end of August. There are occasional films which have strong business into the fall months, but these are somewhat rare. Instead it’s release tends to be littered with films that would fit right into the late August spots, but got pushed out because of the sheer volume of low-budget action films that Hollywood can churn out. There are also the early potential awards contenders, such as last year’s 3:10 to Yuma, but these films are going for the long road to profitability, not the quick recoup of investment.

With that in mind, let’s see what is in store for this year.

Weekend of September 5

The Accidental Husband

This used to be an August release, but as the last few weeks of the month filled up, Yari Film Group decided to bow out on the competition and make this one a September release. Here’s what I had to say:

A romantic comedy from fledgling distributor Yari Film Group (biggest film to date: The Illusionist). We’ve got Uma Thurman as a radio talk-show host who dispenses romance advice. Due to some internet shenanigans, she ends up married to a fireman (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) while she’s planning her own wedding to Colin Firth.

RomComs can sell very well, but they are somewhat subject to name recognition issues. For this film, there really aren’t any. Thurman is known, but her biggest films are all directed by Quentin Tarantino. With this she could be attempting to remake herself as a romantic lead, but it’s an iffy shot, especially coming from Yari.

On the upside, the shift isn’t likely to have any great effect on the overall prospects for the film. On the downside, it didn’t have especially great prospects from the get-go.

Opening: Still $5m, Final: $15m

Bangkok Dangerous

In nearly every conversation I’ve had about this film, someone has pointed out that the title sounds really, really dumb. This is a remake of a Thai action film with the same title. For whatever reason, Lionsgate chose to keep the same title (after pondering such alternatives as Big Hit in Bangkok). They probably misstepped a bit here, but it may not matter too much, in the end.

The upside for the film is that it’s being done by the same directors as the Thai original, and it looks pretty slick. So it could be a pretty good film.

The downside is twofold. This is a serious action film which political overtones, somewhat akin to last year’s The Kingdom. While it avoids tying itself to any current political hotbed, it still may turn off viewers in the same way. In addition to that, it’s starring Nicholas Cage. While he’s had a fairly successful career as an action leading man, the films he does well in tend to be strong enough to sell themselves, without requiring his everyman demeanor to pull the film along. Cage is enjoyable, but he’s not a selling point.

He’s had several films released in September, with The Wicker Man, Lord of War, and Matchstick Men all underperforming, regardless of critical reception. There probably won’t be anything too different this time around.

Opening: $10m, Final: $25m

Weekend of September 12

Righteous Kill

The big news here is Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, together again for the first time. While the two veteran actors have been in the same film before, perhaps most famously in Godfather II and they even met up in Heat, but this time around they’re sharing significant screen time. This isn’t a minor selling-point, as the pair have something upwards of 70 years of combined experience at doing crime thrillers, so this is essentially the dream match-up for the genre.

The plot looks sufficiently bleak and convoluted, with the are they good or bad question keeping the suspense high and all the characters inhabiting a large region of grey morality that provides a successful wellspring of quality stories for movies. The Departed recently hit upon this to stunning success (and an Academy Award, finally, for director Martin Scorsese.) The hope is that Rightous Kill can probably do the same. If it’s sufficiently good, it could be an early release awards contender.

The downside here is that while there’s some reason to expect critical success, the business side isn’t necessarily going to follow. Neither Pacino nor DeNiro are known for their business might, instead tending to find success as part of ensembles or in critical darlings. DeNiro has had some success in comedies over the past decade, but outside of that, their films are modest successes at best.

Further, while The Departed did very well in this genre, it’s more the exception than the rule. Moreover, while director Jon Avnet might have directed Pacino earlier this year in 88 Minutes, he’s certainly no Scorsese, and is more known for his TV work.

Ultimately, Righteous Kill is going to rely upon its quality to generate any buzz and legs. If it’s very good it might cruise quite a ways, but that’s not the most likely scenario.

Opening: $10m, Final: $30m

Tyler Perry’s The Family that Preys

Perry is perhaps the biggest box office surprise success over the past decade. He literally exploded on the scene in 2005 with Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which opened to over $21m and managed to grab first place that weekend. This is despite the fact that it opened to less than 1500 theaters (the other two new releases had at least 1000 more), and that it was opening against the third weekend of the extremely successful Will Smith vehicle, Hitch.

With a release like that Diary was probably expected to do business around $5m or so, followed by a quick exit. I doubt anyone expected it to do $20m over its entire run, much less in three days. In the end, it earned $50m and was one of the bigger surprises of the entire year.

Perry didn’t stop there. A year later he released Madea’s Family Reunion, which hit north of $30m and finished with $63m. 2007 brought both Daddy’s Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married, which opened to $11m and $20m respectively, and finished with $31m and $55m. And this march he had Meet the Browns, which had another $20m opening and finished with $41m. Yes, he’s releasing two successful films per year, now. Next year looks to keep up the pace, with Madea Goes to Jail in February and A Jazz Man’s Blues later in the year.

It’s fairly clear that the Perry train isn’t going to stop rolling. Even the lowest earning films in Daddy’s Little Girls and Meet the Browns can’t be considered failures, especially considering the minuscule budgets. Perry’s managed to tap into his specific audience just about perfectly, and he’s achieved success because of that. This drives Hollywood nuts, because his market isn’t the typical 15-35 white male. There African American market isn’t going to be gigantic, but it’s a bit like horror films: there’s a specific audience that can be quite loyal if the product meets their standards. Perry meets those in spades.

Of course having said that, there’s a bit of concern with The Family that Preys. For one, Perry is successful but not bulletproof. His films have rather poor legs, instead pulling in the bulk of the business up front. Second, he’s mostly successful when headlining his famous Madea character. Daddy’s Little Girls didn’t feature her, and didn’t reach the same heights because of it.

Third, The Family that Preys is a bit of a change of pace for him, stepping away from the uplifting and feel-good nature of his other films to instead explore the sometimes dark relationships between two families, one black and one white. While this may possibly bring in a crossover audience, it runs the risk of alienating his core while not doing that. (Unfortunately, white audiences are rather racist towards films marketed to African Americans, and Perry has that label.)

Much like Righteous Kill, The Family that Preys is probably going to be a bit reliant upon the response for its final business tally, but the opening weekend shouldn’t be more than a tick or two below the typical Perry film.

Opening: $15m, Final: $35m.

The Women

Speaking of markets that Hollywood just doesn’t get, women comprise a big one. Sure, there’s the typical lip service, but by and large, women are of definite secondary status when it comes to films. Except for a few select genres, a woman in a leading role is going to be a rarity (there are very few Ripleys, for instance.) And in the typical headline films, they’re going to be relegated to strictly support status (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s role in the otherwise mostly exceptional The Dark Knight) or eye-candy (Megan Fox in Transformers).

When women are given more prominent roles, it’s usually in fare that is second-tier and has poorer release dates and weaker advertising. When such films fail to do boffo business (see Jodie Foster’s The Brave One from last September), it leads the studios to assume that women aren’t a good market for films.

This is really odd, because there’s ample evidence to the contrary. Just in the past couple of years, we’ve seen Hairspray, Mamma Mia!, and (especially) Sex and the City cruise easily past the century mark. And, of course, the biggest film of all time was spearheaded largely by the distaff business. Batman doesn’t have a hope of toppling Titanic. I wonder if he’d have a shot had he treated his girlfriend better.

So that brings us to The Women, a remake of a 1939 film based on a play about the comedic interplay of a group of New York socialites. Somewhat impressively, the film is directed, written, produced, and starring women. It stars Meg Ryan and Annette Bening, who bring a fair bit of name recognition, and from the trailer looks like it might be quite good.

It’s also a film that almost got shoved aside. Despite the apparent quality, it didn’t seem like it was going to get a strong release. Distributor Picturehouse is a definite indie company, and obviously can’t bring the marketing strength to bear, but it seemed up until a few months ago that this would get a minor theatrical release and then hopefully make its money back on video. Sex and the City apparently changed all that, and it should get a wide release, now.

How well it does probably depends primarily on how much public knowledge there is. If the word doesn’t get out, and it’s only barely wide (i.e. under 1000 theaters), then it’ll probalby perform like most Picturehouse flicks and end up sub $20m in the long run. However, it’s got the potential to pass Pan’s Labyrinth as the studio’s biggest film.

Somewhat refreshingly, i’s unlikely that the typical reasons to predict box office strength are going to apply here. While Ryan and Bening have name recognition, neither of them have had a really successful film since the ’90s. And that doesn’t matter at all. With hope The Women will become the strongest success of the fall season, and we might see Hollywood make some changes because of it.

