This is a bit later than expected. I’ve been working up a video game review that’s lasted quite a bit longer than expected.
October’s one of those middling months. It isn’t a dumping ground, but also doesn’t see the really high profile releases that you get in the Summer or Holiday seasons. In recent years, it’s fallen behind February and March in terms of bigger films, but it’s still prone to having some breakouts. It hasn’t had a $200m earner, but crossing the $100m mark isn’t too rare.
Of course, the big thing about October is Halloween. While it’s not a dumping ground, per se, for the last two or three weekends of the month (depending on the calendar) horror films abound. This year promises to be no different, including the now annual Lionsgate profit generator.
Weekend of October 3
An American Carol
The latest effort from comedy director David Zucker pokes fun at Micheal Moore in an attempt to earn laughs from red America. In it, a Moore-esque character goes through a Scrooge sequence with three ghosts of American spirit to try and learn to love the country again.
Frankly, this looks terrible. While it’s possible, even likely, that someone could do a good send-up of Moore, there’s the obvious pitfall of being polarizing and partisan in the effort. Moore’s work is already divisive, any parody is probably going to be the same in the other direction and from the advertising, that seems to be the case here.
While Zucker has a name for himself as a comedy director, his best work is over two decades old, with the likes of Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun. His most recent films are Scary Movie 3 and 4, neither of which is very inspiring.
Advertising has been almost nonexistant, and the film is only getting a 1600 screen release. Technically wide, but it’s really a minimal effort. Additionally, the presidential race has been intense this year, and with people cued into that, they’re probably not going to want to waste their time looking at a Michael Moore parody.
The only bright spot here is Kelsey Grammar, who looks to have a great portrayal of Patton.
Opening: $5m, Final: $10m
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
While this looks bad and possibly painful for anyone above the age of ten or so, it seems likely that it will do rather well. For starters, recognition is very high. Disney kicked off a fairly effective advertising campaign during the Olympics, which was quite high profile this year. People know about the Chihuahuas.
Secondly, there hasn’t been a strong family entry in the marketplace in months. The last films to target this market and do well were Journey to the Center of the Earth and Wall-E back in July. The audience potential is there in a big way.
And the talking animal genre tends to do very strong. Last year’s Alvin & the Chipmunks cruised past $200 million and there have been the more modest successes such as Charlotte’s Web and Racing Stripes in recent years. Looking further back big hits such as the Dr. Doolittle films and 101 Dalmations tended to dominate. Talking animals can be big, big money.
Opening: $25m, Final: $75m
This effort from Miramax is a thriller about an unknown plague that causes people to go blind. Those people are rounded up and put into quarantine. But one woman is able to see and, presumably works to get the people free and properly treated.
This could be a strong film. The cast is solid, with Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Danny Glover. Director Fernando Meirelles was behind the camera for the spectacular City of God. And the concept of spontaneously going blind could tap into a bunch of people’s fears.
However, while it’s a strong cast, it’s not a cast that draws an audience. Likewise, while Meirelles is a good director, he’s not a draw. City of God was a niche foreign language film and his last effort The Constant Gardener didn’t break out, earning just $33 million domestically.
Perhaps the most damning problem is that it seems rather generic. Plague and quarantine films seem to be fairly commonplace of late. We’ve had The Happening and Doomsday already this year. There’s the upcoming Quarantine, and looking further back are the higher profile 28 Days and Weeks Later films.
Miramax doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the film. The advertising has been fairly tepid and it’s opening in about the same number of theaters as An American Carol.
Opening: $5m, Final: $15m
Flash of Genius
Greg Kinnear stars in this film about Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. After they stole the design from him, Kearns pursued a multi-decade lawsuit against the Big Three and eventually won $30m dollars.
It does look like a heartwarming and inspiring story, which could play well in the long run, but this is going to be a long road to success. The joke here is to wonder whether the film will even earn $30m in total. It’s certainly possible, but only if it sees similar success to Kinnear’s Little Miss Sunshine. Similarity of the feel-good sensation aside, he doesn’t have Steve Carell or Abigail Breslin to help him out.
Little Miss Sunshine also had a true platform release, building up from 7 theaters in late July to over 1500 in September. Flash of Genius is getting a barely-wide 1000 theater release without any build-up. It doesn’t speak of a lot of confidence on the part of the distributor.
Opening: $3m, Final: $10m
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Outside of the chihuahua film, this has the biggest potential. That potential has the name of Michael Cera. Cera came into the public conscience with his role in Arrested Development, but it was last year’s tandem of Superbad and Juno that made him a star. At this point he has the geeky kid with a slight edge down cold and audiences love it.
This film isn’t asking him to stretch his boundries, as he’s playing basically the same role. The marketing acknowledges that, with everything down to the text used in the posters practically screaming that this is the hip, spiritual successor to Juno. Just without the Juno.
