October 2009 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
October 2, 2009

*Sent from my iPhone*

A particularly Halloween-dominated October is in store for 2009, with horror films and creepy children's fantasy lording over the proceedings. If that's not your bag, you still have the occasional comedy, action thriller, or Oscar film to keep you busy.

1. Couples Retreat (October 9th)

Never underestimate the power of a silly, cheesy, and potentially very entertaining comedy. This sunny resort epic follows a popular recent model for hit films: it's a broad comedy with a high concept premise, a few big name stars, and an oft-played trailer with a lot of money shots. Vince Vaughn leads the team of dysfunctional couples, and indeed spousal dysfunction is a genre he has dabbled in successfully before (The Break-Up, Four Christmases). Also on hand are perennial second banana Jason Bateman, rising starlets Kristen Bell and Malin Akerman, Sex and the City stalwart Kristin Davis, newly-minted blockbuster director Jon Favreau, and perpetually grumpy-looking French character actor Jean Reno. Something for everyone. Plus, the movie's got the weekend of the 9th all to itself. Nothing can stop Couples Retreat.

Opening weekend: $35 million / Total gross: $102 million

2. Where the Wild Things Are (October 16th)

Now here is the month's wild card. This adaptation of the beloved 1963 children's book by Maurice Sendak could go one of three ways:

A. General box office failure ($30 million - $40 million), too weird and inexplicable-looking to mainstream audiences

B. Moderate success ($50 million - $80 million), spurred on by nostalgia and curiosity about the film's unique look and feel

C. Runaway hit ($100 million+), led by critical acclamation and children's delight with the enjoyably goofy-looking monsters running around on screen, just in time for Halloween

Clearly, the filmmakers are hoping for C. While I think the film's profile is too high for option A to be the right answer, I'm going to have to settle with B, especially since October isn't a great month for kids' movies, and there's certainly going to be some competition prowling out and about by the time Samhain rolls around.

Opening weekend: $28 million / Total gross: $75 million

3. Michael Jackson: This Is It (October 28th)

... the month's second wild card. It's hard to say what this concert film, composed of rehearsal footage from Michael Jackson's last days, is going to turn out like. Directed by High School Musical-helmer Kenny Ortega, who worked on Jackson's planned This Is It tour, the result here appears to be both a tribute to Jackson and a recreation of the tour that never was. The possibility exists that This Is It will be very, very big, and the opening day is certainly going to be massive. But for now, I'll be conservative on this one's ceiling, though I admit $100 million is certainly not out of the question. The man had his fans, no doubt about that.

Opening weekend: $37 million / Total gross: $68 million

4. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (October 23rd)

Another dark fantasy for the younger set, this one based on a recent book series. And it's a property that has certainly gotten a top-flight adaptation, with scripting by Brian Helgeland, direction by Paul Weitz, and the presence of excellent character actor John C. Reilly in a meaty vampire role. While I'm not quite sure exactly how popular the Cirque du Freak series is, the film's move from the cold, empty fields of January to the bright, pumpkin-tinted region of October was probably a good idea (it's what I call a seasonal match), though the competition is fierce. Fans of the material should propel the opening weekend, and the often underserved Halloween-time demographic of ghouls, goblins, and assorted succubi (most of whom are too squeamish for Saw VI) will probably take care of the rest.

Opening weekend: $27 million / Total gross: $64 million

5. Law Abiding Citizen (October 16th)

This month's Gerard Butler movie. Bleak thrillers have a habit of doing well in October, and this one seems to have assembled the right pedigree for such an enterprise, pairing Butler with Jamie Foxx and adding a backbone of a strong supporting cast (Viola Davis, Bruce McGill, and so on). Recent trailers start off like a more civilized Saw rip-off, before descending into a high-stakes action thriller; as a master builder of deadly traps, Butler seems to be playing an even less-humorous version of Ledger's Joker. That said, Law Abiding Citizen has enough of a big-scale feel to give both its stars a decent hit.

Opening weekend: $22 million / Total gross: $59 million

6. Toy Story / Toy Story 2 in 3-D(October 2nd)

Like ghosts from the past bearing warning of the future, the founding fathers of the decade in CGI return to stir the waters for next summer's Toy Story 3. While computer-generated Jabba the Hutts haven't been inserted into the background, this two-for-the price of one double-bill has been blessed with the gift of Disney Digital 3-D (if only all films could be so lucky). As such, the box office gets a bump by default. While it's hard to gauge exactly how big this combo will be, the oft-issued warning that this is a two week-only release out to drive up the initial numbers. Oh yeah, and Toy Story 3 is going to be massive.