Opening: $10m, Final: $40m (with a much higher potential)

Weekend of September 19

Ghost Town

This is a comedic take on the whole ‘I can see dead people’ theme that was most successfully exemplified by The Sixth Sense in 1999. That’s hardly the only film to tread those waters, as Hollywood seems to enjoy going back to it every few years, in a variety of genres from horror to romance to drama.

This time around Ricky Gervais plays a dentist who hates people and dies a little while undergoing a routine medical procedure. Because of this, he can suddenly convene with the dead. Greg Kinnear plays a ghost who befriends him. Hijinks ensue and, presumably, Gervais will find true love and learn to accept others, not necessarily in that order.

The film looks cute and Gervais is a spot-on comedic talent, so there’s no reason to believe it’s going to be terrible. However, while Hollywood likes going back to it, The Sixth Sense and Ghost are the most successful comparisons. In most cases, the films will end up with much more modest totals. Given the release date, there’s no reason to believe this is going to break out.

Opening: $10m, Final: $25m

Igor

The shine’s really coming off of the computer animation vehicle. It’s been almost thirteen years since the original Toy Story jumpstarted the medium, and while the first decade or so was an unparalleled success, the past few years have seen the stakes drop somewhat dramatically. This is somewhat expected, because early on such films were quite expensive and the studios that had the capabilities to make them were quite few and far between. Thus the ones that did had a bit of an impetus to put forth a top tier product.

More recently, other studios have jumped into the game, and that’s led to a drop in quality and thus a drop in box office potential. That’s not the entire story, as even industry king Pixar has seen grosses drop, with its last three films failing to cross the $250m mark. These aren’t failures, but they’re not stunning successes.

Even so, expectations for the smaller films doesn’t tend to be especially high. While Pixar has continued to push the technical envelope, and the budgets have remained high (Wall-E cost around $180m), many such films are quite inexpensive and can be considered successes even if they don’t garner top tier business. The Weinstein Company has worked to fit into this niche, and Igor is their third such foray. The first film they had was Hoodwinked, which was a bit of a surprise success in early 2006, earning over $50m. However, the followup Doogal didn’t impress, and failed to even reach $10m.

Plot-wise, Igor follows the title character in his quest to stop being a minion and instead make a name for himself as a mad scientist. His solution is to create life. Visually, it seems somewhere between Pixar and Tim Burton, with a fairly strong dose of cuddly creepiness. As is typical, there’s a host of celebrity voices, with John Cusack in the lead and Steve Buscemi, Eddy Izzard, and Molly Shannon providing support.

This seems like it’s going to fit in with the various fable/fairy tale humor films, such as the aforementioned Hoodwinked, but also Happily ‘n’ Ever After (a dismal failure) and Shrek, which is the gold standard for the genre. A non-CG success can be found in last year’s Enchanted.

If it’s as good as the trailer seems to indicate, it could do fairly strong business. Despite the overall weakness of the autumn box office, animation has found success. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride earned over $50m in 2005, Open Season earned over $80m in 2006, and Shark Tale earned $160m with an early October, 2006 release (thanks, in part, to Will Smith).

Opening: $15m, Final: $50m

Lakeview Terrace

Samuel L. Jackson has been in at least three films every year going back to 2002. He’s easily been one of the most prolific actors this decade, and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. What’s especially impressive is that while he’s often viewed as little more than a catch-phrase dropping angry man, he’s shown up in a variety of different genres and exposure levels. He’s certainly not a choosy actor, but he does seem to want to try a lot of different things.

Lakeview Terrace is a race relations film, where Jackson plays a cop in a Southern California suburb who takes a strong dislike to a interracial, newlywed couple who move in next door. It’s not likely to pull any punches, and is probably an attempt at an awards contender in the same vein as Crash. The good news is that Lakeview Terrace looks taught and gripping and might try to ask a number of hard questions for which US society does not yet have answers.

The bad news is director Neil LaBute. While a number of his early films garnered strong critical praise, he’s never done anything breakout. And his last film was The Wicker Man, which was an amazing failure at all levels except for providing fodder for YouTube comedy videos.

If LaBute can find his directorial voice from half a decade ago, it might surprise and stick around for a while. Otherwise, Lakeview Terrace will probably be quickly forgotten.

Opening: $5m, Final: $20m

My Best Friend’s Girl

Jason Biggs plays himself from any other film (read: American Pie). He’s a lovable loser with a romantic streak but no skills with the ladies.

Dane Cook is his best friend, who makes his career being a bad date so other guys will look good in comparison.

Kate Hudson is the love interest. Cook agrees to date her so she’ll see Biggs in a better light and stay with him.

This is the third straight fall rom-com for Cook, and he’s not seen any great success. 2006’s Employee of the Month (with Jessica Simpson) earned just $28m. Last year’s Good Luck Chuck (with Jessica Alba) got to just $35m. He’s mostly been viewed as a generic funnyman. Amusing, but not really a draw. Biggs is even less so. While he had success in the American Pie films, he’s had nothing that’s broken out since.

The draw here is Hudson, who’s making a name for herself in the RomCom genre. Earlier this year Fools Gold passed the $70m mark after a $21m opening, and in 2006 she had You, Me, and Dupree which did similar business. Back in 2003, she starred in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which passed $100m when all was said and done.

I’m feeling slightly bullish about My Best Friend’s Girl, despite the problems that Cook and Biggs bring to the table. However, Hudson’s a strength. And there’s The Cars song, which makes for a bit of excellent advertising.

Opening: $20m, Final: $60m

Taken

The latest from Luc Besson, this film has Liam Neeson playing a father who’s out to find his abducted daughter. Neeson has the typical action thriller skills of being able to kill people in many, many often painful ways, as well as a smattering of neat spy abilities with technology.

While Besson’s probably best remembered for putting together the brilliant Leon: The Professional, his career is mostly comprised of writing low-budget actioners which tend to be all style and no substance. This isn’t bad, as it’s provided Jason Stathem a career, but there’s not much memorable to them. And Statham has the ability to draw people in to a degree. Neeson doesn’t really even that, despite having a number of top tier films to his credit, including Batman Begins and The Phantom Menace.

Mostly, though, this is a really packed weekend and something is going to be left behind. Taken seems to be veering towards the thriller rather than action aspect, which means that while it might pack a punch, it probably won’t seem as fun as the other options.

Opening: $5m, Final: $15m

Weekend of September 26

Eagle Eye

Fresh off the back-to-back $300m successes of Transformers and Indiana Jones, Shia LeBeouf takes top billing in a more modest fare, which is a modern take on the big brother concept. He’s a man on the run after being framed as a terrorist while the unseen real terrorists drive him to do bad things as they watch him through all the neat technology that makes our 21st century world interesting and, possibly, a bit scary.

While it’s not likely to create any deep thinking, Eagle Eye is probably poised to be the first big success of the fall season. LeBeouf is teamed up with directo D.J. Caruso, who also directed him in last year’s surprise spring success of Disturbia. The movie’s also produced by Steven Spielberg (director of Indiana Jones and exec producer behind Transformers) & Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (writers of Transformers), so there’s probably not any reason to expect this one to be a bad movie, even if it’s not a brilliant one.

The advertising has been quite good thus far, making it seem taught and gripping and likely to draw people in. LeBeouf has a lot of on-screen charisma, and is able to mesh humor with terror and action strenght with a bit of a bumbling air. It’s not really any surprise that he’s being viewed as an up-and-coming top tier actor. He’s quickly becoming a draw in his own right. Costar Michelle Monaghan isn’t a large draw, but has appeared in a number of high profile action flicks like Mission Impossible III, The Bourne Supremacy, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

Perhaps the biggest strength here is that while it’s a action thriller, it’s avoiding any of the verboten politics that have inhabited the genre of late and spelled box office poison. Last year’s The Kingdom is a prime example, and Eagle Eye should do considerably better.

Opening: $30m, Final: $85m

Miracle at St. Anna

Spike Lee is a well regarded director, regularly tackling social issues in a thoughtful manner, with a particularly strong eye towards race. What he doesn’t have is large success. Only one film of his has even passed the $50m mark, and that was the rather mainstream, but still shockingly intelligent, Inside Man from 2006.

Miracle at St. Anna is his first foray into the war film genre. It falls in with some of his themes, as the action is centered on an all-black platoon in WWII who see action in a small Italian town. There’s also a possible mystical element that’s a bit out of line for him and a multi-decade mystery that’s hinted at.

There’s no reason to believe that the quality will be missing here. In fact, there’s a fair bet that this will be a better film than Eagle Eye. However, while Inside Man was a stunning success, Lee’s history means this is more likely to be an under-the-radar film with perhaps sleeper potential. It might be good, but it’s not likely to be big.

