Weekend Forecast for May 23-26, 2008
By Reagen Sulewski
May 23, 2008

He can still pack a mean punch for a senior citizen.

In 1989, Memorial Day Weekend was still the official opening weekend of the summer movie season, and home to one of the biggest films of the year, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which was pretty much the only show in town. Almost 20 years later, it's not exactly the start of summer anymore, but other things haven't changed very much, with one of the most beloved movie characters of all time returning to the big screen.

This Memorial Day weekend, it's Indiana Jones once again as about the only film to see, in the fourth installment of the series, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Last Crusade's ride out into the sunset had seemed to close the door on Indy and his archaeological adventures, with neither director Steven Spielberg or star Harrison Ford all that interested in revisiting the character, but time, as well as faltering careers, can change a lot of things.

It's been eight years since Ford was in a film that broke $100 million, 2000's What Lies Beneath, which makes his return to his arguably second-most famous character a natural move. We pick up with Indy in 1957, at the height of the Cold War, battling Soviet agents (including one played by Cate Blanchett) in the search for a mystical artifact from South America that could grant ultimate power over the entire world. So, same ol', same ol', really.

Crystal Skull is a bit of a reflection back through the previous three films, including bringing back a very well kept together Kate Allen from Raiders of the Last Ark as Indy's love interest, Marion. There are also additional callbacks spread throughout the film for fans of the series, according to Spielberg, making this a great big cinematic nostalgia trip.

So, nostalgia is great and all, but does that make for a good movie? According to critics, it does a pretty good job of it, with the kind of action-adventure that's been missing from movie theaters for a long time. The Mummy was good and all, but simply doesn't quick pack that same punch. The addition of Shia LaBeouf as a greaser sidekick could be a little troubling, but the franchise has endured much worse than a cocky teen from a supporting character (Short Round, anyone?).

When looking at the box office potential of this film, it's important to note that Indiana Jones is one of the more iconic characters in film, and despite his 19-year absence from multiplexes, he has endured through generations. He remains a very big deal among people who saw his films the first time around, but younger generations have connected with it through DVD and through video games – so it seems almost impossible to overestimate the appeal that a new Indiana Jones film will have.

Opening in the third largest number of theaters in history, with 4,260, it should approach, if not break, some all-time records. A Thursday opening day might hurt it in that respect, but it still has last year's Pirates of the Caribbean 3 in its sights, which opened to $153 million with the same release pattern. As well as these things can be measured, it might start a little slower, but have better staying power, but that's all up to moviegoers. Look for a five-day total of $147 million, $133 million over the Memorial Day weekend.

The second place spot, held down by Prince Caspian, will look pretty pale in comparison to that number. Winning last weekend with $55 million, the second of the Narnia films was something of a disappointment, failing to build off the opening weekend and strong run of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. A little more unfamiliarity with this source material than for the first of the Narnia films, and what seemed to be a lazy ad campaign that took its popularity for granted, helped to keep the returns of Prince Caspian a little underwhelming. Its $200 million budget is the big reason that a decent opening overall is viewed as a problem, though international sales should help it to get into the black.

What's more, it's picked a good weekend to open to an underwhelming figure, with Memorial Day weekend being a great one for family films, which generally already have good legs. Although Indy will dominate attention spans, the benefit of the long weekend is that people have the chance to see their second choices, which should keep Caspian at about the $40 million mark for four days.

Iron Man straightened out its descent for its third weekend of release, holding above the $30 million mark and reaching $230 million total for its release so far. It's not quite tracking the Spider-Man pattern, but it's at least not crazy to mention the two films in the same category, which is something special given the relative notoriety of the two characters. At this point, $300 million seems assured, with $325 million a distinct possibility. Marvel's strategy of taking control of its own films seems to be a winning one so far. Give it $22 million over the holiday weekend.

Third place went to What Happens in Vegas, with $13.8 million and $40 million so far. Acting-wise, I'm ready to put the success of this one all on Ashton Kutcher, with just a slight credit to Cameron Diaz, but this is one of those situation where producers caught on to a trend, namely setting movies at least partially in Vegas, at just the right time. Another $10 million over the holidays will push it well over the half-century mark.

Memorial Day comes too late to save Speed Racer, which fell to fourth with $8 million, and just $30 million total against a triple-figure budget. The Wachowskis have so rapidly used up their goodwill from The Matrix trilogy that it's made even M. Night Shyamalan's head spin. With just $5 million or so due this weekend, it looks to fall short of the $50 million mark domestically, which is a pretty spectacular failure.

Following behind are a few leftover comedies from the early spring, including Baby Mama and Made of Honor, which may be able to manage $3 million apiece, but after that, we're into pretty weak sauce. June's releases will fill this out pretty quickly, though, and we're now fully into the heavy hitters.