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.

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.

July Movie Predictor

Weekend of July 4

Hancock
On a personal note, this has been my most anticipated film of the summer for some time. It represents something I rather like: an attempt to establish a superhero outside of a comics continuity and consciousness. For other examples, see The Incredibles and the TV series Heroes.

What’s important with these is that they tap into the core strength of the superhero genre without relying on the extensive, and often muddy and conflicting, backstory. The success of these tends to support the fact that well-done superhero stories don’t need either the public consciousness nor the print media to succeed. While the former is helpful (invariably, the more well-known the hero is the better the movie is going to perform, regardless of quality), the latter might actually be a detriment. Arguably the success of Spider-Man, X-Men, and Iron Man is due to the filmmakers stripping out as much of the excess and detritus to have the films focus on the core aspects of the characters.

The Incredibles showcased how well this works. We don’t need to know the full history of the supers. It’s hinted at and shown, but a lexicon isn’t necessary. Thus, the story can instead focus on the plot and character development rather than the minutia.

Hancock is another such attempt, so I’m excited. Plus, it stars Will Smith, who’s just about the most consistent actor working today. He’s had an interesting movie career which can be broken into a few different sections, but in almost all of them, he’s been a rousing success. What’s really interesting is that Hancock seems to be a meshing of the formula of his early success (big budget July 4th event films) with his recent success (intelligent films with broad appeal). While he might not ever get back to the heights that Independence Day reached in 1996, he is coming off the second biggest unadjusted film of his career in I Am Legend. Considering that the film was basically him and nothing else, that’s quite an achievement.

Hancock’s got a neat premise, cushy release date, and the biggest star in Hollywood.

Opening: $70m, Final: $230m

Weekend of July 11

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Another interesting superhero film. The first Hellboy is one of the top film adaptations of a comic book. Guillermo del Toro is an excellent director who manages to get across the core strengths of the characters as well as an ability to deliver strong spectacle on a budget. Blade II is easily the best film of that trilogy, and there’s a reason he’s been tapped to do the Hobbit films.

Of course, while Hellboy is excellent, it’s not a big film. Made for $66m, it didn’t even gross $100m worldwide, which would normally forego any chances of a sequel. But it’s probably apparent that it’s lack of success wasn’t due to quality but rather that nobody fucking knows who Hellboy is. I’ve been reading comics for over 20 years, and I didn’t actually read a Hellboy book until late last year. Public consciousness drives some of the success for these figures, and there isn’t any here.

Of course, the quality of the first film, along with a fairly effective (if a bit pedestrian) trailer should help Hellboy II do better. I don’t think we’re in for a spectacular ride, but it should be yet another solid outing from del Toro.

Opening: $30m, Final: $75m

Meet Dave
Eddie Murphy’s career has been a roller coaster. In the 80s, he had a series of successful films that put him among the most successful actors of the decade. The early 90s saw him made a number of poor choices and it seemed like his career was all but over.

Then came The Nutty Professor in 1996 and for a couple years he was hot like the 80s, although his target audience had dropped a good decade or two in age.

He followed that up with a cold spell for two years, and then a small but huge resurgence in 2000 and 2001, centered on the release of Shrek. Not content to rest on his successful laurels, he had three outright bombs in 2002.

For any other actor, three sustained poor periods would probably be a deathknell, but in 2003, Murphy started another strong period with Daddy Day Care, which hasn’t really ended.

The quality of most of his films isn’t there, with offerings like Daddy Day Care and Norbit being derided by almost everyone. Even the Shrek sequels have been denigrated. But Murphy’s shown that he’s a consistent draw, if a bit juvenile, and he did manage to squeeze in a critically acclaimed performance in Dreamgirls.

So where does this leave Meet Dave. From the trailer, it looks like the typical fare that Murphy’s delivered over the past five years. Pedestrian, juvenile, and funny in a lowest-common-denominator way. Whether or not it succeeds will probably depend on whether it’s forgettably funny or offensive to the viewer.

I’m inclined to think that he might be headed for another career downturn, but he’s got plenty of staying power and could be back in short order.