Opening: $10m, Final: $35m

Nights in Rodanthe

This is the fourth film based on the works of author Nicholas Sparks. Earlier films include Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and The Notebook, all of which were modest successes in the romance genre.

Romance mainstays Diane Lane and Richard Gere provide the genre starpower. It’s worth noting that romance films tend to be quite a bit more modest than romantic comedies, because there’s not nearly as much crossover appeal to get the guys in the theaters. Even so, this is star-studded between Lane, Gere, and Sparks, so there’s quite a bit of upside potential.

As a rule, romances don’t open very large, but they tend to have strong legs. It’s entirely possible that while this film won’t open as big as Eagle Eye, it may have a comparable final gross. Not likely, but possible.

Opening: $15m, Final: $60m

Overall

There’s not a whole lot out of the ordinary this September, with a few early awards hopefuls and the typical smattering of action and family fare to fill up space between the bigger August and October weekends. While 2008 has fallen behind 2007, there’s a chance that one or two of these could break out and pull the year ahead.

July Movie Recap

Before I drop into the recap for July, I’d like to look at Wall-E again. In my June recap, I estimated that it would end up around $250 million. This was largely because Pixar films tend to have strong legs with final tallies at least four times the opening weekend. The opening here was $15m ahead of Ratatoille, so a final tally about $45-60 million more in the end would be about on par.

Instead, Wall-E has taken its fantastic reviews and strong audience response in hand while falling quite fast. Fast, at least for a Pixar film. This would be a strong result for any other studio, but with its current total (about $205m) it is unlikely to earn much more than $220m, if even that. Indeed, its final tally will likely be roughly the same as Kung Fu Panda.

And while that may be the strongest Dreamworks effort ever, it isn’t the same. Pixar is the name in animation, and I’m beginning to wonder if audiences are starting to take them for granted. There’s this expectation that the films will be great, and they are, but how do you top greatness? I’m sure that they’re wondering the same thing over in Emeryville, even as they work on next year’s expected masterpiece.

Now, onto the July films.

Hancock

Prediction: $70m open, $230m final

Actual: $63m open, $215m current, ~$230m final

My open was low because trying to predict how an Independence Day film opens is a crapshoot from. It earned about $100m in the 5+ day opening frame and is tracking rather close to 2005’s War of the Worlds. Will Smith’s going to make a run at three straight $200m earners this december with Seven Pounds, but even if it doesn’t make it, he’s proving again and again that he’s the strongest draw in Hollywood… and he makes smart film choices.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Prediction: $30m open, $75m final

Actual: $35m open, $71m current, ~$75m final

After the opening, I held out hope that Hellboy would see some strong legs and end up north of the century mark, if only barely. However, it’s fallen rather hard and fast in just about every weekend since and will instead end up close to my original final prediction. I’m figuring that the market for Hellboy was just about saturated. Fans of the first film likely went out this time and may have dragged along some friends, as did the advertising. This is a nice uptick and, after he’s done with the Hobbit movies, del Toro may come back and do a third.

Meet Dave

Prediction: $25m open, $70m final

Actual: $5m open, $11m current, ~$11m final

Usually it seems Murphy can show up in bad films and just barely eke out success. Usually. Sometimes there’s a Pluto Nash. Meet Dave isn’t quite that bad, but, really, when you’re underperforming at this level, it’s all bad. He might really be wanting a Beverly Hills Cop IV right about now.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Prediction: $15m open, $40m final

Actual: $21m open, $72m current, ~$90m final

At the beginning of the summer, if anyone had tried to guess which of the two Walden Media films would be marked a success and which a failure, I’ll bet most people would have chosen Journey to be the latter. As it happens, it’s turning into yet another mid-range success for the development studio, and will soon be the highest grossing of theirs outside of the Narnia flicks. And the recent one of those is probably best forgotten, at least business-wise.

There’s an outside shot this crosses $100m, which would be a stunning success. Depending on how hard and fast The Mummy falls this coming weekend, this might even be the higher grossing Brendan Fraser film of the summer.

Apparently, it doesn’t suck, either, which helps a lot for the final tally.

The Dark Knight

Prediction: $85m open, $270m final

Actual: $158m open, $393m current, ~$510m final

It passed my predicted final tally sometime on its 9th day. It will pass $400m in 19 days. Shrek 2 is the current fasted to that mark with $43 days. And it will cruise past all but the loftiest of goals by the time it leaves theaters.

I went into detail in my last post, but that was prior to the second weekend of the film, where it saw $75m. That’s a mighty total, and good for the biggest second weekend of all time, but it was likely at that point that Titanic became out of reach. A weekend north of $80m might have kept it in sight, and $90m would have made it a fight, but even though it had covered half the distance in 10 days, the latter $300m is the hurdle. Its third weekend of $43m is good for second best in history (after Spider-Man’s $45m) which further proves that Batman can’t top James Cameron. So the boat has sailed out of sight, but it can rest assured that it will be the second biggest film of all time, could break into the top 30 adjusted for inflation, and could possibly have the biggest fourth weekend with a strong hold (beating Titanic at something.)

Mamma Mia!

Prediction: $25m open, $80m final

Actual: $28m open, $87m current, ~$130m final

Welcome to the success of counter-programming. There’s money to be made in hitting a niche beneath a behemoth. The ABBA musical started off a near copy of Hairspray, but in the weeks since it’s held on strongly and will likely end up the third highest grossing musical in history (after Grease and Chicago). This could become a summer tradition to run counterpoint to all the exposions.

Space Chimps

Prediction: $10m open, $35m final

Actual: $7m open, $21m current, ~$25m final

While Wall-E’s fallen off faster than expected, it didn’t lose so much business that families were looking for something else in its place. Also, Journey to the Center of the Earth has provided business for that market. Space Chimps will likely be remembered as another disposable computer animation flick. Or forgotten as one.

Step Brothers

Prediction: $35m, $115m final

Actual: $31m open, $63m current, ~$100m final

It’s not doing quite as I predicted, but I think the final tally will be in the same ballpark. For Ferrell this marks a slight return to his preferred consistency. Semi-Pro’s final tally of $33m was probably quite worrisome. However, at this point it’s probably quite clear that he’s not going to replace Adam Sandler. While he does have three films above $100m and this one could join them there, it’s definitely not a sure thing and he’s not likely to see grosses in the range of Talledega Nights for his comedies unless they’re exemplary.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Prediction: $25m open, $65m final

Actual: $10m open, $17m current, ~$20m final

As it happens, no, this film cannot re-establish the series for the big screen. It’s performing even worse than Serenity.

American Teen

At the time I did this prediction, it was slated to get a semi-wide release. Instead, the distributors have opted for an indie/platform release. It will probably end up with at least a few million but isn’t likely to take off.

Overall

While The Dark Knight is justfiably hogging the spotlight, July was quite a strong month overall. Thanks largely to Batman’s amazing performance, the year on year tally has surged ahead of last year’s record pace. It’s completely up in the air as to whether it can keep that up, though. Last August was quite strong, with Bourne, Superbad, and Halloween all delivering stronger than expected performances.

Rarified Air

I’m going to break a bit from my monthly previews and recaps to talk about some box office specifics. A lot of numbers follow, but we’re looking at some awesome numbers.

If you’ve been following entertainment news at all over the past few days, you probably know that The Dark Knight is huge. It’s historically huge, earning $18.5 million in Friday midnight shows, over $67 million over the entire Friday, and a massive $158 million for its opening weekend.

These are all record breaking numbers. Bigger than Revenge of the Sith for the midnight shows and bigger than Spidey 3 for the opening day and weekend totals. Batman’s also gotten the record for biggest Sunday, widest release (in terms of theaters, not screens), and highest per-screen average for an ultra-wide release. (For wide releases, the record still belongs to the greatest musical talent of all time, Hannah Montana. But her film only hit 600 screens, not 4,366.)

With this performance, The Dark Night has blown away just about every weekend prediction. The stock for the film has rose steadily over time. My early summer prediction of $85 million seemed a bit bullish at the time, but was laughable by the beginning of July. The excellent ad campaign, curiosity due to Heath Ledger’s Death, and stellar performance from heroic rival Iron Man (which gives a good barometer for expectated response) were coming together to create a perfect storm of audience excitement. As such, the predictions rose from the $90s to the low $100s to the $130s up until about a week before the performance.

Despite this (which was putting Batman in the running with Jack Sparrow for the second biggest opening of all time) there were two strong undercurrents of thought. The first was that Spidey’s record was safe: Batman’s considerably darker, DC heroes don’t open as big, the competition is much more fierce in July than early May. At the same time, Warner Bros. was publically stating that they expected ONLY about $90-100m.