Opening weekend: $24 million / Total gross: $52 million

7. Saw VI (October 23rd)

If we only count wide theatrical releases, the Saw pictures are notable as the first cinematic horror franchise in recorded box office history to release four films in four consecutive years (make that six for six now, a feat unlikely to be broken anytime soon). That's not just a record, it's a terrific release strategy: the Saw franchise has basically conditioned its fans to treat it like they would a beloved television series - every episode answers some questions and introduces new ones, and then you've gotta tune in same time, next year to find out more. Sure, every entry since part II has been making less than its predecessor. But when you start off at a high of $87 million, and your budget's something like $10 million, that's a long way down. Obviously, the "you won't believe how it ends"-tagged Saw V was not the final film (they meant you won't believe how the movie ends, stupid!), and Saw 7 and 8 have already been announced. After all, we wouldn't want anyone breaking that record.

Opening weekend: $25 million / Total gross: $49 million

8. The Stepfather (October 16th)

Another month, another '80s horror movie remake. But something is different now: the past several weeks delivered almost-unbelievably low box office for both Sorority Row and Jennifer's Body, two trashy sure-fire horror hits that performed like it was 2000, not 2009. That brings up the possibility that the mid-decade horror boom is at its end, and that a horror movie need do something other than simply exist in order to be a minor hit. On the plus side, the presence of Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley should help this, as should a generally TV-friendly cast (Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward). The trailer makes this out to be in the vein of all those silly, obvious PG-13 thrillers that spent the past five years opening between $15 million and $25 million. But times may have changed, and judged by the pre-2004 standard for predicting horror success or failure, this one doesn't rack up too highly. We shall see.

Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $42 million

9. Amelia (October 23rd)

Something about this awards-bait biography reminds me distinctly of last year's Changeling - especially the release date, the period costuming, and the presence of a strong female lead (Hilary Swank, a master at chameleonic performances, as Amelia Earhart). Of course, Ms. Earhart has already had her turn at bat this year (see Amy Adams in Night at the Museum 2; in some surreal movie universe, I'd like to see the Swank and Adams versions of the character meet). With solid enough reviews, this can open okay and then have a few decent weekends. If it gets really top-level critical acclamation, though, it can soar even higher throughout November, especially if Swank becomes the Best Actress front-runner (something she has a habit of doing).

Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $42 million

10. Astro Boy (October 23rd)

Based on the old TV show and manga comics, and boy, does it look it, too. Animated sci-fi adventures can certainly do well (see Monsters vs. Aliens), but sprightly-looking 3-D cartoon that Astro Boy is, I just don't think this character is remembered with particular fondness today. And with all the other kids' properties getting a film adaptation this month, competition is certainly high. Like last year's Speed Racer, Astro Boy is one old-time cartoon probably best left to the history books.

Opening weekend: $15 million / Total gross: $36 million

11. Whip It (October 2nd)

This roller derby-fest takes up the quirky teenage spot occupied last year by Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. With direction by Drew Barrymore and featuring Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, and Barrymore herself, this one's definitely got a lot of girl power, and it's Page's first real starring role after Juno. Whip It got good enough notices at the Toronto Film Festival, but do people really want to see a movie about the intricacies of roller skating? As a premise, it's almost singularly unappealing, but if the reviews are gushy enough, legs may develop.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $35 million

12. The Invention of Lying (October 2nd)

Whaddya know? Ricky Gervais is back. After his very funny Ghost Town barely made a blimp on the box office last September, I'm glad that he's getting another chance as leading man. But if a funny Ricky Gervais movie couldn't do well at the box office in September 2008, is there any reason to believe a funny Ricky Gervais movie is going to do better in October 2009? It doesn't help that the premise here seems tantalizingly weird. Interesting mash-up of a supporting cast, though - whoever thought Jonah Hill, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Guest, Tina Fey and Patrick Stewart would ever end up in the same movie? Add Tyler Perry and Lindsay Lohan to that line-up and you've got possibly the most mis-matched batch of actors ever assembled.

Opening weekend: $9 million / Total gross: $21 million

13. Zombieland (October 2nd)

The unexpected re-invigoration of the zombie genre during the 2000s climaxes with this film, and it would appear that it's a subgenre that at this point has been done just about to death (yes, even as comedy). The stars - Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin - are an oddly-assembled if potentially entertaining bunch, but they don't really have much box office clout, nor does the trailer paint Zombieland as anything new and exciting. Sure, it could be a pretty funny film, but it's going to be overshadowed by the month's trashier horror movies all the same. The previously mentioned yet still inexplicable box office failures of both Jennifer's Body and Sorority Row, two much more commercially appealing projects, don't bode well for this one either.

Opening weekend: $6 million / Total gross: $17 million