All right, there's no more messing around. Three new films throw everything they've got at the weekend, with a decent chance of October's weekend records for debut and total box office falling.
Weekend Forecast for October 24-26, 2008
By Reagen Sulewski
October 24, 2008
The idea of a sequel to a hit movie going straight to DVD is not all that strange or unheard of, especially for Disney. The reverse move, from cable/video to the big screen is, as far as I'm aware, unprecedented (I'm not talking about series here, but movies). That is, until this weekend with High School Musical 3, a title that might have you going "huh?" if you don't know any 15-year-olds.
Two years ago, Disney grabbed onto the musical trend with both hands, deciding that peppy numbers sung by clean-scrubbed faces were just what kids wanted to see again, and created High School Musical, which is more or less an updated Grease. Zac Efron is the jock (try not to laugh – apparently it works) who falls in love with the brainy Vanessa Hudgens and the two sing and dance together in surprisingly sophisticated choreographed numbers. That's pretty much as far as she goes, but the teens and pre-teens eat it up.
Last year's High School Musical 2 was the highest rated basic cable broadcast in history, with 17.6 million viewers. If all those people had been paying customers at the theater, that would have been worth $100 million, at six bucks a ticket. After seeing those numbers, it took Disney all of three seconds to decide that maybe they shouldn't be blowing this fad on cable, and should take it to the big screen to make some real money. And so here we have it, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, opening in 3,600-plus venues.
The big question for this experiment is how many of the free-TV watchers can be converted into paying customers? Probably a good portion of them, though not necessarily all at once. This qualifies as an event film in the teen world with probably a pretty heavy female skewing audience. Is it any good? They won't care. Look for this to shatter the record for a musical opening weekend, and close in on the October opening weekend record, with $47 million.
For the fifth straight year, Halloween weekend, or close to it, sees the release of a Saw movie. Saw V is, obviously, the fifth edition of this increasingly tiresome exercise in sadomasochistic gore. What was once kind of an extreme version of the "Would you rather..." game mixed with Rube Goldberg devices is now just a hollow cash grab.
The plot... well, does it matter? People die in gruesome ways, the lights come up and we all feel vaguely unclean about the whole thing. The series is starting to see a little bit in the way of diminishing returns, with a drop from $33 million for Saw III, to $31 million for the opening weekend of Saw IV. That's only a slight drop, to be sure, but could be the sign of floodgates opening, or audiences getting bored with this subject. One can only hope. Opening in around 3,000 venues, Saw V should bring in about $28 million this weekend.
Finally, we have Pride and Glory, a generically titled cop film that would probably be completely ignorable if not for the cast. Colin Farrell, Ed Norton and Noah Emmerich star as a family of policemen, sons of another cop, played by Jon Voight.
After a police operation goes wrong, Norton's character uncovers a cop-run drug racket, possibly involving Farrell. Forced to choose between his family and his duty as a cop, he works his way into a den of corruption and yada, yada, yada. Norton typically picks fairly interesting roles, but he looks quite lost here. There's not much of a hook here or anything we've not seen before, and reviews are being unkind to it. I expect a weekend of just $9 million for its debut.
Last week's box office champ, Max Payne, has all the look of one that inspires cries of "look out below!" Based on a video game, and with the worst reviews of any film last weekend, its $17.6 million should turn into about $8 million in its second weekend, putting it at best third, and possibly fifth.
The Secret Life of Bees is the film with the best chance to put it there, after its surprise $10.5 million opening on just 1,600 screens. The 1960s civil rights/sisterhood drama, starring Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson, leveraged its origin as a popular book to get one of the best results of the weekend. There's a good chance it shows show strong legs with a small expansion, and holds to about $7 million.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua was finally dethroned at the box office last weekend, but not before it brought in over $70 million. Who knew there were that many pushy seven-year-olds out there? Inexplicably, it's showing some staying power and should also be in line for about $7 million, but, ye Gods, aren't there better kids' film scripts out there somewhere? Piper Perabo, if you needed money, you should have just asked.
W., the slightly premature George W. Bush biography, landed in fourth with $10.5 million, probably a best case scenario for a film that no one was calling for. Neither straight satire nor hagiography, it arrives at what has to be the time of year when people are most tired of politics. I see the timeliness of it, but it's more or less the opposite of escapism. Look for $6 million for this in its second weekend.