Weekend Forecast for October 2-4, 2009
By Reagen Sulewski
October 2, 2009

It's the great traveling banjo and gun show! Only occasional injuries!

It's High Concept Weekend as five movies, each with their own little quirk, invade the multiplex. There's something new out there for everyone, provided that your definition of "everyone" includes people who aren't looking for the latest blockbuster.

Leading the way is the horror-comedy Zombieland, which with each new ad, has steadily become one of the fall's must-see films. It stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as four survivors of a zombie apocalypse (the best kind of apocalypse) who band together in order to make a final stand against an undead tide. In the meantime, much zany mayhem and creative splattering of zombies ensues, sort of like an American Shaun of the Dead (the filmmakers' admitted inspiration).

The creativity the movie displays in dispatching zombies, sort of like Final Destination for the undead, is just part of the appeal for this movie, but what an appeal it is. There's an obvious glee that the film appears to take in finding new and splatteriffic ways to rid the world of the zombie menace. But this would be pretty monotonous on its own, and thankfully there appears to be more to the movie. Harrelson and Eisenberg's characters have opposite, but equally effective strategies to survive – Harrelson by being ultra aggressive and macho, Eisenberg by being meek and hiding. These two personality types get played off each other throughout the film to hilarious effect.

While horror-comedy isn't usually the most lucrative of genres – horror aficionados often find the horror lacking, and comedy fans can be turned off by the gore – Zombieland has done a terrific job of trying to apply to both camps. Probably the best examples of this are the Zombie Rules, a series of tips that detail how to survive in a world overrun by zombies (Max Brooks is probably seething right now, but still). These go a long ways towards setting the tone for the movie, that of goofy mayhem. It's been greeted with surprisingly good reviews, nearly unanimously positive, and a full-on blitz campaign to the point where awareness has to be near total. Opening at over 3,000 venues, Zombieland should open to about $26 million, with breakout potential for much more.

Hollywood does box office analysts a little bit of a favor this weekend by providing us with something of a control for the effect of 3-D. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 get a re-release in 1,700 theaters, remastered in the new 3-D technology that's been all the rage of late. Running as a double feature, it's probably a lot to ask of families and little kids in one go, but it is a unique experience for Pixar fans, and also serves as a bit of a test run for Toy Story 3 next year. As beloved as the Toy Story films are, I think we can probably reach about $9 million for this re-release.

The Invention of Lying is the directorial debut of UK comedian Ricky Gervais (along with somebody named Matthew Robinson, who has zero other IMDb credits – a likely story, Ricky...). Gervais also stars in the film, which is set in a world where lying simply doesn't exist, and not only can't people lie, but they always tell the truth – and the complete truth at that.

That is, until Gervais comes up with the concept of lying, something so inconceivable to everyone else around him that he's able to seduce women, rob banks, and advance in his career just by saying the word. Gervais then stumbles upon the idea of the biggest lie of all... God. Aaaaand we've just lost the southern United States. Oh bother.

The idea of the film is a rich enough one that it makes just about every writer mad that they didn't come up with it first, as rich a comedy target as it is, and obvious once it's pointed out. Essentially the reverse of Liar, Liar, it's perhaps the idea of the British comedy of manners taken to its extreme. While Jim Carrey's take on the subject was a gigantic hit, Gervais' will ... not be, since he's no Jim Carrey ca. 1997, or even Jim Carrey ca. 2009, in terms of box office. That was rather clear with last year's Ghost Town, which was better than its lame premise seemed, but still only made $5 million opening weekend. The quality of this concept bodes somewhat better for The Invention of Lying, but Gervais still isn't a really trusted name Stateside. Also opening on just 1,700 screens or so, look for it to bring in $8 million.

Another directorial debut happens this weekend with Whip It, that of Drew Barrymore. Ellen Page stars as a troubled teen who joins a roller-derby league, finding a purpose and camaraderie with other women for the first time. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by a real derby girl, it's your standard validative sports-movie plot, set in an environment that hasn't really been seen on the big screen in any real fashion before, at least seriously.

Page costars with Barrymore, Kristin Wiig, Zoe Bell and Juliette Lewis, in a cast that grabs just about every "tough chick" out there, and one that has a fair bit of talent as well. It's an unassuming movie, and one that's garnered some fair reviews, but will be a bit limited for gender and obscure sport reasons. Look for around $6 million for it this weekend.

Finally, we have Michael Moore's latest polemic, Capitalism: A Love Story. No longer going after the small fries of big business, guns, or the health care system, Moore has set his sights on the underlying economic structure of Western Society. Lenin's corpse nods approvingly. Moore's last film, Sicko, came down in box office terms quite dramatically so from the peak of Fahrenheit 9/11, but compared to the rest of the documentaries out there still stands as a Mt. Whitney to 9/11's Everest.

Few documentarians could hope to reach even a tenth of his audience. Capitalism is maybe a bit more strident than anything he's ever done before, but he should still find a decently willing audience for its 900 or so screens, and bring in about $4 million this weekend and inspire innumerable calls of irony, a la Sideshow Bob appearing on television to decry it. "So don't bother pointing that out."

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs had an astounding weekend holdover in its second frame, dropping just 17% to earn another $25 million and hitting $60 million total. Perhaps the first true film of this recent batch to have legs based on its 3-D tech, it's pretty much a bonafide hit at this point. It's largely losing its 3-D screens to Toy Story this weekend, so those legs probably won't hold entirely, but they won't disappear completely either. Give it $14 million this weekend.

Elsewhere among notable returning films, Bruce Willis' Surrogates should drop to about $7 million this weekend as audiences reject this sci-fi film, and Fame should see just $6 million.