Opening: $25m, Final: $70m

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Walden Media is a troublesome company. While there’s the obvious high point (The Chronicles of Narnia), and a string of other moderately successful book adaptations (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Waterhorse, Nim’s Island), most of the company’s output has been in the range of disappointing (Charlotte’s Web) or an absolute bomb (Hoot, How to Eat Fried Worms, The Seeker, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium).

In fact, besides Narnia, there’s really only two standout successes: Holes in 2003, and Bridge to Terabithia in 2007. Were it not for CS Lewis, I’d honestly be surprised if we’d even see anything from the company right now.

This time around, I think we’re looking at another bomb. See, Journey to the Center of the Earth bears a lot of similarity to the worst mark on Walden’s record: Around the World in 80 Days. Like that it’s an effects driven film based on a Jules Verne novel that is squarely focused on the family-friendly bracket.

It also doesn’t look very good. This can probably look at slightly better business than Around the World, but certainly nothing to be proud of.

Opening, $15m, Final: $40m

Weekend of July 18

The Dark Knight
Like Hellboy, this is the sequel to a well-done comic book film, helmed by a director noted for the quality of his craft and ability to evoke depth in the characters and keeping the narrative gripping. Unlike Hellboy, this has name recognition to spur it to greater heights.

Batman Begins was a phenomenal film. Lifting the Batman franchise back to new heights, it also established itself as a new bar to measure the introductory film for a superhero. However, it was somewhat crippled by the WB marketing engine, lack of recognizable enemies, and the fact that the sour taste of Joel Schumacher hadn’t quite left the public consciousness.

Three years later, Batman’s probably going to stand on his own. Plus, he’s got his most recognizable villain in the Joker to face off against, looking especially psychotic and absolutely gripping as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger. Gone is the 60s-esque tomfoolery of Jack Nicholson, this is a Joker that rides on fear, not laughs.

Early concerns about the script have been washed away by the advertising, which is uncharacteristically strong for a WB film. The first trailer made it look like an enticing continuation of the previous, but the new one in front of Iron Man catapults it beyond. Like Spiderman and the X-men, it seems as if the second Batman film is going to be in a league of its own, quality-wise.

Opening: $85m, Final: $270m

Mamma Mia!
Thanks largely to the modest success of Moulin Rouge! in 2001, musicals have had a bit of a comeback this decade. Chicago in 2002 can be pointed as the ideal goal: excellent business and critical acclaim.

Of course, the success hasn’t always been coming. The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers were, like Chicago, adaptations of Broadway musicals with similarly high aspirations. However, they didn’t garner either the box office success of the movie predecessors or their own live performance counterparts.

Even Dreamgirls (an original production, but the clearest spiritual successor to Chicago) failed to live up to hype and expectations. It seemed like the genre was taking its steps towards obscurity again.

Then Hairspray hit. Possibly the biggest surprise success of last summer, it managed to ride that often-ignored demographic-the teenage girl-to astounding success. Even the frankly weird and a bit offputting John Travolta in drag couldn’t hamper it.

Mamma Mia! seems like it’s well situated to take up the baton and run with it. It’s got a bunch of catchy tunes (from ABBA, possibly the greatest producers of pop of all time), easy to grasp and upbeat plot, and practically the same release date. If nothing else, it’s a brilliantly placed bit of counter-programming against Batman.

But wait. It lacks one thing that Hairspray had: teenagers. The plot centers around a wedding and a bride-to-be with three possible fathers, which skews a bit older than Hairspray’s crowd. Even so, I think it’ll see a fair bit of success, even if not quite at those heights.

Opening: $25m, Final: $80m

Space Chimps
In the realm of computer animated films, there are two groups: the high budget, high performance options from Dreamworks, Pixar, and Blue Sky Studios and just about everything else.

Space Chimps falls into the second group. It might be good, or at least enjoyable, but it’s not going to be big. Patrick Warburton likely has yet another fun role to add to his resume, but it’s not a breakout.

Opening: $10m, Final: $35m

Weekend of July 25

Step Brothers
Since 2003, Will Ferrell has been struggling under the auspice of being the next huge comedy star as the true successor of Jim Carrey. In that year, he stole the show in Old School and then followed it up with the monster hit Elf, both of which established him as a go-to guy to play idiot man-children.

