Weekend Forecast for December 14-16, 2007
By Reagen Sulewski
December 14, 2007

Ah, a riverfront office.

After weeks and weeks of struggling to launch a blockbuster and failing, Hollywood finally has something close to a sure thing for this weekend.

[tm:3002_]I Am Legend[/tm] is one of the two or three best chances for a big hit at the box office this Christmas season, in large part because of its star, [bp:91_]Will Smith[/bp]. He plays the proverbial last-man-on-Earth, living alone in New York after a plague destroys the world's population. However, as the film's tagline helpfully points out, he isn't really alone, as a certain number of the people affected by the plague have turned into mindless albino zombies. Smith's character is immune for some reason, and safe during the day, but at night... well, that's a problem.

The movie, based on a classic of science fiction by Richard Matheson, features Smith surviving in a self-built fortress while trying to discover a cure, and why he, of all people survived. Luckily he's a genetic scientist, or we'd be totally screwed.

A rare blend of horror and action, I Am Legend may not seem exactly like the most Christmas-y of fare, but with a multiplex audience that's been starved for spectacle, at least if you go by the box office charts, this may be just the thing. That's leaving aside the ads, which are an excellent blend of tension and shocks. The effects don't look impeccable, but they'll do, I suppose.

Critics are generally mixed on this, though not many people were expecting raves. Considering it's from the director of (the unfairly maligned) Constantine, I'm not expecting a monster movie version of Die Hard, although a taut thriller does seem like a good bet. Opening in over 3,600 venues, it looks prepped for a massive weekend, somewhere around $58 million.

This film is balanced out by the crime against cinema that is the [tm:1773_]Alvin and the Chipmunks[/tm] movie. Yes, finally, 50 years after they debuted when someone realized that when you set a different speed on the record player (kids, ask your pare... uh, grandparents) the songs sounded... funny. This was enough to create a sensation in those heady days, but remember, they hadn't invented Pong yet.

Around this brilliant conceit, a vague story was written, where these singers were a trio of Chipmunks somehow given the power of speech, possibly by a nuclear reactor, I'm not quite sure. They come into the care of a human talent manager, who decides to turn these freaky little rodents into a touring musical group, PETA not being on the scene in those days either.

[bp:1349_]Jason Lee[/bp] (who, like his TV character, has clearly spent all his money on an ill-conceived party) stars as the handler, Dave, and for some reason they've also decided to get a recognizable actor to do the voice of a character they're distorting out of recognition (Justin Long, as Alvin). David Cross, who normally has better judgment, also stars in the film, which has some sort of plot, I assume.

I hold out the barest amount of hope that this is actually a subversive take on children's and/or music films, similar to Josie and the Pussycats (rent this film!), given the presence of Jon Vitti, a producer and writer for The Simpsons. In all likelihood, it's probably embarrassing for anyone over the age of ten to be seen at. In other words, the hip-hop stylings of the title rodents on one of the posters inspires very little confidence.

What drove anyone to dust off this moldy old concept? Well, one look at the Garfield receipts probably did it (so if you saw that film, it's all your fault). That one opened to $21 million in June of 2004, grossing $75 million overall and most likely the GDP of Algeria on DVD. Alvin is taking the shotgun approach to this release, opening in almost 3,500 venues, so Fox is clearly banking on a big opening weekend with the possibility of being the top family film over the holidays. Sadly, that might occur. I give this abomination about a $23 million opening weekend – there are a lot of preteens that need to be dropped off while their parents unsuccessfully brave the malls for a Wii (sorry kid, you probably aren't getting one).

The final wide release film of the week is The Perfect Holiday, the second mostly-black-cast Christmas movie in three weeks, after [tm:3952_]This Christmas[/tm]. Finally, they have a choice of bland offensively inoffensive holiday entertainment to call their own!

Holiday is about a young girl who asks a department store Santa (Morris Chestnut) to bring her mother ([bp:420_]Gabrielle Union[/bp]) a new husband, which has already strained credulity by positing that Gabrielle Union would have any trouble at all finding dudes. I expect she has to fend them off with a shotgun, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

Before you can say bow-chicka-wow-wow, Mrs. Christmas (wait, what?) played by [bp:129_]Queen Latifah[/bp], starts to work her magic to bring these two lonely souls together, even though he has to compete with her rap star ex-husband (Charlie Murphy) and the fact that her other two kids want nothing of him.

This one's come basically out of nowhere, with not a lot of promotion and a pretty modest screencount of 1,307. That's about the same pattern that This Christmas followed, but it also had a distributor you'd heard of and not one that sounds like a compact car (Yari). Since it had a Wednesday start of less than 500,000, there's not much hope for it in the long weekend - probably a grand total of $2 million or maybe as little as $1 million.

This brings us to the returning films and the potential job-killer The Golden Compass. Despite winning the weekend, it did so with a bombalicious $25 million opening weekend, which given the film's reported $200 million plus budget, presents a bit of a problem. There is the season of giving for studios coming up to potentially save it, with films typically earning the equivalent of another weekend's worth of business between Christmas Day and New Years', but the problem for The Golden Compass is just how much money we'll be talking about at that point.

Audience reaction was pretty tepid to the fantasy film, so I don't see any sudden rush by fanboys to save this one, if said fanboys even exist (probably. Please don't write). Even New Line appears to have given up on this one for the most part. I expect a somewhat steep drop to about $13 million this weekend, which will bring it up to about $45 million total.

We're just lousy with family films at this point of the year, as is custom. [tm:2658_]Enchanted[/tm] has brought Disney a great Christmas gift of a $100 million film, if they can wait until Christmas to open that. It's currently sitting at about $85 million and should hit that milestone by the 25th, if not a bit sooner. Especially with Amy Adams garnering a Golden Globe nomination, it should be a hot property right through the holiday season, and will bring in about $7 million this frame.

Everything else out this weekend will earn under $5 million, and probably $4 million, with the possible exception of the Golden Globe nominated No Country For Old Men, which is clinging to screens and money like a remora clings to a shark. There are a lot of screens up for grabs next weekend, and films like [tm:3125_]Fred Claus[/tm] and [tm:2722_]Hitman[/tm] had better prove themselves worthy of staying up on Christmas Night, and quick.

With the lack of depth in the box office, it leaves a bit of room for headlines from some limited releases, like [tm:1509_]The [tm:3322_]Kite[/tm] Runner[/tm] and [tm:3566_]Atonement[/tm], the latter of which could break $1 million. But really, this weekend is about one, maybe one-and-a-half films.