After a brief pause to clear its throat, Hollywood is back to throwing tentpole releases at us from now until the end of the year. But while there's a great big sci-fi epic hitting screens, awards season dictates that just about every "important" film needs to come out in a big pile of Oscar bait right now too. So, while the top of the box office holds a lot of interest as normal, a lot more drama than usual will be going on in the lower reaches of the charts.
Weekend Forecast for December 12-14, 2008
By Reagen Sulewski
December 12, 2008
Leading the way off is The Day the Earth Stood Still, a remake of the groundbreaking 1951 sci-fi film, which warned about the dangers of nuclear war. An alien named Klaatu arrives on Earth with his robotic companion named Gort, with the message that humanity had better shape up - or else. It was notable for being one of the first films to legitimize the genre, especially as it came right at the start of the Cold War.
In the remake, Keanu Reeves stars as Klaatu, playing right into his wheelhouse as an emotionless enigma. With his arrival, he triggers a worldwide crisis, as leaders attempt to figure out what he's up to. Eventually, we find out that while we think we may own the planet, really we just have a lease on it, and the balloon payment is a bitch.
Nuclear war is traded for a vague environmental theme in the remake, which also ups the ante on the effects by a dramatic amount. There's no end of "fireworks factory" shots in the very effective trailers, which seem to depict the destruction of most of the eastern seaboard in what looks like some sort of molecular disintegration. As befits the story, there's a strong sense of dread throughout the advertising and it seems to build a lot of suspense out of just words and looks. Consider us intruiged.
The biggest question is whether a bleak-looking film like this can actually get people out to the multiplex. Its nearest parallel is probably War of the Worlds, though without the draw of a Spielberg or Cruise. Aside from Reeves, the biggest other name is Jennifer Connelly as a woman who finds herself in a crucial position to save the world from destruction. The director is little known, though he had a minor hit with The Haunting of Emily Rose a few years back. Opening in 3,560 venues, it should easily win the weekend with about $47 million.
A touch more Christmasy is Nothing Like the Holidays, a family comedy notable for featuring an almost entirely Hispanic cast. Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena star as the parents of a comically dysfunctional Puerto Rican family in Chicago, who gather their children and in-laws together for the holidays, with bickering and airings of grievances and general wackiness ensuing.
The cast is a who's who of young Hispanic actors, including John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Melonie Diaz, Jay Hernandez and, uh...Debra Messing (Jennifer Lopez, call your agent). Aside from this angle, it looks pretty generic and looks headed for about $5 million on its 1,600 screens.
Joining the ranks of such luminous animated films in 2008 as Igor and Fly Me to the Moon, this week also brings us Delgo, which could be a candidate for worst film of the year. A fantasy adventure film from a studio you've never heard of, Delgo tells a story of some lizard looking thing as he goes to stop a conflict between some other strange looking creatures. Some recognizable names have been grabbed for the voice cast, including Freddie Prinze Jr., Val Kilmer, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Chris Kattan (among others), but that appears to be the extent of the budget for the film. The animation looks like something created on an Amiga and the characters themselves are pretty unattractive. All of these factors add up to a major bomb in the works, with about $2 million being probable for its first weekend.
Only a couple of returning films look to be factors this weekend, starting with the two-week champion Four Christmases. The Vince Vaughn/Reese Witherspoon holiday comedy has earned about $75 million based, as far as I can tell, on Jon Favreau beating up Vaughn, and a baby puking on Witherspoon. It's a great time for American comedy. Look for about $10 million this weekend.
After opening to $70 million, Twilight is desperately hoping to hang on through the holidays in order to grab some of that Christmas week business, but this is probably the last weekend it's relevant. The fangirlish nature of the film has led it to evaporate very quickly. Give it about $6 million for its fourth weekend, which should bring it to around $148 million, with about $175 million looking like a final total.
Watch for Bolt to make a decent showing this weekend, after taking a big hit in the post-Thanksgiving weekend. As the best family option out there, it should stick around for $6 million.
No fewer than ten films open in limited release, some of which already come in with awards and/or nominations. Most significant of these are Doubt, The Reader, Gran Torino and Che, though none of them have more than 15 screens this weekend. As Milk has shown, it's not impossible for these films to make an impact on the box office with this many screens, I don't see any of them becoming breakout hits right off the bat, as they will have to build. Still, watch for some gaudy per screen averages of $30,000 to 50,000 or more for these films in their debuts.