Since then he’s mostly failed to capitalize. Anchorman in 2004 was well received, but Steve Carell upstaged him in a big way. 2005 brought Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched, neither of which satisfied or delivered. In 2006, he provided his voice to the underperforming Curious George, but also headlined Talledega Nights, which finally made it seem like he was delivering on his potential. He seemed like he was on a roll with Blades of Glory last March, but just this year he crashed hard with Semi-Pro.

And now we’re at Step Brothers. The initial signs seem good for the film. It bears some similarity to Talledega Nights. Like that film, Ferrell co-wrote the script with director Adam McKay. Also, he has costar John C. Reilly and a similar release date.

The initial trailer showcases Ferrell’s strength, with both him and Reilly playing immature middle-aged men. And despite both of them skeweing heavily idiotic (they both live with their parents, who get married, hence the step brother scenario), the roles don’t feel annoying and excessive, which may have been the damning point for Semi Pro.

Opening: $35, Final: $115.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Ten years after the first theatrical film, and six years since the end of the TV series, Agents Mulder and Scully return for another adventure. Unlike the previous movie, this one stands alone from the mythos of the series, instead following the monster-of-the-week formula used in some episodes. In effect, it’s an extra long episode, six years after the fact.

The first film did quite well, opening to $30m and finishing with $84m. It did even better overseas, earning $105m. And this isn’t an attempt to just cash in on the name. Stars Duchovny and Anderson are back, as is series creator Chris Carter, this time in the director’s chair. If nothing else, it should be a faithful extension of the original series, likely to please the fans and with potential to drag in some new ones.

However, I wonder about the timing. Fans of the series certainly still exist, but in the intervening time, they’ve likely moved onto other things. Lost, for example. And it hasn’t been so long that nostalgia for the series has set in.

On the other hand, it could be well primed to take that genre fansbase and expand it. I doubt anyone involved expects huge things, but if the film has quality and manages to deliver some positive response, it could re-establish the series for the big screen.

Or it could be another Serenity.

Opening: $25m, Final: $65m.

American Teen
So, take your prototypical high school movie, focusing on senior year. Showcase a slice from all the cliques as these students struggle with the end of their school lives and look forward to moving on and up in the world.

Fairly typical fare, right?

Except this time it’s a Sundance Award winning documentary.

I really have no idea what to expect from this film, but it’s getting a wide release, which is usually reserved for Michael Moore… and penguins.

Opening: $3m, Final: $10m, but it could take off, too.

Overall
While the two huge films should dominate over the month, it’s there’s a number of potentially solid releases. Certainly unlike May, studios are more willing to cram films into the theaters, even against hefty competition like Batman.

August predictions will likely have to wait another month or so. It’s getting to be difficult to find any trailers. I predict The Mummy 3 will have its first in front of Indiana Jones.

Technicolor Cotton Candy

My expectations for Speed Racer were understandably low. This was, after all, a directorial effort by the Wachowski brothers, who’d managed one of the bigger surprise blockbusters in 1999 with The Matrix, but managed to spin that into one of the most soul-deadening sequels of all time in 2003. (Actually, two soul-deadening sequels, but the second was so bad I still haven’t seen the third all the way through.)

However, I had to acknowledge that they do have a certain visual flair. And while not strictly behind the camera, they’d helped put together the enjoyable V for Vendetta adaptation.

The visual flair was readily apparent from the trailers. They had amped up the visuals to a stunning degree with colors just popping out all over the place in the more-than-real sense of high dynamic range photography. On multiple occasions after the first trailer came out, I had a friend describe it as watching a live-action Mario Kart race.

In this sense, the film delivers. The visuals are spot-on throughout. However, I’d have to disagree with my friends. This isn’t Mario Kart, but instead another Nintendo franchise: F-Zero. The cars are not little buggies with weapons, but overpowered machines on gravity-defying tracks where only the slightest loss of control spells the (near) doom of the driver.

That sense barely restrained power is pushed further because these are not just straight muscle races. The cars collide, drift, and skid around the tracks in the sense of a stunt-induced stock car race, but also twist and jump thanks to otherworldly add-ons. Physics, indeed reality itself, is put on hold in an almost loving attachment for the ridiculousness of the original anime.

This is perhaps the greatest strength of the film. The Wachowskis seemed to realize that what they were trying to portray would only be ruined if they attempted to make it realistic. Instead, this might be one of the purest attempts to create a presentational world, that bears little connection to our own, in live-action film. In a sense, it’s like they tapped into the psyches of Spike Jonze and Michael Gondry although without stating that what is happening is all in someone’s mind.

