May 2009 Forecast
By David Mumpower
May 1, 2009

Must. Save. Commissioner. Gordon.

1) Terminator Salvation

Winning the May box office campaign puts a film in strong contention to win the entire year. If we lined up ten box office analysts and asked them to pick the biggest film of the month, I'm certain we would get at least four different answers. It's entirely possible someone would get ambitious and take Star Trek as well. Any time we're talking about a month with four or five legitimate contenders for biggest film of the month as well as the year, we're in rare box office territory. This is a perfect storm of spectacular releases with the obvious question being whether all of them can survive in such a competitive marketplace.

I have chosen Terminator Salvation as the biggest film of the month for a few reasons. I am aware of the fact that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines earned "only" $150.3 million domestically, a total that may not get Salvation into the top five if there is a similar performance here. I am also old enough to remember the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, however, and that factors into this equation a lot. That film inflation adjusts to right at $350 million, giving us a remarkably large fluctuation in the upside and downside here. The X-factor is obviously the presence of Christian Bale, an actor whose last film was...somewhat successful. The question is whether The Dark Knight's success is significantly attributed to him or if it was mainly Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. I am inclined to believe that this is one of those rare instances where the perfect actor gets the perfect part at the perfect time. If I'm wrong, this prediction could wind up looking silly, but I expect this to be the second biggest opening of the month and the best overall performer.

2) Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

My wife and I have been arguing over this for a while now. She believes that Up is the family film of choice in May. Over the time we've been together, I've learned to trust her opinion on such matters, but I think she's dead wrong here. I am a firm believer in the premise that a sequel's opening weekend is directly attributable to the success and overall quality of the prior release. Night at the Museum is one of the best, most lucrative performers of the past five years and it was a highly entertaining family release to boot. The only thing it lacked was a superlative opening weekend since the $250.9 million blockbuster debuted to only $30.4 million. This successor will not benefit from the holiday box office inflation of the prior title. It will, however, open about 150% larger, meaning that a lot of the revenue it loses due to the release timing is compensated by a much stronger start. I think it's going to be close between the top four films, but this is the title I considered to be in a dead heat with Terminator for first place.

3) Up

Why am I not showing Pixar any love? Well, I'm putting it above a film I think earns about $210 million domestically, so this is hardly a slap in the face. While many believe that Pixar is in a slump that is in direct correlation to the subject matter of its prior two films, a cooking rat and a laconic robot, I see other factors at play. People have come to trust Pixar releases so much that it's inevitable they will purchase each and every release on DVD/Blu Ray. Given the four month window most films have prior to their release on home video, the onus is not on them to see a Pixar release in theaters. I am convinced this is the case, but I believe Up will counteract this a bit in the same way that we recently watched occur with Monsters vs. Aliens, a DreamWorks title with current box office north of $175 million. One of the unheralded keys to its success is the inflated revenue that stems from 3-D/digital ticket price inflation, which is over 50% higher than regular tickets. Up is the first Pixar film to capitalize on this emerging revenue factor, and it could be enough to put the best studio in the industry on track again as a box office juggernaut.

4) X-Men Origins: Wolverine

This one is a very tough call for me. Using the logic above regarding a film's quality buying a line of credit for the sequel, X-Men: The Last Stand is Enron multiplied by AIG. What a brutal cinematic mess that was, fuck you very much, Brett Ratner. While I think the lingering memory of that hurts this semi-sequel quite a bit, making an origin tale about the most popular character is savvy. It sidesteps much of the stigma attached to The Last Stand while maintaining the direct lineage with the X-Men film franchise. This trio of titles has averaged over $200 million per outing, and I'm inclined to believe that an opening lower than The Last Stand but higher than X2: X-Men United is in order here. This result will almost certainly be followed by dreadful legs for what is apparently a film that is a moderate step up from its predecessor but no X2.

5) Star Trek

Paramount made the call and JJ Abrams came to save the day. I'm speaking in the past tense, because the success of this project is already a certainty. The studio would not have greenlighted a sequel a month before the release of this film without reason. A great bit of box office trivia is that only one Star Trek film has earned more than $100 million (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, if you were wondering). This is a bit misleading since multiple films inflation-adjust north of $200 million, but all Paramount needed with the Star Trek reboot was a solid double. The fact that this is poised to be a $150 million winner with an opening weekend almost as large as the last three Star Trek debuts combined is just gravy. Stating the obvious, franchise reboots are where it's at these days.

6) Angels & Demons

Perusing the list for the top five, the first Night at the Museum film was great, the last Terminator film was surprisingly good and if we consider all Pixar films sequels of sorts, WALL-E was wonderful. The other two films, Wolverine and Star Trek, are following absolutely disastrous movies in terms of quality and Angels & Demons can be thrown on that pile. In fact, The Da Vinci Code was a gigantic pile. Because of ceaseless hype and an ill-considered religious boycott, it wound up making $750 million worldwide anyway. I think we're looking at a Prince Caspian situation here where all of the name recognition from the first film is gone, thereby cutting the overall sequel take by 45%. Somehow, I don't see Sony complaining about another $420 million worldwide if that is what happens with Angels & Demons. Here's hoping it's a better movie as well.

7) Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi returns from his horror sabbatical wherein he made a lot of $300+ million comic book adaptations to go back to scaring the crap out of people. Drag Me to Hell is by no means a demonstration of permanence in the genre as he heads straight back to Spider-Man related webslinging the instant this film is released. Of course, those of us who grew up watching Bruce Campbell fight evil dead until their numbers swelled into an army of darkness will take what we can get. His horror project is perfectly timed for the current economic climate as a well-intended woman sees her day job as a foreclosure specialist raise the ire of a certain homeowner. A homeowner who happens to have powers of the occult and a thirst for vengeance. Frankly, I don't care if this is a box office hit or not. I just want to watch it. I'm old enough to have seen Army of Darkness in the theater on the day of its release (and if you look at its opening weekend box office, you'll notice there weren't many of us). This film is like a special gift to me in a time of pointless gorno and mindless remakes. Lead the way to a better horror film tomorrow, Mr. Raimi. Hollywood needs your bloodthirsty guidance.

8) Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

I had hope that this one might prove to be an engaging and inventive romantic comedy along the lines of a personal favorite from last year, Definitely, Maybe. Alas, BOP's own Sean Collier extinguished that hope with his review. As someone who has never been a fan of mediocrity, this was a heartbreaking turn of events. The good news for our friends at New Line Cinema is that Reagen Sulewski and John Hamann have correctly pointed out on several occasions that mediocrity is exactly what the target audience wants. Its success is certain.

9) Next Day Air

Mike Epps is funny. Donald Faison is funny. I have to believe that a movie starring Epps and Faison has to be funny. Then again, I would have said the same thing about Pineapple Express' co-stars last year yet I genuinely despised the similarly themed title. I suspect Next Day Air won't be as bloody and it clearly won't make the $87.3 million that the Seth Rogen film did. Even so, I still think this is poised to be one of the surprise hits of the first half of summer. The ninth place finish may not reflect this, but this would be a third or fourth place film most months.

10) Dance Flick

This spoof of yard-stomping, you-serving cinema is directed by Damien Wayans. Not Damon Wayans. Damien Wayans, his nephew. God, I feel old. Also, I wonder if there is a Wayans born every 13 seconds in Hollywood or if it only seems that way. If you live there, you should simply add Wayans to your last name and see if you get into better parties that way. It's not like the guy holding the velvet rope is going to be able to prove you wrong. No one could possibly keep up with the sheer volume of California Wayanses. They must outnumber Playboy Bunnies by now.