I believe the high water prediction was somewhere in the mid $140s, within spitting distance of Spiderman 3, but still shy.

When Friday’s numbers hit, all bets were off. The $67 million was a good $8m beyond Spidey’s Friday, and even a large drop on Saturday would keep it in the running. For large opening films, especially sequels, a poor weekend multiplier (ratio of Friday to the whole weekend) is somewhat expected. There’s a lot of demand to get there and see the film opening day, and as such the ratio will be very low because after the Friday, demand decreases a big way. Even so, Spidey 3 had a large drop and with the extra $8m, Batman could take a bigger drop and still come out ahead.

As it happened, there was a large drop on Saturday, to $47 million. That $20m drop is huge, almost 30%, and it led to some speculation that, despite the big Friday, Batman wouldn’t even stick around enough to even take the weekend total. That would be very bad news for Warner Bros. They played it conservatively, and gave an early weekend estimate of $151-1533m, just barely ahead of Spidey 3. A bit later, they estimated $155m, but rival studios were suspicious. WB had only estimated a drop of about 20% on Sunday, which seemed small, especially in light of the 30% on Saturday.

However, on Monday, the weekend figures hit the final numbers, and the weekend haul came in at $158m, a clear jump up from Spidey. Sunday’s figure was $43m, a mere 8% drop from Saturday.

So what happened here? Why the big drop from Friday to Saturday, but the small one from Sunday? Well first is that unlike many huge sequels, the critical response from both the media and audiences has been overwhelmingly positive. While it’s probably a close toss-up in the end, The Dark Knight is at least on par with Iron Man in terms of percieved quality. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is consistently cited as a standout point and has already garnered some Oscar buzz.

Second is that, counter-intuitively, it seems the market wasn’t saturated. So many people wanted to see this film, that even with 4300 screens they couldn’t find a place to sit. If they’re stuck trying to find a place on Friday or Saturday, they wait until Sunday.

But wait, wasn’t Friday still 20m bigger than Saturday? Why wasn’t Saturday huge and Sunday small if there was that much extra money in the making.

Consider the Midnight shows. Theaters did a massive number of showings early on Friday which accounted for over $18 million of that day’s business. A number also scheduled 3am (and 6am and 9am) shows to try and meet demand that first day. While a number probably did shows for Midnight Saturday and Midnight Sunday, they would be less inclined to keep things running 24 hours a day for three straight days. Hence, there were less showings, and less chances for people to get in. While it’s not a perfect fit, remove the midnight haul from Friday’s take and you’ve got about $49m. Now the drop to Saturday is miniscule and the small drop to Sunday doesn’t seem so strange.

After $158 million in three days, it sat a mere $42m from the vaunted $200m barrier. The big question was how much it would drop in the weekdays and thus how long it would take to cross that point. For mid-summer films, a drop of about 50% from Sunday to Monday is about normal, especially if the Sunday is large. But the subsequent weekdays will probably see consistent drops of about 10% or so. Demand is high for the weekend and tails off somewhat rapidly from there. It’s for this reason that almost all huge-opening films see extremely large drops in the second weekend, even if they’re well-received. There’s a bit of a limit to how much business these things can retain when you’re opening over the century mark.

Speculation follows: If Monday was $21m, it would sit at $179m after four days and probably in the upper $190s after day five. It would fairly easily pass $200m in six. Over the course of the week, we could get a good idea of what it would haul in weekend two. If it dropped, say, to $14m on Thursday, it would probably be close to $225-$230m for the first week, and absolutely astounding haul, but it probably wouldn’t be looking at much more than $60m for the second weekend. Still spectacular, but probably indicative that it’s going to drop fairly fast, so after weekend three it would be below $30m and around half that for weekend 4. A track record like that would see The Dark Knight cruising past $400m, but probably petering out somewhere in the realm of Pirates 2 ($423m).

However, we’ve got an actual number for Monday, and it’s amazing: almost $24.5m. This puts the total haul in four days at almost $183m, and it’s just $17m shy of $200m. It needs a drop of 30% on Tuesday to FAIL to get to the double century in five days. This is almost impossible. Its drop on Sunday and Monday are the lowest in the top ten. Given how much distance is between it and the number 2 film (Mamma Mia! which, to be perfectly fair, is doing wonderfully) this is amazing.

If it keeps with the trend of films of this size, it could see drops of 10-15% for each of the next few days, which means it could earn about $22m or more on Tuesday. Doing that could put it in shooting distance of meeting the entire run of Batman Begins… in five days. That was a spectacularly received film that did very, very good business, and The Dark Knight is making it look like a joke.

In fact, it’s making all of its Batman compatriots look like jokes. It surged passed the entire gross of Batman and Robin in two days. It passed Batman Returns in on Monday and ended up within 2 million of Batman Forever. Both of those films at one time had the opening weekend record. And at its current pace, it should pass Batman, the current highest grossing film in the franchise, sometime next weekend.

The speed that The Dark Knight is accomplishing these records cannot be understated. The current speediest grossing film is Pirates 2, which reached $200m in 8 days and $300m in 16. The Dark Knight will hit the first mark in 5 days and the second in 10 or 11. The current record holder for $400m is Shrek 2, which accomplished that feat in a stunning 43 days (Pirates 2 took 45.) With the way things currently look, a bullish prediction would have Batman crossing the quadruple century in under a month. It’s all but assured of knocking Star Wars Episode 1 and its $431m gross out of the top 5 of all time.

But the big question, which is starting to float, is the big T. Does Batman have what it takes to beat Titanic? Or, more realistically, does it even have a chance?

To answer this, we really need to understand how big that $600m gross really is. It is huge. The second place film of all time is Star Wars, which has just $460m. That $140m gap means you could add the grosses for any of the following films to Star Wars and not equal Titanic: Click, Anger Management, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the first one), Live Free or Die Hard, Superman, The Rock, The Departed, Minority Report, and so on. All of these films were regarded as strong box office contenders, which did some spectacular business. In the case of TMNT, it was the highest grossing film from its studio (New Line) until the release of Fellowship of the Ring. The Departed is far and away the highest grossing film of Martin Scorscese’s career. And Adam Sandler is one of the most consistently successful actors in history. Yet none of these films can make Star Wars match Titanic.

Here’s a story. In 2001, when Harry Potter shattered the opening weekend record with its $90m opening, it led to speculation that it might beat Titanic. In a conversation about this possibility, someone said it was all but guaranteed. After all, Harry Potter had this huge synergy across all demographics and was a huge cultural phenomenon. Plus it had an extremely strong holiday for its follow-up weekend (Thanksgiving) and was a really good movie. (The last was alleged by many fans of the series.)

Ultimately, Harry Potter was an extremely strong film, becoming the highest grossing of the year, but its final tally of $317m was barely more than half of Titanic’s final tally.

Of course, Harry Potter isn’t alone in that. Subsequent record weekend holders Spiderman and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest have also had such talk abound, as have Shrek 2, Star Wars Episode III and (before Harry Potter) Star Wars Episode I. All of these films have done stellar business, earning the most of their release year, but none have gotten even 75% of the total business that Titanic has.

If it isn’t clear, $600m is huge. And as big as the response for The Dark Knight has been, it probably doesn’t have the ability to top Titanic. But it’s not impossible to assume. If it earns $70m in weekend 2, $40m in weekend 3 and $25m in weekend 4, it will probably finish up at least on par with Star Wars’ $460m and could go somewhat more. But to get to $600m, it would need a historically strong hold. Better than Shrek 2 had in its second weekend ($72m, with the whole Memorial Day Holiday pulling in over $90m). It would probably need to see at least $90m for the three days to have a shot. And even then, it would need similarly strong holds in future weeks.

And as strong as it is right now, eventually audiences are likely to tire and look to other films. The third Mummy film will take some business. There’s another Star Wars film next month. And for people who aren’t strongly interested in the dark and brooding nature of The Dark Knight, they will be sidetracked by numerous comedies.

Still, when looking at the question of where The Dark Knight could end up (and Titanic isn’t outside the realm of possibility, but it’s rather unlikely) it is probably more important to consider where it is likely to end up.

Above $400m, certainly, and even $450m isn’t even three times its immense opening weekend. I would give it 2-1 odds of crossing the $500m mark. It would be just the second film in history to do that. Whatever the case, it’s certainly a run worth acclaim.

June Movie Recap

Junes are typically a solid, but not spectacular month. Not in 2008, though. A stellar month that overshadowed May by a fairly significant margins, it was actually strong enough to push 2008 ahead of 2007’s amazing (and record) pace.