To achieve this, they’ve made this new reality futuristic, certainly, but tied strictly to the style and sense of the 50s and 60s era that begat the original. Hence the bright vibrant colors, of course, but a number of smaller details stand out. The characters themselves all look like they’ve been plucked from a bygone era, perhaps typified most by Susan Sarandon’s flip haircut. The Racer household even more emphasizes this nostalgia, with the wallpaper, furnishings, and even the basic layout looking like it belongs in late 1950s suburbia.

The musical score by Michael Giacchino is an interesting and positive addition to support the overall tone. It samples heavily from the classic anime soundtrack, but rather than taking the sound and modernizing it, the sound is rather made to create that 60s-era sensibility. Giacchino jumped back several decades, spurning techno or rock updates and even choosing to skip on the John Williams-esque orchestrations from the 70s. The score sounds like it might have come from the mind of Hugo Montenegro, and it works perfectly.

The result is a film that, short of 3-D, might be the most likely to jump out at the screen. The races are enjoyable and exciting and linked by slower scenes that at their core show appreciation and nostalgia for the mid-century American family unit.

It’s not perfect, however. At times the race action gets too active and confusing, much the way last year’s Transformers did. At times it would have been beneficial for the Wachowskis to slow things down a bit so we can get drawn into the action more. Rather than sitting on the sidelines with the family, we’d prefer to be behind the wheel with Speed. While we are the movies audience, it doesn’t make sense to also make us spectators to the races themselves.

And despite the excitement in the video game sense, there is a bit of predisposition to the races. We’re never really left with the sense that Speed or Racer X are in any real danger. The one time Speed does lose is first foreshadowed (or predicted), but the action event itself happens off-screen. This makes it more difficult to connect and again creates the sense that we’re not being invited to fully enjoy the world that’s been created.

The film has other problems. The writing is uneven and overly long, which probably makes the entire picture about 15-20 minutes too long. This is really a shame, because the first race sequence manages to fairly successfully blend a somewhat involved and complex backstory into the present action, a rather nifty cinematic trick. After that, the plot proceeds in a fairly pedestrian manner. I can’t help but think how much better it would have worked if they had tried to increase the information density along with the visual density.

Also, the acting is rather bad. Emile Hirsch is a passable Speed, but in truth it probably could have been any young actor behind the wheel. Christina Ricci is an enjoyable Trixie, showing sass and independence, and looks wonderfully alluring, but this isn’t stretching her acting chops any. Roger Allam is an enjoyable bad guy, but he’s also overacting enough to evoke Alan Rickman from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I believel Allam would have eaten all the scenery, if it actually existed. And then there’s Matthew Fox as Racer X, who looks and sounds completely wooden throughout. Apparently Keanu Reeves turned down the part; The Wachowskis must have told Fox to just be like Keanu.

Still, I’m left somewhat surprised that the good outweighs the bad for the film. It’s not great by any stretch, and I’m not sure if I’d ever want or need to see it again, but it’s an enjoyable two hours, and given the visual feast, I can’t say that the time or money spent on the IMAX experience was wasted.

It’s a shame, really, that in the weeks leading into the release, the reception started to tank. The blame can probably be laid at the hands of WB’s ever-vigilent marketing department. Few companies are so good at turning potentially strong products into mediocre-at-best performers. Because of that, we’ll probably not see another attempt like this for quite some time. And while the Wachowskis may not have fully succeeded in making a good film, they did succeed in doing something quite different and doing it well. If this had been successful, perhaps we’d be in for a real treat: a fully presentational film that’s visually stunning and good cinema.

June Movie Predictor

The course of the summer movie season tends to follow a fairly standard pattern. Or at least, that’s what the movie studios attempt to do. May is the place to showcase a few huge films, possibly with a smaller number of counter-programming options. After Memorial Day, things will tend to lighten up, so that early June is relatively light. Over the subsequent weeks, the films will build, culminating around early July. A few weeks later, things will begin to tail off again until you get to late August, when it’s hardly the same season.

The May films followed the typical pattern. There’s a couple huge sequels, another couple large budget endeavors (that hopefully spawn sequels) and a few counter-programming options.

