Weekend Forecast for January 18-21, 2007
By Reagen Sulewski
January 18, 2008

We've got to try to get our sex tape just right before it goes public.

There's an unusual treat for movie-going audiences this holiday weekend; the ultra-rare January blockbuster.

Although this has been changing in the past few years, January has remained one of the few dead zones on the schedule for new movies. It's been a time for expanding Oscar hopefuls and the dreck that couldn't make the fall schedule. This week's Cloverfield, however, is a novel approach to this month's slate, a big budget monster movie that could have found a home in the summer.

The film is a first-person perspective film about an attack on New York City by some sort of mysterious (Godzilla? C'thulhu?) creature, essentially asking, what would it be like to be at ground level for an attack like this. Shot handheld, Blair Witch style, it follows a group of young New Yorkers (played by a bunch of relative unknowns, for deliberate effect) as the attacks happen, and as they search for safety with calamity surrounding them.

Befitting an unusual film, it announced itself in an unusual way. A completely secret project, its first evidence of existence was its trailer, in front of July's Transformers, which was a single sequence which depicted the initial attacks, up to the point of the now somewhat-iconic shot of the head of the Statue of Liberty falling in the middle of a New York street. The trailer had no title, no credits, and only a brief flash of what turned out to be a release date. The "leave ‘em wanting more" strategy was a masterstroke for creating initial buzz, and releasing it in the dead zone means it has our full attention.

Cloverfield was the brainchild of JJ Abrams, creator of Alias and Lost, though the directing duties fall to Matt Reeves, who co-created Felicity with him, and it's written by Drew Goddard, a veteran of both Abrams and Joss Whedon's shows. Abrams is well known for creating brilliant pilots, which is kinda, sorta analogous to a movie, so it's not unreasonable to think they've delivered on their high concept here. Anticipation among younger audiences is through the roof, though I'm expecting the appeal to be fairly narrowly focused. I look for a four-day total of about $45 million.

27 Dresses is the romantic comedy option for this weekend, though I say without any fear of being unfair, that this film is firmly in the "chick-flick" category, rather than anything that truly counts as a date movie.

Katherine Heigl stars as a "professional bridesmaid", who's planned and served in 27 different weddings (hence the clever title). Tired of always being the sidekick, she wonders when it'll be her turn to marry her dreamboat, who happens to be her boss, played by Ed Burns. Prodded on by her sidekick (played, in an ironic twist, by professional "movie best-friend" Judy Greer") she is about to make her move when her sister pounces on him before her, gets engaged, and asks Heigl to be her maid of honor. Oh, what wacky fun!

Written by the same person as The Devil Wears Prada (the screenplay, not the book), 27 Dresses shares that "aggressively girly" aesthetic that women seem to have convinced themselves they want, post-Sex and the City. And hey, that's fine, as far as it goes (it's not like guys don't have, say, Rambo), but it does seem a bit non-progressive that the main character seems to define her happiness by her relationship status, and to revel in dress fetishism.

Heigl's star has risen pretty rapidly in the past few years, coming from her supporting role on Grey's Anatomy, and last year's Knocked Up, which turned her into a major female lead – although she later turned her back on it, in a pretty clear case of gnawing on the hand with the food in it. This isn't all that different from something like Must Love Dogs, or a little more obliquely, My Best Friend's Wedding, though when it's ostensibly about dresses, you're going to limit your male audience a lot. Over four days I see this coming in with about $22 million.

The third and last new wide release film of the weekend is the ironically titled Mad Money, since it's looking to be an also-ran in the box office sweepstakes. It stars Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes as a trio of unlikely thieves. All three work in the Federal Reserve Bank, which as you may or may not know, receives shipments of old currency destined to be shredded and burned. Before that happens, it's still legal tender, and the three women hatch a plan to take down one of the most secure banks in the world, from the inside and without anyone knowing.

Mad Money basically boils down to "hey, women can be criminals too, only they'd be funnier about it". It's really nothing you haven't seen before in a comedic heist movie, and it's difficult to imagine who this mix of cast members is going to bring in. It's almost like they pulled three names out of a hat. Opening in about 2,400 venues, Mad Money should see about $5 million over the weekend.

The Bucket List scored a narrow win last weekend in its expansion, earning $19 million. The one-time Oscar hopeful about living life to the fullest, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, will have to settle for a profitable result at the box office instead. Reviews weren't fantastic for this film, but its audience isn't the type to rush out on opening weekend, and it should have, if not fantastic, at least respectable legs. I look for about $13.5 million on its second weekend.

First Sunday was close behind, with almost $18 million. The Ice Cube/Tracy Morgan crime comedy did a bit better than expected, not matching Cube's forays into family comedy, but doing a lot better than his action films. I see this one falling a bit steeper than other returning films, with a second weekend of about $11 million.

The little indie-comedy that could, Juno, keeps rolling along, with now over $70 million in the bank. Over $100 million is basically assured at this point, and if it gets sufficient Oscar attention, $150 million isn't really out of the realm of possibility either. It dropped just 15% last weekend, and should also come in around $11 million.

National Treasure may have fallen to fourth place, but it's on the verge of hitting the $200 million mark. I'm glad as anyone that action-adventure is making a serious comeback as a blockbuster genre, but it does seem to me that standards have dropped a tad. Give it about $6 million this weekend, as it drops out of relevancy.

If you're any kind of awards watcher, you noticed that the Golden Globes weren't aired last weekend as scheduled, a victim of the WGA strike. Although the Globes have never been even close to the same importance as the Oscars, they have meant a slight bump for films in the box office after they win. Winning films are still trying to take advantage of their wins, but with the "press conference" style of announcement, it'll be interesting to see if anyone was actually paying attention. Big winners, and hence, expanders this weekend include Best Picture winners Sweeney Todd and Atonement, as well as No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. The first two are the most likely to be relevant in terms of the Top 10, though this weekend also doubles as There Will Be Blood's first significant amount of screens. Atonement and Todd should come in with about $4 million each, while Blood might be able to manage $3 million on 300 or so screens.