November 2009 Forecast
By Michael Lynderey
November 6, 2009

After vampire baseball comes the vampire marathon.

With the truly bizarre Halloween-season box office out of the way, November launches us into a summer-style schedule full of blockbusters-of-the-week. And this year, there's a three-way fight to the top; the contenders are New Moon, 2012, and A Christmas Carol. And if December disappoints, the battle for the third quarter's biggest film may be won here.

1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (November 20th)

It's really a no-brainer of the highest order that New Moon, the sequel to last fall's biggest film, is going to be huge. The real question is this: can it overcome the various heavyweights lined up to challenge it, and win the month? I think so, especially since it seems that the Twilight franchise has somehow only widened its fanbase during the last year. How odd it is also to find such popularity surrounding vampires, who are generally some of horror's most boring characters (Count Yorga being an obvious exception, of course). Anyway, Twilight 2's brought back everybody from the first movie (save for director Catherine Hardwicke), and the trailers have been carefully designed to appease fans. Odd as it may sound, the Twilight pictures appear ready and willing to stake out their claim as a latter-day, and considerably soapier, version of the Harry Potter series. Like most sequels to well-received films, this one ought to open bigger than the first, and then probably finisher bigger, too. I suspect that the third entry, scheduled for June 2010, will see a slight dip. But for now, it's New Moon's day in the sun (take all the pun you can get out of that one).

Opening weekend: $95 million / Total gross: $225 million

2. 2012 (November 13th)

Roland Emmerich just won't let the world catch a break. Evidently not content with all the cinematic death and destruction already credited to his name, he has chosen to give us 2012, a film that looks suspiciously like a remake of his own The Day After Tomorrow - and unapologetically so. However, ever since the box office failure of another Day - the one when the Earth Stood Still, last December - I've suspected that end-of-the-world disaster epics don't do that well around the holiday season (not without Will Smith in the lead, anyway). On the plus side, this one's got John Cusack (in his third team-up with Amanda Peet), some great special effects, and a topical premise (well, the real 2012 is coming up), so a typically-apocalyptic total of about $200 million should be an easy enough mark. Besides, this one's got at least three times as many explosions in the trailer as last December's Keanu Reeves movie did, so working that out to three times the box office ought to be simple enough math.

Opening weekend: $72 million / Total gross: $201 million

3. Disney's A Christmas Carol (November 6th)

I can't think of a better way to start the holiday season than with yet another Robert Zemeckis excursion into the macabre depths of CGI animation; after Zemeckis' absolutely masterful The Polar Express (2004), and the somewhat less masterful if still entertaining Beowulf (2007), a Christmas Carol seems like the next logical choice for similar screen treatment. Aside from those great-looking trailers, it's got Jim Carrey, who seems to be phasing himself in slowly but surely into star voice over roles. Still, if I had to quibble with the box office prospects here - and I always do - I'd say that while pretty well-known, the plot of A Christmas Carol is just sort of kid-unfriendly, when you think about it, isn't it? But humbug to that thought.

Opening weekend: $51 million / Total gross: $185 million

4. Old Dogs (November 25th)

Oh yes, it's another one of those ridiculous big-star comedies, with the silly trailer, the inexplicable supporting characters (a monstrously-mustached Justin Long and a mean-spirited, visor cap-wearing Matt Dillon), and the big gorilla money shot. Robin Williams and John Travolta are reliable enough anchors, and the movie's likely appeal to both adults and children should give it big legs throughout December. Indeed, like Four Christmases last year, this has all the right demographics very cannily covered. So, you want a silly $100 million-grossing holiday comedy? Here's the season's first one.

Opening weekend: $42 million (five-day) / Total gross: $115 million

5. Planet 51 (November 20th)

Like last year's Bolt, Planet 51 is a CGI alternative to the gloomy vampiric misadventures going on over in that other November 20th movie. It's another in the alarmingly long line of silly CGI epics, and the premise here seems to be of the one-joke variety. Planet 51's got The Rock, who started out like an heir to Schwarzenegger but has since become inescapably stuck in Arnie's Kindergarten Cop-era kids movie period (the only guns he's playing with these days are plastic). As was the case in October, the studios certainly didn't hesitate to flood the marketplace with children's films, and just like last month, some of them are going to be the worse for wear because of it. That said, I'm probably still wrong on this one not making $100 million, but so what? It's what I do.

Opening weekend: $24 million / Total gross: $73 million

6. The Men Who Stare at Goats (November 6th)

Another politically-charged enterprise from the Clooney team. As usual, these things read like box office poison on paper, but when you get through with the critical acclamation, the awards buzz, the funny trailers, and the genuine star power, you don't wind up with something all that uncommercial after all. Indeed, while the premise here is inherently bizarre, it was obviously a good idea to team Clooney and Ewan McGregor up with perpetually entertaining character actors Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges (who apparently plays some sort of military goat guru, and ends the trailer on a great punchline). Men / Goats doesn't look like it's going to be a serious awards contender, but should play out like one at the box office anyway.