June (and the last weekend in may) starts of comparatively light, but the end of the month could go toe-to-toe with any of the big May films.

Weekend of June 6

Kung Fu Panda
Dreamworks has built itself to be the solid animation alternative. Sure, none of their films compare to Pixar’s in quality, but they do make money, especially Shrek. But it’s not all the green ogre, as Madegascar, Shark Tale, and Over the Hedge all cruised past $150m.

Kung Fu Panda could get into that range. Jack Black’s not exactly a huge draw, but despite Dreamworks’ efforts, the actors behind the roles really do not matter. The advertising is fairly cute, even if the use of “Kung Fu Fighting” is extremely tired.

We’re not seeing much of the plot, but given DW’s track record, it’s probably enjoyable, but not spectacular, opting instead for a number of pop-cultural references and sight gags rather than a developing plot and humor from the character development.

We’re probably not going to see stellar numbers, but it should do well enough.

Opening: $40m, Final: $135m

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Adam Sandler’s become one of the most consistent stars in Hollywood. Over the past ten years, he’s seen eight films cross the century mark, and this one should make it nine.

Whether or not the films are good doesn’t really matter. He provides a consistent product that the audiences enjoy, his characters are a bit bumbling, a bit loony, and possibly just shy of psychotic, while still being somewhat relatable.

This time around, he’s teamed up with Judd Apatow (who’s also got a bit of a golden touch for comedy of late) to deliver the tale of a Mossad agent who’s tired of allt he counter-terrorism and moves to New York to be a hairdresser. Hilarity ensues.

It’s really a bit of a toss-up between this film and Panda for which will be bigger, I’m inclined to think that this will actually be better, but the kids will drive the other a bit further.

Opening: $35, Final: $125

Weekend of June 13

The Incredible Hulk
The first Hulk film delivered the biggest (at the time) June opening in history. Unfortunately, it delivered little else, leaving critics and audiences alike somewhat bewildered and detached. As such, it fell spectacularly and barely earned again what it had in those first three days.

Even so, it didn’t lose money, and Universal decided to give it another go. Rather than a sequel, they’re trying to jump-start a series again. We’ll find out if you do get a second chance for first impressions. The film sports an all new cast, an all new director, and an all new approach to portraying the big green.

The most recent trailer, which aired in front of Iron Man, looks spectacular. It’s miles ahead of the earlier trailer, which made the oft-repeated mistake of showing us the entire film. This new one is an improvement, but it’s fighting a lot of negative baggage. If the film is going to over come that, it’ll have to be good. Perhaps not Iron Man good, but certainly at least as accessible as the first X-Men film.

Opening: $40, Final: $115

The Happening
Speaking of damaged goods, we’ve also got the latest offering from M. Night Shyamalan. Like his previous films, we’re probably in for a fair amount of creepy atmosphere and a twist ending that’s likely to be divisive.

The real question here is whether M. Night can bounce back from Lady in the Water and The Village. The quality of his direction isn’t in doubt. But his writing has become a big question mark. If The Happening can recover his bleeding fanbase, it speaks well for his career. If not, well, he may not have many chances.

In The Happening’s favor, it’s cheap (just $57m to make), and it looks pretty good. On the downside, the title is really, really dumb.

Opening: $25, Final: $70

Weekend of June 20

Get Smart
The reason why Hollywood keeps remaking old TV shows as movies is obvious. Nostalgia is a powerful market force. Anyone who’s grown up with a show is likely to wish for one more adventure. Obviously, over time it becomes impossible to recapture the sense of the original show exactly, so there is a greater or lesser degree of revision involved.

The downside is that most of these adaptations suck. A few (Mission Impossible, The Fugitive, Maverick) stand out as enjoyable and well-made on their own. The majority are terrible and audiences quite justifiably stay away.

In its favor, Steve Carell is the perfect casting choice. He’s not a huge draw, but has soem quiet consistency. The 40 Year Old Virgin did considerably better than expectation and he stood out among the whole cast in Anchorman. He’s provided his voice to two animated features (Horton Hears a Who! and Over the Hedge). And he’s shown some indie dramady cred with Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life.