Kung Fu Panda

Prediction: $40m open, $135 final

Actual: $60m open, $199m current, ~210m final

Just when I thought I had Dreamworks pegged as a studio of high-gloss, but middling quality animation releases they go and release something that’s very, very good. Kung Fu Panda is arguably the best effort from the studio, and one that hopefully spells a step away from the pop-culture jokes of the past. With hope, the Shrek series can die a quick and painful death as the reigns of the studio transfer over to the panda. As for the box office, the audiences got wind of the quality and kept coming back for more. Only the release of Wall-E, at the end of the month, slowed it down. And the business had mostly spent itself by that point anyway.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

Prediction: $35m open, $125m final

Actual: $38m open, $96m current, ~100m final

The opening is right in line with Adam Sandler’s history. The story here is the final tally, which is a decided step down. It’s not bad, and is going to be yet another century effort form him, but the legs that he usually sees just weren’t there. Perhaps the film was a bit too weird for audiences.

The Incredible Hulk

Prediction: $40m open, $115m final

Actual: $55m open, $128m current, ~$135m final

Such is the bad blood that the first film established. Throughout the new Hulk’s run, I’ve been mystified by the bad press it’s business has received. It opened less than the original, but has had better staying power and will have a (slightly) higher final gross. It’s not quite kept the audience enough to be considered a strong result, a final tally around $150m would have done that, but it’s within spitting distance. Also, it had fairly positive response and I think, in the eyes of the audience, has washed away the sour taste of the Ang Lee effort. I hope that the people at Marvel consider it a success in that regard. If they were hoping for Iron Man or even X-Men numbers, they were just opening themselves up to disappointment.

My prediction was mostly based on the fact that it had this uphill battle and that it would do acceptable, but nothing more. It’s managed to do more than that. Not great, but good enough.

The Happening

Prediction: $25m open, $70m final

Actual: $30m open, $62m current, ~65m final

This should serve notice that M. Night Shyamalan should stop writing movies. He’s still got talent as a director, and is able to do scary as well as anyone (particularly because he understands very, very well that less is more), but his writing is atrocious. Audiences might have bounced back slightly here, but I chalk that more up to the ad campaign than the quality of the movie. Since it’s barely earned double the opening weekend back in total, it’s clear that word of mouth is nonexistant.

Get Smart

Prediction: $30m open, $80m final

Actual: $38m open, $106m current, ~130m final

Right before the release, the ad campaign really took off, and the showcase of the three primary actors helped push the opening higher. The legs aren’t spectacular, but it’s had enough positive audience response and staying power to be one of the bigger surprises of the summer.

The Love Guru

Prediction: $30m open, $70m final

Actual: $14m open, $30m current, ~$35m final

Well, audiences smelled the crap and mostly avoided it. Myers probably needs to try to do something that’s really outside his comfort zone. Cheap parody and poop jokes isn’t going to cut it any more. And (as noted above) the Shrek series probably isn’t long for the world. They’re ostensibly working on two more, but I expect that the fourth will see another large loss of business and they’ll pull the plug on the fifth.

Wall-E

Prediction: $75m open, $290m final

Actual: $62m open, $150m current, $250m final

Despite the fact that it’s a spectacular film, Wall-E’s had a bit of a battle since the dialogue is sparse throughout, and practically nonexistant for the first half. Audiences are keying in on the quality, but the legs aren’t quite as good as Disney/Pixar would probably like. Even so, this is a nice bounce back from Ratatoille’s business, and is going to be a perfectly fine final number. However, I wonder if audiences are beginning to take Pixar’s quality for granted.

Wanted

Prediction: $35m open, $90m final

Actual: $51m open, $104m current, ~$135m final

The advertising department at Universal really needs a bonus for this. Audience response hasn’t been great, but the business is spectacular. It’s hitting a good 50% above my prediction all around, and that has to make everyone involved very happy. The only real downside is that this means we’ll probably see a number of adaptations of Mark Millar’s work in the future. Kick-Ass is apparently already in development.

Overall

Every weekend in June except possibly the Hulk/Happening weekend has had an overachieving film. Even films that haven’t such as Wall-E and Incredible Hulk have done passingly solid business. That’s helped drive the total tally for the year past the efforts in 2004 and 2007. It’s fallen a bit off the pace in July, but the story of Hancock (and how it stacks up against Transformers and Spider-Man) is a story for another day.

The Beauty of Comments

I don’t get many comments here on goddOS.net. That makes sense, since this blog is new, not very active, and probably only read by close friends and such. Still, a few people seem to have come across various posts for whatever reason.

Yesterday one gentleman found my review of Rock Band in which I take a very unfavorable eye towards Coheed & Cambria. Initially, I wasn’t going to release them, but upon consideration I should. I should also respond to them. So, he’s going to get the FJM treatment.

Ok… so, what I just read… was that a review?

Yes. Yes, it was.

It seemed more like an attack.

Admittedly, it’s a biased review. It’s an emotional review. It’s a review from my perspective and response to the music. It’s a personal opinion. But it’s not an attack. It is not an attempt to damage the members of Coheed and Cambria, at least no more than any other critical review. If I wanted to attack them I’d use, I dunno, a laser sword or something.

It also seems to me that you must spend a little too much time sitting at your computer or playing that beloved RB (it is awesome, I’ll admit it).

You forgot that I’m in my mom’s basement.

Coheed and Cambria are a hugely succesfull band, not just in album sales (over 1.5 million stateside alone)

He’s correct in this. They had an album go gold, and then the first Good Apollo album went platinum. That does mean that they’ve sold at least 1.5 million copies. HOWEVER it’s worth noting that the second Good Apollo album, even after over six months in release, has just managed about 150,000 sales, a significant step down from the previous album. Worldwide it’s sitting a bit over 300k. These are fine numbers, and indicative of success, but let’s be clear, it’s not setting the world on fire.

but as a live act as well, selling out venues of sizes ranging from mid-size clubs to arenas and amphitheaters.

I can’t confirm or deny this. It’s probably true. Is it a valid point, though? I don’t think so, but more on that below.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the band (I enjoy the music and story, even Claudio’s vocals… just not a big punk/metal guy) I have to give credit and respect where it’s due.

Fine credit where it’s due: Coheed & Cambria are able to sell music.

Guess what. N’Sync could sell music. No Strings Attached sold over a million copies in a DAY and over two in a week. It sold over 15 million copies total world-wide. As a band, they’ve sold 56 million albums worldwide since 1995 (accepting that they haven’t been together for about half that time.)

And they aren’t even the biggest act in their genre. The Backstreet Boys sold 37 million albums in the US and over 100 million worldwide.

Or from the standpoint of concerts, Coheed & Cambria don’t hold a candle to Miley Cyrus, who’s sold out every show in huge stadiums to the point that she’s increased a recent tour from 55 to 69 dates AND they made a movie out of it just to try and meet demand. That movie, BTW, garnered $31 million in three days, the biggest opening for a film under 1000 theaters. She’s also sold 8 million albums worldwide, and 3 million in the US.

If we’re looking just at the business side of things, Claudio Kilgannon is absolute shit compared to Hannah Montana.

Now my question to you is exactly where the fuck do you get off bashing a band you’ve never listened to outside of one song on a video game and their comics, which you’ve never read.

My criticism of C&C was largely centered on the fact that Welcome Home is an atrocious song. Everything else is extrapolated from that. In order to understand the depth of how bad it was, I needed to research a bit. While that research didn’t extend to finding and buying the comics, online material seems to be fairly comprehensive in establishing that The Amory Wars is a fairly tepid science fiction entry that isn’t establishing anything new.

I can find bad sci-fi very easily, and I don’t need to pay for it.

I imagine you to be a fat, slobby, loser of a guy.

IN MY MOM’S BASEMENT!

I would have been put off by reading this sort of review of anything.

Put off what? Put off giving C&C any money to peddle their at-best-mediocre wares? Then my work here is done.

To keep it short, shut your fucking mouth if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Y’know, I think I’m going to keep talking. How about I go off half-cocked on a rant without taking full consideration for both my own opinion but also the status of that which I am criticizing.

Oh, wait.

Or just shut your fucking mouth… you’ll catch flies.

True story: I once spent a good portion of a family reunion catching flies with my bare hands. Then I taught some younger distant cousins to do the same.

I did wash my hands afterwards.

Arrogant piece of shit.

I have many vices. Arrogance isn’t generally one of them. In fact, I probably have a nearly crippling lack of self-confidence.

Amusingly enough, Mr. Brent C. came back nine minutes later and added more:

Oh and p.s….

Pedantically, it should probably just be P.S. and then “Oh, …”

Also, an ellipse only has three periods. I’m quite curious why both his posts started with a double-ellipse sentence. It’s like he’s gearing up to think about his point.