The advertising makes it look fun and enjoyable, in the same ‘one wild night’ way that Superbad rode to success. It’s possible, but not too likely, that this could really catch on and be a leggy success, beating out Beverly Hills Chihuahua in the end. More likely that it’ll be a modest success and another feather in Cera’s geeky hat.
Opening: $15m, Final: $50m
By now it’s already had a couple weekends of modestly successful limited release and is starting to see a platform into the wider markets. The film stars Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, and Renee Zellweger and is directed by Harris in only his second time behind the camera. (He also directed a 2000 biopic about Jackson Pollock.)
This is a gritty western in the veign of 3:10 to Yuma, Open Range, and Unforgiven. Those are likely the films that it would like to emulate. Westerns are a bit dicey, though. While there is a fairly regular business with them, the audience can be picky. Perhaps because of this the ones that break out tend to make news. If Appaloosa can tap into that Yuma or Range vibe, it will probably do similarly well. If not, it could end up like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Opening: $4m, Final: $12m
Weekend of October 10
Body of Lies
Ridley Scott’s latest film has Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe involved in a convoluted spy game. Twists and thrills abound as is customary for this sort of film, with lots of motive questions left for (presumably) the final breathtaking minutes.
Scott is a director who can deliver big films. He directed last year’s American Gangster, and has also seen big returns on Black Hawk Down and Gladiator.
DiCaprio, as well, is fairly consistently a big star. He’s recently been a go-to guy for Martin Scorsese (The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York), and put together a scene-stealing performance in Catch Me if You Can.
Crowe’s seen some of his biggest successes with Scott in American Gangster and Gladiator, but he’s also had A Beautiful Mind and some more modest bright spots like 3:10 to Yuma.
That’s three big names, but it’s not necessarily a rosy picture. While Scott can be big, he can also deliver middling performances like Matchstick Men and Kingdom of Heaven. DiCaprio’s last film was the action thriller Blood Diamond, not an embarassment, but not a breakout either. And Crowe’s had his share of bumps on and off-screen such as Cinderella Man. He also collaborated with Scott on the flop A Good Year.
Taken at face value, Body of Lies should be strong. It’s playing to the strengths of all three men. Adrenaline with a bit of cerebral action has worked for all three in the past and will likely to the same in the future. But there are question marks here.
First, spy movies are a bit dicey. A common pitfall is to make them too convoluted. While it’s probably gratifying to come up with a really twisty story with lots of backstabs and gotchas, there’s a limit to what audiences are willing to take in two hours. If it’s really complex, it should be a novel. The Bourne films probably hit just about the right mark as far as balancing how complex the story should be. They left some things up in the air for a while, but by the end the audience could nod and go ‘Oh, yeah!’ as they figure out what’s been going on. Whether or not Body of Lies can hit that same mark is going to be critical for its long-term success.
Also, the topic of the film is a big question mark. Audiences have shown quite well that they have no wish to view anything related to the Middle East. The film is set there (in Jordan), and if that comes through people are going to tune out, even if the thrills can deliver. Last year’s The Kingdom promised thrills aplenty, with the last half-hour advertised as an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, but the Middle East setting turned audiences off and left it with a thoroughly mediocre performance.
For Body of Lies to succeed it needs to strike a delecate balance between smart and gripping while simultaneously playing up the spy elements while playing down the Middle East.
Opening: $20m, Final: $60m
City of Ember
This is a post-apocalyptic movie based on a young adult book about a city in darkness that is kept alive by a failing electric light system. As things start failing, a pair of plucky youths search for a way out so that they (and humanity) can survive.
Ember is a fairly solid choice for the transition from book to film. The setting is evocative and by focusing on the light in the darkness nature of the city it could be a visual treat. Additionally, the encroaching darkness is expressive and often successful in film. It taps into such a universal fear that it works for both kids and adults.
However, while there is positive potential here, some questions are also raised. It starts with production studio Walden Media. While the company has had some success, it’s also seen a number of bigger than expected failures. Just this year the second Narnia film failed to capture an audience and limped to less than half of its predecessor. in Ember’s favor, the expectation isn’t that high. Best case scenario is that it turns in a performance along the lines of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Worst case it ends up like Hoot.
Second, while some young adult novels do very well in theaters, most can only expect modest returns. So anyone who’s looking for the next Harry Potter should probably be looking elsewhere. Of course the October release date should have clued people into that.
Third, it just doesn’t look very good. While it’s got veteran actors like Tim Robbins and Bill Murray, the advertising doesn’t have them delivering a standout, and the production looks a bit cheap. Unfortunately it might be because the concept of the city is so evocative in the novel that the transition to screen can’t help but to be a bit of a disappointment.