The downside? Evan Almighty was one of the bigger disappointments last sumer, and it hit on the same weekend. Sure, it barely crossed $100m, but it’s not likely to be a resume highlight for Carell or anyone involved.

Where Get Smart ends up will likely depend on its quality. I’d like to say that the cast (besides Carell there’s the talented Anne Hathaway and the always enjoyable Rock) would help it, but I’m hesitant to call anyone here a huge draw.

Opening: $30, Final: $80 (with the opportunity to be surprised if it breaks out)

The Love Guru
In 1999, there was an alleged bet between Adam Sandler and Mike Myers over whose film would be bigger. Sandler had just seen his breakout year in 1998, with The Wedding Singer doing surprisingly strong business in the early months and The Waterboy cleaning up in the holidays. Myers hadn’t had a big hit since Wayne’s World in 1992, but Austin Powers did better than expected in 1997.

So the question was would Big Daddy (opening June 25) be bigger than Austin Powers 2 (opening June 11). At the time, Sandler probaby figured he had a good chance of winning and he would go to see the biggest film of his career. But thanks largely to a brilliant trailer before The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers 2 won by an easy $40 million.

I wonder if they’d make the same bet again this year. While arguably Myers has been the bigger star since then, he’s only been in six films. Three of them are the Shrek films, huge and ‘starring’ him, but not really sold by him. One was the third Austin Powers film, even bigger than the second but also six years old. One was the low-performing ensemble comedy View from the Top. An the final was the atrocious Cat in the Hat film, back in 2003.

Myers hasn’t starred in a live action film in over 4 years. I’m not sure he’s much of a draw at all. From the trailer, it looks like entirely typical Myers fare: he’s got an odd accent and plays a smarmy idiot.

Plus, it’s opening against another comedy, which has actors people still recognize, looks better, and actually has trailers that people can see.

If Sandler is looking to bet again, Myers would be wise to stay clear.

Opening: $30m, Final: $70m

Weekend of June 27

Wall-E
Is Pixar losing its touch?

Now, it’s seen six straight films gross over $200m. But since it’s high point of Finding Nemo in 2003, it’s seen steadily dropping grosses. Two years ago, Cars didn’t get the typically ecstatic critical response (settling for merely very good as opposed to outstanding) and felt like the weakest link in the studio’s oeuvre. Last year’s Ratatoille barely crossed the $200m threshold despite arguably being the company’s best film

So what about Wall-E. Will it continue the company’s rather steller direction? Will it see a further drop-off from Ratatoille? Or will it be a return to form?

I’m inclined to be bullish on Wall-E. While Ratatoille was spectacular, it suffered from a few problems: First, it’s about rats, not really a strong audience draw. Second, it was set in France, which tends to be denigrated by Americans at the best of times, and has been somewhat despised over the past several years. Third, the scope of the story was quite a bit smaller than previous Pixar films; there wasn’t nearly as much wow factor for it.

Wall-E managed to step around all three of those quite nicely. It’s about a robot who doesn’t have any nationality and he goes on an adventure in space. Plus, it looks brilliantly funny. Director Andrew Stanton delivered a home-run with Finding Nemo, so Wall-E is in good hands.

Opening: $75m, Final: $290m

Wanted
Truth be told, I wasn’t looking forward to this film until about a month ago. I’d tried to read Mark Millar’s series, but it was very typically Millar: full of unlikable protagonists with fascist ideologies. In The Authority it was interesting, in The Ultimates it was funny. Now it’s just a massive amount of treading over the same territory.

But then I found out about a name that means a lot more to me than Millar’s: Timur Bekmambetov. The director delivered one of the most enjoyable action films I’ve seen this decade in Night Watch.

And then I saw the trailer, which makes Wanted look like a slick and fun, if shallow, ride. Bekmambetov’s flair for action is playing well, and it should be quite a ride even if it’s ridiculous.

For the cast, the only real draw is Angelina Jolie, who’s had an uneven career. While she’s had some shining action films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, she’s also done poorly with Sky Captain and Beowulf. More often than not, she’s not so much the draw herself as along for the ride.

Regardless, the expectations for the film should be fairly modest. It’s a comic book property, but it’s definitely lower tier than anything from Marvel or DC. It’s closer to V for Vendetta, Sin City, or Constantine than Batman or the X-Men. Of course, it does have a fairly comfortable summer slot, while those previous films were more likely to show up in the winter months.