I just looked up the numbers…

Yay, numbers! I love numbers!

the first five issues of The Amory Wars (which I haven’t read either, I’ll be honest) have sold over 700,000 copies since their beginnings last year

Really? A five issue series moving 700k copies? SURELY I’d have heard about such a stellar-selling series somewhere in all of the comic news I come across. That’s an average of 140,000 copies an issue. Or roughly the same as what Final Crisis #1 sold.

Let me question. Are you seriously suggesting that an independent, non-superhero comic book tie-in to a musical act is selling on par with DC’s top-tier summer event series?

SERIOUSLY?

Well, okay, then.

and have been released as a trade paperback graphic novel.

Correct. I actually saw it in my local comic shop. I cringed.

The first issue of Volume II is due to come out this week

Fair enough. We’ve established that it’s either successful enough to warrant a second series OR that it’s a really big vanity project.

and Hot Topic (that shitty little store in everyone’s mall)

I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Is Hot Topic a shitty store? Or is it successful because it’s everywhere?

has taken 138,000 pre-orders since June.

That’s a lot of pre-orders for a comic book. I’m really doubting them, as well. A search on Amory Wars sales numbers didn’t bring up anything to cooberate this information.

In fact, a check into ICV2’s sales charts for comics and graphic novels shows that in April, the TPB of Amory Wars volume 1 moved about 2500 copies. This is a perfectly respectable number, and shouldn’t be marked as bad. It’s also just for the direct market. Some titles sell considerably better outside comic book stores, but those are usually Naruto and such. Even if I grant that the sales are going to better in bookshops and Hot Topic, I’m not seeing them hit much more than three or four times what the DM moves.

As far as the comic, the fifth issue sold about 6000 copies in the DM in January. This is down from the 10,000 that #1 sold last June. In fact, except for issue 1, all the issues sold around 6k copies. A five issue title that moves 35,000 copies isn’t bad, and for an indie project it’s fine, but it’s not breaking out. Hell, DC Vertigo tends to cancel titles that move so little, because they can’t make their money back.

Again, even if we allow  2-3 times more than that outside the DM (and issues sell considerably worse than TPBs do, comparitively, outside of comic book stores), we’re still not getting into 700,000. We’re not even at 140,000. For the whole series.

For the mathematically deficient: 35,000/700,000 = 5%.

By the available information, we can confirm that The Amory Wars is at least 5% of Brent C.’s claimed success point.

My point is… these guys are highly successful and talented, obviously.

They are successful. I do not debate that. They are not as successful as a number of other musical talents or a number of other comic book talents. If we’re equating their success to an absolute value of their talent, they’re probably firmly middle of the road.

In comparison, Rob Liefeld is an astronomically more talented comic book writer, and N’Sync are significantly better musically.

Hey, it’s not my argument.

In my previous post, I even allowed that there is some musical skill to C&C. That skill doesn’t extend to lyrics or vocals. (And in the intervening time, I’ve come to realize that even as a musical construction, Welcome Home is absolute shit. However, the guys playing the instruments aren’t bad.)

You blog about comics and movies.

I do. And video games. From my mom’s basement.

You talk about the self-injection

Self-insertion. Self-injection sounds like something heroin junkies do.

story line or whatever you called it with such disdain as if you yourself were not suffering from some pretty serious delusions of grandure.

Grandeur. Which, no, I don’t have. Lovely logical fallacy, by the way.

Arrogant piece of shit.

Repetition for the win!

May Movie Recap

As we’ve moved into the first weekend of June, I’m going to look back at what May has brought and how well my predictions have held up.

Iron Man

Prediction: $80m open, $220m final

Actual: $98m open, $288m current, ~$310m final

My opening guess wasn’t too far out of line. What’s big is the legs that Iron Man has had, turning in better than average (and expected) drops each weekend. Currently, it looks like it might grab the top movie of the summer (and possibly the year.) I mostly understimated how strong the initial advertising campaign is and how strongly the critical and audience reception would be. A fantastic job from Paramount and Marvel Studios.

Made of Honor

Prediction: $15m open, $50m final

Actual: $14.7m open, $44.6m current, ~$47m final

Almost spot on, here. It’s dropping too fast to actually hit the $50m mark.

What Happens in Vegas

Prediction: $12m open, $40m final

Actual: $20m open, $72m current, ~$80m final

Ultimately, it does answer the question. Ashton Kutcher does indeed have a fanbase, and this film performed almost exactly in line with his previous work.

Speed Racer

Prediction: $50m open, $140m final

Actual: $18.5m open, $42m current, ~$43m final

Ultimately, the weirdness and lack of retro-nostalgia can be chalked up as the reason this didn’t succeed. It’s a shame, because it’s not that bad of a movie, but I suppose the film is a bit too surreal and unworldy for mass audiences to grasp ahold of it. Perhaps it’ll find life on video and in several years will be a cult hit.

Prince Caspian

Prediction: $100m open, $310m final

Actual: $55m open, $125m current, ~$140m final

After the first film, this was regarded as a successor to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but with this film it’s clear that won’t be the case. Right now, I wonder if the plug has been pulled on Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The reasons for the failure can probably be identified in three ways. First, the recognition isn’t anywhere near as high as it was for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Second, Disney moved it from the prime family season of Christmas to the more traditional action-blockbuster ground of May. Third, attempts to spice up the action may have aliented the core Christian audience. The first and third probably weren’t huge issues. Had it been the same film but released in December, it would have seen a decline from LWW, but not at this level. Dropping half the business is astonishing.

I was far too bullish on it trending like a traditional sequel to a popular film.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Prediction: $90m open ($150m 5-day), $280m final

Actual: $100m open ($152m 5-day), $253m current, ~$300m final

It’s almost in line with my prediction. I nailed the 5-day, but I was assuming it would behave more traditionally for a well-anticipated film, with a larger percentage of the business coming on the opening Thursday (I expected $40m, it earned $25m.) The final is a bit up in the air, because the legs are unsure. It could remain fairly strong in the next few weekends, in which case it might challenge Iron Man for the summer crown, or it could fade quicker and finish with $290m or so. Regardless, it’s doing stunning business (and Paramount has to be happy with the business of the pair.)

Postal

I’m only mentioning it because I made a prediction with the expectation that it would get a release. As it stands, it showed up in four theaters and is going to be the lowest grossing Uwe Boll film by far. Oddly, it’s also his best reviewed film by a considerable margin.

Sex and the City

Prediction: $20m open, $70m final

Actual: $57m open, $99m current, ~$130m final

While my initial prediction was probably a bit too low at the time, the expectation for big business didn’t really kick in until the week or so previous to the release. Even so, the size of the opening was hugely unexpected. I doubt anyone figured that this film would get a larger opening day than Indiana Jones nor a bigger opening weekend than Prince Caspian but both turned out to be the case. The legs are going to be poor, because it suffers from the fan factor, but that’s not really an issue. This is going to be one of the biggest surprises of the summer.

The Strangers

Prediction: $8m open, $20m final

Actual: $21m open, $37m current, ~$60m final

On any other weekend, this would have been marked as the huge surprise and big news. However, it got completely overshadowed by Sex and the City, so the stellar performance here is probably going to be forgotten. In my personal defense, everyone probably missed this estimate. However, I can’t really excuse myself, because I just read a quick summary of the film and made a guess that it was torture porn. It’s not, apparently, instead going the route of being a psychological horror with slasher elements. What I should have done was watch the trailer, which is brilliant and creepy and actually makes the whole thing look pretty good.

Overall

While I expect May to have three stellar weekends, it’s not these three weekends. The first weekend and Memorial Day went down as predicted, but it’s the underperformance of Prince Caspian that shakes everything up.

The post-Memorial Day session can open big (Finding Nemo did that in 2003), but it’s usually reserved as a breathing weekend after the holiday. The fact that two films outpaced expectations this year might mean that it’ll be targetted for more counter-programming options in the future.

June’s already off to a rocking start, with openings from Kung Fu Panda and Zohan that beat my predictions. While the summer is still behind last year, it might be able to catch up. We’ll have to wait and see.

August Movie Predictor

As a box office month, there are two distinct parts of August. The first half can often be a continuation of a strong July, with a number of well-performing and high profile films. These won’t usually be on par with the releases in the first half of the season, but on occasion there will be some particular standouts. The Rush Hour series, Talledega Nights, The Bourne Ultimatum, Signs, and The Sixth Sense are all films that have done exemplary business after an early August start.

The latter half of the month is very much a summer dumping ground. Films that the studios feel don’t have enough presence or power to hang it in the rest of the season will get shuffled off to the final couple of weeks. (Films that aren’t deemed good enough for the final weeks of summer will get moved to early September, which is traditionally even worse.)