Journey to the Center of the Earth probably gave Walden a bit of a reprive. Ember isn’t likely to ruin the company, but it’s also not likely to renew a lot of faith in it, either.
Opening: $15m, Final: $50m
This biopic is about Ernie Davis, a running back for Syracuse University who was the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy, in 1961. The football drama is going to try and tap into the same success that Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, and Invincible all experienced.
Americans tend to love films about an underdog who comes out on top, particularly in a sports setting. Star Dennis Quaid is no stranger to these things, as he starred in The Rookie in 2002 and Any Given Sunday in 1999. These sports success stories are more often successful than not. Recent entries like Miracle, Rocky Balboa, and Coach Carter have all done solid, if not spectacular, business.
The best case scenario here is that The Express will mirror Remember the Titans, but that’s probably a long shot. It needs to be good and to connect with audiences so they keep coming back.
Opening: $20m, Final: $70m
This film takes the zombie breakout context of 28 Days Later and puts it in a claustrophobic setting like Phone Booth and then uses the real-time filming sense of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project. The hope is that it will become a must-see sensation.
The marketing for the film has been a viral attempt to sell it as a real story that has never before been told. This can be a strong tactic, but I think that audiences by now are clueing into it. At best this can be a receipe for a big opening weekend, but these films rarely have strong legs.
There are no recognizable stars and really little to sell the film beyond the concept. Also, with higher profile and possibly better scary films hitting later in the month, the window for Quarantine to succeed is rather slim. On the upside, it looks a bit more compelling than Blindness.
Opening: $15m, Final: $30m
Weekend of October 17
This adaptation of the video game has Mark Wahlberg stepping into the shoes of the titular detective. John Moore (The Omen, Flight of the Phoenix) is behind the camera.
The bad news for this one is that it’s a video game adaptation. Few films in the genre have garnered even middiling approval and business has tended to be weak, more often than not. It’s somewhat ironic that with more and more top of the line video game titles vying for popular supremacy with the biggest films that Hollywood can continue to put forth such weak efforts based on video game properties. But since the biggest names in the video game adaptation business are Uwe Boll and Paul W. S. Anderson, it’s probably too much to expect that people are going to take them seriously.
Somewhat worse for Max Payne is that it’s a bit dated, already. When the game first appeared in 2001, it promised to bring the bullet time sensation of a John Woo film or The (first) Matrix to the computer screen, and it did it quite well, enough that it got a sequel in 2003. However, we’re five years beyond that, and such action has become rather commonplace in video games, not to mention being so rampant in movies that it’s widely parodied. So there isn’t much that feels fresh and interesting here.
What that leaves Max Payne as is a slick-looking noir mystery. It probably has a slim chance to perform like a number of mid-tier comic book adaptations such as Constantine, Sin City, V for Vendetta, or the Hellboy films. Because it has a bit of name recognition, a final tally on par with those is probaby its best case scenario. However, those films were released in the relatively stronger spring period. (Or summer, in the case of Hellboy 2.)
In all likelihood, Max Payne will perform more along the lines of the Resident Evil films. As long as it does better than last year’s Hitman, it’ll probably be a success.
Opening: $25m, Final: $55m
An ever popular topic for films is having geeky guys trying to get laid while hilarity ensues. American Pie kicked off a recent spate of these including two sequels, Road Trip, and last year’s Superbad. Looking further back are venerable entries such as Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds. Sex Drive falls in line with these perfectly. It focuses on an eighteen-year-old virgin who goes on a cross-country trip to hook up with his internet girlfriend.
The concept’s a bit thin and probably won’t catch on like Superbad did, but it should be strong enough to survive. The film is helped by a strong trailer, capped by Seth Green’s hilarious take on a car-savvy Amish man. The gags are presented well and should tap into some of the same crowd which led the similar films to past success.
Opening: $20m, Final: $65m
Weekend of October 24
The first Saw film was a bit of a word of mouth sensation, captivating and claustrophobic, it left the viewer chilled with its somewhat unique take on the serial killer sub-genre. The success spawned a sequel, which was even bigger. This spawned another sequel and what we now have is that every year since 2004 there has been a new Saw film.
To say this is surprising is an understatement, because the primary villain, Jigsaw, died in the third film. However never one to let logic get in the way of profits, the producers have seen fit to extend the series at least until it stops making money. Saw V promises even more convoluted plot twists and traps than its predecessors.
The trend is fairly clear at this point. Business has been falling since the second, and it seems possible that Saw V will see a lower gross than the $55m of the first film. Audiences are clearly tiring of the concept at this point and horror fans are probably in the mood for something a little different. To give Saw credit, it’s outlasted other entries into the torture horror genre by a couple years.