Opening: $35, Final: $90

Overall
Last June was a bit of an odd month, with the expected strong performers (Ratatoille, Evan Almighty) not quite hitting par and some under the radar films (Knocked Up, 1408) doing quite well for themselves. Even the films that hit it about right (Ocean’s Thirteen, FF: Silver Surfer), did well in their openings, but lost ground rapidly.

I think this year is an overall stronger crop. There’s top tier films look a little stronger than last years, so the bulk of the lifting isn’t going to fall to the lower-tier products.

May Movie Predictor

It’s summer, so yet again, I dust off my predictor hat and make a guess for what the big films are going to do, business-wise. Last year, I made a long list of bold predictions here. Some of them are fairly close to reality (Knocked Up’s opening, for instance), some are laughably off course (Transformers, anyone?) I didn’t make such a post in 2006, but I did predict that Hulk never would have a sequel here, which I suppose is both true and false at the same time. This year, I’m hoping I’ll guess a bit better, but I don’t hold out hope.

Regardless, for your enjoyment and mine, my movie previews. I’m going to break it up into months. It’s a bit much to try and write the whole summer in one go.

Weekend of May 2

Iron Man
I’m conflicted about Marvel’s latest cinematic foray. Sure, it looks good. Robert Downey Jr. seems to have Tony Stark down perfectly. The visuals look awesome. And they seem like they’ve got the story down.

But, really, can the actual film be better than this trailer? Just look at it, you’ve got the story, the humor, the character… And then at the end, the pitch-perfect use of Black Sabbath. It’s just five chords, but it totally sells the film, and encapsulates a little 2 minute masterpiece of advertising.

That basically sells the film, though. It’s also got one of the prime weekends of the year and the still strong Marvel branding.

Still, I’ve got some reservations. The follow-up ads haven’t been nearly as strong. And Iron Man isn’t nearly the top-tier character that Spider-Man and the X-Men are. Hell, he’s not even as recognizable as the Hulk. Plus, while the trailers look good, it makes the film look really dense, like they’re trying to cram too much story into it. We don’t want another Spider-Man 3, after all.

Plus, the Iron Man in the film is all but a different entity than the Iron Man in the comics, where Tony Stark has become a neo-conservative fascist overlord. And in a non-ironic way: he’s being pitched as the top tier hero in Marvel’s line-up.

Granted, that will really only be a problem if someone wants to read the books after the film. For the opening, at least, it doesn’t make a difference.

Opening: $80m. Final: $220m.

Made of Honor
A fairly good looking romantic comedy that’s being served up as counter-programming for anyone seeking a little less testosterone. It looks funny, but isn’t likely to make any headlines.

Opening: $15m. Final: $50m.

Weekend of May 9

Speed Racer
This might be the most visually astonishing film of the summer. It’s like a high dynamic range photograph come to life in full Vegas splendor. And then there’s the action. A number of my friends mentioned how Mario Kart-like it was from the time they saw the first trailer.

If nothing else, the Wachowski Brothers are know for their spectacle. Despite the wooden delivery of Keanu Reeves, The Matrix was a breakout blockbuster, and still the biggest film ever that opened in April (aka, Hollywood’s litter box). And even if the sequels disappointed from just about every other standpoint, they mostly looked really good.

Speed Racer looks even better. It’s also got a bit of retro-nostalgia, although that might be about 5-10 years too late. Even so, it’s a recognized brand, possibly with in even greater public knowledge than Iron Man.

On the downside, it’s a bit weird, when you think about it. The cartoon is 40 years old. It’s also the first time an anime has been chosen for the big screen treatment in the US (despite fits and starts on a number of other projects over the past 15-20 years). There are a lot of questions as to whether there’s any crossover appeal in store.

Plus, while it looks visually spectacular, some of the lines uttered in the trailer make Keanu look like Alec Baldwin. Racer X looks especially bad, so we might be in store for another effects driven action-fest with laughably bad acting.

Even so, while it’s not as high profile as the other May releases, it should do fairly well.

Opening: $50m, Final: $140m.