This feast or famine dichotomy is only broken in a few cases. Only five of the top thirty largest opening weekends in August have come after the second weekend. One of those came from last year’s Halloween, over the Labor Day weekend. Two others were late summer surprises from Judd Apatow – Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin.

So with the stage set, we look forward to 2008. Will it follow the pattern?

Weekend of August 1

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

In the 19 years since the last time Indiana Jones took to fighting his way through the nooks and crannies of human history, there have been a few attempts to capitalize upon the archeological adventure genre. Perhaps the earliest came in 1994 with Stargate, which started off Roland Emmerich’s directing career and also spun off a popular TV series. However, in that case the archeological elements played second fiddle to the sci-fi elements. More recently there have been the National Treasure films. Despite the implausibility of the plots and very America-centric themes, they’ve managed to capture the fun adventure of the Indy films.

In between the two were The Mummy films, which were very much in the theme of Indiana Jones, both with the time period and sometimes bumbling heroics. However, after the second film in 2001, attempts to get a stumbled time and again. 2002 saw a spin-off Scorpion King movie, which started The Rock’s film career.

Now, after seven years, we get the third film in the series. On one hand, it looks like a fun film, with Brendan Fraser filling his old shoes at least as well as before, Jet Li providing the titular Dragon Emperor, and Maria Bello taking over for Rachel Weisz. It’s well situated to be a big late summer movie, as it comes two weeks after The Dark Knight and doesn’t see another action/adventure contender for another two weeks. And Stephen Sommers (unseen behind the camera since Van Helsing) has passed on the director’s chair in favor of Rob Cohen (unseen since Stealth)–oh, wait, was I looking for positives?

Well, for all his faults, Cohen does a good action sequence, at least. Hopefully he won’t lose on the humor of the series.

The downside, though? It’s been seven years! And while they sold well, The Mummy films aren’t something that stands as a high point in cinematic history. It’s similar in tone, but it isn’t Indiana Jones, and I’m not sure if anyone was clamoring for another film (well, besides Brendan Fraser). Witness how well Rush Hour 3 did last year, and that was after a six year gap.

As a possible offset against that, they’re not billing it as a specific sequel. It’s got The Mummy name, but I wonder if they could just have gone with The Dragon Emperor instead.

Opening: $40m, Final: $130m

The Rocker

One of the strongest staples of the comedy genre is the man who refuses to grow up. A number of comedy giants such as Steve Martin or John Belushi can trace their movie roots to this. These characters will fall into a few somewhat distinct characters, whether it’s the perennial frat-boy (think Vince Vaughn), the Peter Pan (Robin Williams), or the idiot man-child . The last has been quite popular of late, with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and at least one character in any given Judd Apatow movie try to fill the shoes vacated by Jim Carrey and to a lesser Adam Sandler, who’s been drifting away from this role for the past few years.

The Rocker doesn’t start any of these people, but at first glance it seems like it could be an Apatow production. It’s got the mixture of slightly heartwarming family touches along with observing the humor of maturing and growing up. And it’s got one of Steve Carell’s co-stars from The Office in Rainn Wilson, who had a brilliant cameo spot in last year’s Juno. Wilson portrays a drummer who was ousted from a band in the 80s just before they hit it big. When he’s invited to perform with his nephew’s band at a Prom, he’s given a second chance at stardom. Hilarity ensues.

The film is directed by Peter Cattaneo, who managed to combine heartwarming with risque in The Full Monty. It doesn’t really have any standout names otherwise, so the success is largely going to come on the basis of the advertising. The initial trailer looks funny, but doesn’t quite have the Must See aspect that propelled last year’s Superbad to great heights. It’s also sandwiched between two much comedies.

Opening: $15, Final: $55m

Swing Vote

For all the flack he gets, Kevin Costner has put together a rather respectable career. Certainly, when compared to his big three movies from the early 90s (Dances with Wolves, Robin Hood, and The Bodyguard) it’s looked rather lackluster, but he’s managed to carve a niche out for himself as a mid-tier lead who can do just about anything. He’s managed to do action, romance, westerns, and thrillers with fairly equal success. Certainly he’s not breaking the bank, but you can probably pen him into opening a film to $10 million with a final total around $30 million. The occasional breakout could push him north of $50m.

And he’s cheap, so you can probably figure that any film he’s in won’t cost much more than $20m to make. But he’s often criticized and his films regarded as failures. Such is the legacy of Waterworld.

Swing Vote is a dramedy where through a bit of plot goldbergisms, Costner is an everman who ends up having the vote who will determine the next US President. Both candidates (Republican incumbent Kelsey Grammar and Democratic nominee Denis Hopper) descend to try and influence this improbably important single vote directly.

The release of the film is fairly topical, as most political movies (and especially any campaign-centered film) usually are. Most films of this sort tend to be a bit mercenary. Witness Robin Williams’ Man of the Year from 2006, for instance. Even when well done, political films tend to be a bit offputting. We go to films for escapism, and reminding us of reality doesn’t tend to sell. 1997’s Wag the Dog was a bit of spot-on commentary, but a bit too close to reality. The numerous failed Middle East war films of the past couple of years can also be attributed to this.

In its favor, Swing Vote doesn’t seem to be bending down that path. The focus is instead upon the everyman Costner. On one hand, we’ve got the focus on the hometown americans. On the other, there’s the fantasy of “What if a normal person could make some changes”.

Because of this, I don’t think it’s going to get quite the cold reception that most political films do. Few even get to the $40 million mark. The only in the past decade that’s even got that far was the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. Instead, I think it’s going to play a bit like 1993’s Dave.

Open: $10m, Final: $45m

Weekend of August 8

The Pineapple Express

The Apatow train keeps chugging along. after getting started with Anchorman in 2004, Apatow and crew hit it big in 2005 with The 40-Year old Virgin. A year later they knocked one out of the park with Talledega Nights. And then last year Apatow had the huge comedy tandem of Knocked Up and Superbad. This spring, he was also behind the modest hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The Pineapple Express sees Knocked Up star Seth Rogen taking the lead along with Spiderman’s James Franco. Rogen plays a stoner process server and Franco is his friendless dealer. When Rogen witnesses a murder by a crooked cop and a drug lord, the pair end up embroiled into the age-old comedy routine of buddies-on-the-run.

So we’ve got part stoner comedy, and part action-buddy comedy. In a sense, I think this is going to play a bit like an American version of an Edgar Wright film. The buddy element is a bit odd here because the vast majority of such films have the leads playing police officers or similar. Because of this, the film feels somewhat fresh, despite some standard conventions.

Both Apatow and Rogen are likely to hit more than they’ll miss. While they’ve had Walk Hard and Drillbit Taylor, respectively, the number of successes in their career lends a lot of strong support. Additionally, Rogen has gone from unknown to box-office boosting lead in the course of one summer.

Open: $30m, Final: $110m

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2

In truth, there’s one reason this film should stand out as notable. Last October, after Warner Bros. saw the absolute failure of The Invasion and the disappointing performance of The Brave One, production president Jeff Robinov declared that WB wouldn’t be making movies starring women any more.

He quickly backtracked on the statement (saying it wasn’t true, or he’d been misheard, or the context was misunderstood), but as expected there was a large furor over it. I sat down and scoured the schedule. Over the course of the next year, three films could be said to star women from the WB library (so through September 08.) The first two were P.S. I Love You and Fool’s Gold, blatantly labeled as romance films. The third is this one, a junior chick-lit adaptation with some romance elements but (as with its predecessor) a bit more focused on friendship and growing up.

The first film was a modest success three years ago, opening to just under $10m and finishing up with $39m. This is perfectly respectable for the teen girl market, but isn’t a breakout (witness The Princess Diaries). This summer sees a bit of a dearth of such films, however, which could help propel this one to somewhat larger heights.

Open: $10m, Final: $45m

Weekend of August 15

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

The Star Wars series stands as the epitomy of box office success, with the six films all registering among the biggest in their given years and bringing combined billions in revenue. Previous to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, fans were anticipating and awaiting two trilogies: the first the prequels that we did get and the latter to cover events that happened after Return of the Jedi. The somewhat let-down of the three recent films has dampened that enthusiasm somewhat, but the name and universe still has a lot of public appeal.

With the unknown final trilogy likely in permanent limbo, Lucasfilm has instead looked towards other endeavors, fleshing out the nooks and crannies of the universe in various ways. For the most part, video games, comics, and novels have been the typical venues for this expansion, but in 2003 a series of cartoon shorts began to fill in the storyline between Episodes II and III. Entitled “Clone Wars”, this series was created by Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack) and generated some rather strong acclaim, something that can’t really be said of Lucas’ own endeavors.