Opening: $25m, Final: $55m
The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D
While Lionsgate has been recycling the same concept in a new film each year, Disney’s merely recycled the same film. First released in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas earned $50m. A small re-release in 2000 didn’t add much to the total, but they remastered it for a 2006 release which pumped another $8m to the tally. Last year added another $15m. So yet again it’s getting a high-profile, if limited release.
There’s obviously nothing new here, but the familiarity can be a strength. The film is very well received and has some extremely dedicated fans, so Disney’s choice to bring it back each year makes a fair bit of sense. Whether or not it continues to see rising grosses remains to be seen, but it should do well enough that it will get another such release next year, when it can probably hope to cross the century mark for the first time.
Opening: $5m, Final: $15m
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
High School Musical 3 is perhaps the only film to see two TV and home video releases before graduating to the big screen. The first film in the series had a stunningly powerful debut of over 7 million viewers on the Disney Channel in 2006, followed by an equally strong DVD release. At the time I figured that the sequel would get a theatrical release. Apparently Disney decided that if it wasn’t broke, they weren’t going to fix it and the sequel followed the same path. It garnered over 17 million viewers, showing that the audience for the HSM films was dedicated and large.
Apparently deciding that they can earn even more with a big screen release, Disney’s done the transition for the third go-round. Besides the two TV releases, the path has been paved very well for HSM3. Mamma Mia! and Hairspray both showed that musicals can succeed very well. Miley Cyrus showed that Disney Channel audiences are willing to make the trek to the theater if the payoff promises to be good.
Perhaps most important, however, is how transitive High School Musical is. While the Disney Channel has a rather specific demographic the appeal here is quite a bit wider. There are a number of post-college people who are fans so expecting to see groups attending outside the expected demographic shouldn’t be surprising.
Perhaps the only odd bit here is that it’s getting released at the same time as The Nightmare Before Christmas… a musical from the same company. It’s possible that there might be some cannibalization in opening weekend profits, but I don’t think it’ll matter in the end.
Opening: $35m, Final: $90m
Pride & Glory
Lost in the shuffle this weekend is likely to be Pride and Glroy, a crime drama starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. They play police officer brothers in the NYPD who get embroiled in dirty cop deeds. Norton investigates the wrongdoings and family strife ensues. Jon Voight plays their father.
In truth this looks like a fairly solid effort, showcasing the acting talent that Norton has (especially in his smaller fare) and a possible second wind for Farrell’s career. It could be a very good film and an attempt at a relatively early awards contender.
However, the release date is pretty bad. The weekend is already crowded and marketing space is going to be limited. The one strength Pride and Glory has is that it might serve as good counter-programming. With younger-skewing crowds going for any of the other three films, older (mostly male) audiences may choose this instead. If they know about it.
Opening: $10m, Final: $30m
Weekend of October 31
The Haunting of Molly Hartley
This film is about a girl who is trying to fit into a new school after recovering from an attack by her deranged mother. Psychological and supernatural events ensue, possibly leading her down the same path to insanity.
This film fills the same niche that The Covenant did in 2006. Ironically both films star Chace Crawford, who may be onto an early career mistake of getting typecast. While it seems like this is an obvious niche: a PG-13 scarefest for kids who can’t get into the more gory R-rated horror flicks, most kids are probably going to pass or sneak into those other films anyway.
What’s worse is that there’s really only one day where this can do effective business. People want the screams for Halloween, but not afterwards. That means it might expect a strong Friday, but there are still two more days on the opening weekend to fill. So much like The Omen, this could be a one and done venture, with the majority of its total business coming in the first twenty-four hours.
Opening: $10m, Final: $20m
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Kevin Smith’s latest film has a pair of roommates taking extreme measures to make sure they can pay their rent. Snappy dialogue and a budding relationship are likely to ensue. Smith can certainly deliver the funny, and is fairly well respected as a comedy director, and he has a loyal following, but so far he hasn’t had a hit.
Enter Seth Rogen, comedy’s latest golden boy. Despite really only having two starring roles and supporting in a few more, it seems that he can do no wrong at the moment. Thus far he’s worked closely with Judd Apatow and has seen stunning success in Knocked Up and Pineapple Express. Besides Zack and Miri, he’s got Observe and Report with Anna Faris and Funny People with Adam Sandler, both due next year. He’s also been tapped for The Green Hornet, with Stephen Chow.
While working with Smith might be a bit outside Rogen’s comfort zone, it should work out quite well. They have a good similarity in comedic styles and Rogen’s very much in the public conscience at the moment. It should be a match made in heaven and could lead to Smith’s first breakout hit.
Opening: $25m, Final: $70m
While a number of releases this month aren’t too inspiring, the last two weekends could be very big. Somewhat strangely, the frightfests look to play second fiddle to the comedies this year.