What Happens in Vegas
The big question here is… does Ashton Kutcher have a fanbase? Since he’s taken the turn away from being a TV doofus to focus on movies, he’s done fairly well for himself. The Butterfly Effect, Guess Who, Open Season, and The Guardian all opened between $15m and $25m and had final tallies between $50m and $90m. Of course, he hasn’t headlined a film since the last two were released in September of ’06, over 18 months ago.

Cameron Diaz has had a fairly successful movie career, but that’s less due to her pull and more that she’s been involved in some fairly high-profile releases.

On the whole it doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look great, either. Plus, two rom-coms in successive weeks as counterprogramming seems a bit excessive.

Opening: $12, Final: $45.

Weekend of May 16

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
2005 was a weird year at the box office. It made news in mid-summer when someone noted how long it had been down compared to 2004. Even with the stellar performance of Revenge of the Sith, it wasn’t until the release of Fantastic Four that there was a year to year increase on the weekend for the summer.

While overall the year was a downer, there were some bright spots: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Wedding Crashers all provided some bright lift in June and July.

During the Holidays, while King Kong floundered a bit, especially to expectations, there were two huge films: Harry Potter 4 was the biggest since the Sorcerers Stone, and Narnia broke out in a huge way in December.

Despite some very uneven special effects, it managed to force its nearly to the $300m mark by remaining mostly fun and enjoyable throughout. It was certainly more entertaining than reading the book.

Prince Caspian looks like they’ve dispensed with the problems and amped up the action to really make it feel like a fantasy epic on par with Lord of the Rings. It should bring in the people just wanting a huge experience with ease. And it’s got the other big factor in its favor: Christianity.

As Passion of the Christ showed, the Christian market can be huge. If given the right incentive, it will mobilize to drive a film to astonishing heights. The Narnia films have that in spades. Combining that with the enjoyable experience of the first probably means it’s going to be even bigger.

Opening: $100, Final: $310.

Weekend of May 23

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
While I expect Narnia to be the biggest film of the summer, this is by far the most anticipated. The first three Indy films stand as one of the great adventure trilogies and, at least in quality, stand up very well to the original Star Wars films.

While the road it’s taken getting to the screen, 19 years since The Last Crusade, has been long and fitful, it almost seems as if George Lucas’ extremely picky nature regarding the film has paid off. The trailer looks great, combining the self-depricating heroism with the pulp adventure perfectly.

And, really, who the hell can resist that musical theme?

The downside is the weekend. While it’s always huge, Memorial Day still strikes me as a poor weekend to release a film given the extreme drop that any film, regardless of quality, experiences afterwards.

However, expect it to open huge.

Opening: $90m (three day, $150m five day), Final: $280m.

Postal
Uwe Boll has made a career of constructing adaptations of video games that are terrible. He’s well denigrated by movie aficionados and gamers alike. It’d be sad, except I’m pretty sure he’s just doing it as a tax break for German companies. I honestly doubt any of his films have lost any money.

He’s taking a bit of a turn here. Instead of the typical so-bad-it’s-no-longer-even-funny fare he’s churned out, he seems to have gone with hey-let’s-make-it-bad-and-funny.

I have to acknowledge that it does look bad. But it also looks funny. It could be worth a watch once it’s been sitting on the DVD shelves for a few months and you can find it for a couple bucks.

Not that it matters. Boll’s name alone ruins the box office potential. The fact it’s going up against Indy is suicide.

Opening: $2m, Final $5m.

Weekend of May 30

Sex and the City
It’s taking the spot of last year’s phenomenal performer Knocked Up, and it’s got a strong brand, but I don’t predict a rosy future for Sarah Jessica Parker and friends. For one, there’s no Judd Apatow behind the scenes, which would help the crossover appeal for a rom-com tremendously.

The TV series is really successful, but that’s never meant a big response in the theaters. Still, there’s two blank weekends for this market beforehand, and it’s possible that neither Made of Honor nor What Happens in Vegas will really drag in the audiences. Between that and possible event overload, crowds may really want to go for something different after Memorial Day.

Opening: $20m, Final: $70m.

The Strangers
Bleh. Torture Porn. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are not draws, either.

Opening: $8m, Final: $20m.

Overall
It’s going to be a disappointing May. Not really, but last year was so huge that even with all the threequels not performing up to hype or expectation, it drove the box office to spectacular heights. The films this May are strong, but none are on the level with last year, business-wise.