Opening weekend: $16 million / Total gross: $51 million

7. The Blind Side (November 20th)

The feel-good sports movie wave began by Remember of the Titans in 2000 comes full circle with this, another trek into Southern football. It's interesting to see Sandra Bullock here, playing it straight after two comedy leads; and while The Blind Side doesn't look like anything exceptional, it'll probably have a good enough time at the box office being unexceptional, with a minor hint of legs throughout December.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $42 million

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox (limited on November 13th; expands November 25th)

As yet another entry into November's children's sweepstakes, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows Where the Wild Things Are in assigning a quirky indie director to a would-be mainstream mass entertainment. The result, as with that film, seems a little odd, and this one doesn't have the pent-up nostalgia that gave the Spike Jonze picture a respectable box office performance. Even more so than Wild Things, this has a problem: as expected, it looks way too weird for kids, and as for adults - well, you may have to resort to bribery to get them to see something so out there (I'm personally waiting for my check in the mail). Still, the voice casting is absolutely impeccable, led as it is by none other than George Clooney, who evidently never met a thoroughly uncommercial project he didn't like. But do kids care that Mrs. Fox is really Meryl Streep?

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $38 million

9. The Box (November 6th)

This one's a fairly nifty-looking little horror thriller with a catchy premise. Oddly set in the 1970s, The Box takes likeable leads Cameron Diaz and James Marsden and pits them against Frank Langella, now back in high-profile character actor mode, and looking aptly sinister at that. The trailer is sufficiently intriguing, but the movie's got some genre competition, and I think it just doesn't have the momentum to break out in the days right after Halloween. Sure, horror movies do well in November once in a blue moon, but I think we've all had our fill of them this year, nifty as they may be.

Opening weekend: $13 million / Total gross: $37 million

10. Ninja Assassin(November 25th)

Ninja Assassin is another entry into the explosion-filled pantheon of producers Joel Silver and the Wachowski brothers, and it takes up the late November B-action slot, previously occupied by last year's Transporter 2 and 2007's Hitman. Neither one of those two passed $40 million, and it would be kind of shocking if this one did. After all, Ninja Assassin isn't based on anything (no, not even a video game, sadly), it doesn't star anyone known stateside, and barring some critical praise, I don't think there's much of an audience for it. It's hard out there for a ninja assassin.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $34 million

11. The Road (November 25th)

It's tough to quite peg down this Cormac McCarthy adaptation, a post-apocalyptic drama pushed back from November 2008 under the potentially-accurate assumption that fall 2009 will offer less critically-praised competition. While star Viggo Mortensen has solidified himself as a lead of violent awards-bait, The Road seems too dark and depressing to attract anyone but fans of the book. And considering the already-unenthusiastic early reviews, it won't have the Oscar legs to lift it above Mortensen's previous fall titles, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $26 million

12. The Fourth Kind (November 6th)

The Fourth Kind is yet another based-on-true-events, PG-13-rated, Canada-shot thriller. On the plus side, it's got one of those insidiously would-be scary trailers that have inexplicably lured teenage audiences en masse to theaters this decade, handing out jaw-dropping box office tallies to movies like the Exorcism of Emily Rose. On the minus, methinks audiences have had their share of shaky-cam movies about paranormal activity with - well - Paranormal Activity. But I could be wrong. Either way, I'll look on the glass as half full, and mention that it's always nice to see Milla Jovovich, even if she does have to fight off killer owls from outer space.

Opening weekend: $11 million / Total gross: $25 million

13. Precious and co.

The month's wild card - the movie that really ought to be #6 on this list, if not higher, though I suspect it won't see really big numbers until well into next year. Precious is touted as this year's Slumdog Millionaire, and it won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival (the previous two recipients: Slumdog and Juno). But unlike last year's Best Picture winner, this one just seems too downbeat and depressing, and it doesn't have Slumdog's sense of being a vaguely exotic, visually lively adventure. Still, the names of Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey - even as producers - carry a lot of weight; add them to the inevitable word-of-mouth and the Oscar legs, and you've got a potential $100 million earner.

While Precious leads the way, there are a few other Oscar films out in limited release, with some potential for expansion. There's The Messenger, Ben Foster's first real try for a Best Actor nomination (looking good so far), That Evening Sun, with a meaty Hal Holbrook role, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, which looks like someone has been getting a lot of two-for-the-price-of-one deals at the character actor store. There's also Nicolas Cage's Bad Lieutenant: Port Call of New Orleans, with its amusingly pulpy title, and the Zac Efron period piece Me and Orson Welles, which will give a real test to his burgeoning star power (if it ever gets into wide release, that is). Disney is platforming The Princess and the Frog, their first traditionally animated film in a while, but that won't really get moving until December.

I can wait.