Fast forward to the present. Those TV shorts have become the basis of a new film that’s going to flesh out the storyline even more and then spin-off into a new TV series this fall. This time, it’s going to be done in some slick CG animation.

In a lot of ways, this could be very good. Lucas himself isn’t directly involved, so the people at work can probably keep things fresh and interesting. The visual style is a nice change of pace and could help keep the idea of Star Wars interesting. No mean feat when you consider the series is over thirty years old, now. The TV series itself seems to have a good premise with some episodes focused on smaller side characters and some that don’t feature much beyond the titular clones.

Of course, this is about the movie, and it feels a bit more stale. We’ve got an adventure quest featuring the typical Jedi heroes (including Anakin, as this comes before his Vader turn in Episode III). I can’t help but feel that the one thing Lucas really missed in the new trilogy that continues here is that the fun of Star Wars is in the scrappy rebels taking on improbable odds and succeeding, not in the hokey mysticism of the Jedi. Han Solo was an identifiable, flawed and enticing figure in a way that none of the newer characters have tried to match.

Plus, the first trailer for the film is extremely bland, perhaps one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It runs long, gives away much of the story, and has some groaningly awful taglines: “SEE STAR WARS LIKE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE”. It might have worked 20 years ago, but not any more.These things need to be snappy, grab the audience attention and leave them salivating for more. That’s what gets them into the theaters.

Opening: $45m, Final: $140m

Tropic Thunder

Except for The Clone Wars, the end of August seems to be the typical film dumping ground. So why is this possibly priming itself to being one of the most anticipated films of the summer?

Three words: Robert Downey, Jr.

Iron Man transformed Downey from a well regarded actor who’s the butt of many jokes for his off-screen foibles. It’s a career-changing role somewhat akin to Johnny Depp’s in Pirates of the Caribbean. And Paramount cannily attached a trailer of Tropic Thunder to Iron Man, starting off what I expect is a summer-long campaign to whet audience’s appetites.

The concept: an film director, irate with the egos of his actors ruining his Vietnam War epic sends them off for some training in the jungle where they end up embroiled in a real conflict. At just that it could probably be a passable but ultimately forgettable film.

However, Downey’s performance drives the concept over the top. He’s a well-regarded Australian actor who undertakes a surgery so he can play a black sergeant in the film. So driven is he to immerse himself in the role that he refuses to break character. Of course since he has no idea how to be black, he’s left with quoting lines from sitcoms.

The trailer is absolutely hilarious. Downey’s joined by Ben Stiller (as the action hero), and Jack Black (as the prop-joke comic actor), each filling their actor role to a T. And even if Stiller sometimes tickles the annoyance meter, he’s also behind the camera this time, and his last film from that end was the brilliant Zoolander. I expect Tropic Thunder to deliver accordingly.

The downside is that it plays at the end of summer. There’s a long road between now and then and while the first trailer is brilliant, they run the risk of over-exposing it. Also, the actors playing actors in a movie schtick could be a bit too meta and may turn audiences off.

But they should be fine if they keep selling Downey.

Open: $35m, Final: $110m

The International

Clive Owen as an interpol agent investigating corruption in global banking with Naomi Watts as his DA assistant. It’s directed by Tom Tykwar whos’ most known for Run Lola Run. None of the principles are box office draws, and given the release date, I don’t think that there’s any huge expectations for it.

Open: $10m, Final: $35m

Mirrors

A remake of a Korean horror film. While Asian horror remakes were a popular genre a few years ago, it’s become quite tired, and by now it’s very ho-hum. The Eye and Shutter, both earlier this year, failed to draw much. I don’t think Mirrors will do any better. Star Keifer Sutherland is big on TV, not in movies.

Open: $5m, Final: $15m

Weekend of August 22

The House Bunny

I swear someone wrote this script with Reese Witherspoon in mind: an Playboy Bunny is kicked out of the Mansion for being too old at 27. Directionless, she ends up a sorority house mother for a bunch of geeky girls and shows them how to be beautiful. Presumably there will be lessons learned about being true to oneself or somesuch.

Witherspoon has mostly moved on from these sorts of films thanks to her Oscar from Walk the Line. Instead we get Anna Faris, who’s talented but mostly known for the Scary Movie series.

This is unlikely to break out. The trailer has some fairly typical laughs as Faris plays a bubblehead who’s only got a few very specific skills. It’s also somewhat offensive; women don’t need to go the route of Playboy to be beautiful. Plus it’s got the typical Hollywood ugly going on: hot girls with their hair up and glasses, just a layer of rouge away from the red carpet.

Opening: $10m, Final: $30m

The Accidental Husband

A romantic comedy from fledgling distributor Yari Film Group (biggest film to date: The Illusionist). We’ve got Uma Thurman as a radio talk-show host who dispenses romance advice. Due to some internet shenanigans, she ends up married to a fireman (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) while she’s planning her own wedding to Colin Firth.

RomComs can sell very well, but they are somewhat subject to name recognition issues. For this film, there really aren’t any. Thurman is known, but her biggest films are all directed by Quentin Tarantino. With this she could be attempting to remake herself as a romantic lead, but it’s an iffy shot, especially coming from Yari.

Opening: $5m, Final: $20m

Death Race

Another year, another late summer Jason Statham film primed for the Labor Day weekend. He’s had a number of these over the past several years, somewhat setting himself up as the go-to action guy for what is typically the weakest holiday weekend of the year. Hey, if it works.

The biggest film he’s headlined was The Transporter 2 in 2005. Two years ago he had Crank, which proved to be an enjoyable action-fest and finished up with $27m. Last year’s WAR had him face off against Jet Li and saw $22m in business.

This time around he’s starring in a remake of Death Race 2000. It’s being directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, last seen behind the camera with Alian Vs. Predator. Like Statham, he’s carved out a lower-profile niche for himself.

Nothing great should be expected here, but it does have Statham behind the wheel of a car, which is a good sign (he also sat behind the wheel in The Italian Job, his biggest film).

Opening: $10m, Final: $25m

Crossing Over

This could be a powerful drama about immigrants attempting to achieve legal status in Los Angeles. It’s got some pedigree with Harrison Ford and Sean Penn, but I wonder about the quality if it’s got such a shitty release date.

Open: $5m, Final: $15m, but it could end up like Crash

Fly Me to the Moon

A Belgian CG animated film that’s apparently the first such feature entirely done in 3D. The only other notable thing about it is that Buzz Aldrin apparently provides a voice. Visually it looks fine, if a bit too strongly reminiscent of Pixar, but story-wise it looks entirely pedestrian and forgettable.

Open: $5m, Final: $10m

Weekend of August 29

Babylon A.D.

In 2000, Pitch Black set up Vin Diesel for a breakout. He successfully capitalized on it with 2001’s The Fast and the Furious and then followed it up with XXX in 2002. He seemed like he was primed to be the next big action star. However, A Man Apart failed to succeeded and The Chronicles of Riddick disappointed.

The Pacifier in 2005 seemed to indicate he might have a new career direction: family oriented action comedy. But since then he hasn’t appeared in anything. He was slated to star in Hitman, but opted instead to go for Babylon A.D., which seems like it could be a less cerebral Children of Men.

This isn’t likely to be a career revitalization. The film was hit by numerous production delays, went over-budget, and has seen its release bumped from February to late August, which isn’t a good sign. At best it may turn out to be a middling hit for Diesel, but is certainly a step down from his career heights.

Open: $20m, Final: $45m

College

On the cusp of going back to school, a low-brow comedy about a group of high schoolers who take a weekend trip to see what college is like. While it’d probably like to be another Road Trip, it doesn’t even have the name recognition of Tom Green to drive it. Perhaps Accepted would be a better target, but it doesn’t have a cute concept or a good trailer. So it’s left with Eurotrip. Not really great company.

Open: $8m, Final: $15m

Traitor

Don Cheadle is awesome. Guy Pearce is pretty cool. This film may be critically good, but it’s not going to go anywhere.  It may not even get a wide release.

Open: $2m, Final: $5m

Disaster Movie

This is another effort by the same guys who brought us Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans. Spoof films have been experiencing diminishing returns of late, as audiences come to realize that they’re not very funny or good. Given that the budget for any of these seems to be about $20-$30m, we’re probably not long from the tipping point where it’s no longer viable to make them.

Open: $5m, Final: $10m

Overall

We’re probably not going to see much that breaks the typical August pattern. The early films will be fairly big, while the late ones are the dregs that get shoved off to the side. If anything breaks out and surprises, it’s likely to be Tropic Thunder.

After each month, I’ll look into writing up a recap of how things did in comparison to my predictions.