The fall blockbuster season is upon us, starting off with the annual way-too-early-to-think-about Christmas movie, sharing the screen with three other major releases with varying degrees of star power. It's closing in on the time when, as far as Hollywood is concerned, it's your civic duty to hit the multiplexes in almost obscene numbers.
Weekend Forecast for November 6-8, 2009
By Reagen Sulewski
November 6, 2009
A new version of A Christmas Carol is the first contestant in the fall box office sweepstakes. Approximately the 73 bajillionth (give or take) adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel that helped to popularize Christmas in Victorian England, this version was directed by Robert Zemeckis using his ultra-creepy motion capture technology that he pioneered with The Polar Express. Jim Carrey stars as Ebenezer Scrooge along with the three ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present and Yet to Come, along with a host of other characters. Robin Wright Penn, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins and Colin Firth also voice notable roles, but it's really Carrey's show.
Apparently, Zemeckis felt that what this story needed was a visit to The Uncanny Valley, as these CGI creations still have the power to disturb. There's also some action thrown in, since if Dickens had a major failing as a writer, it was his failure to utilize explosions and accidental rocketry as a plot device.
Debuting in both 3-D and IMAX versions alongside the more traditional theatrical presentation, A Christmas Carol has the potential to become a rather huge hit. It's already got a leg up just from being more familiar to audiences than The Polar Express, and Carrey is about equal to Tom Hanks in terms of family pictures (see: Horton Hears a Who and Lemony Snicket). The 3-D gimmick also continues to be a huge selling point and has turned a couple of otherwise unremarkable films into pretty big hits. With a film that already has a high degree of built-in marketability, it makes it almost a slam-dunk.
The Polar Express was actually a slow starter when it first came out in 2004, opening to just $24 million in its first weekend of wide release, churning along towards $170 million at the end of its first run. Beowulf, as silly and non-family friendly as that looked, actually opened to more (although it died on the vine), which is in a way more impressive. With the combination of the classic story, heavily marketed lead voice talent and theatrical gimmickry, A Christmas Carol should open to around $50 million this weekend.
The Men Who Stare At Goats will probably win this year's award for "Title That Should Really Bring People Into The Theatre, But Will Actually Scare Them Away" (past winners: To Wong Foo! Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar and Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead).
Based on a supposedly true story, the film follows a journalist (played by Ewan McGregor) who investigates a secret US Military operation designed to focus paranormal abilities for combat. Guided along by a former member of that unit (played by George Clooney, looking very Sgt. Rock), they chase down two other former members of the unit (played by Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges) who are both attempting to pervert the exercise for their own ends.
Playing a bit like a lost Coen Brothers film (or maybe a less serious version of Syriana), it's a rather loopy looking comedy with some weird tone elements that might put off mass audiences like, well, Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Standout reviews might have helped here, but they've been rather mixed which might doom this film to mediocrity at the box office. An opening slate of just over 2,400 screens doesn't inspire confidence either, and I suspect we're looking at an opening weekend of just over $11 million.
There's a double dose of horror-thrillers opening this weekend, climbing into a marketplace that's been rather saturated with them lately. The Fourth Kind arrives perhaps perfectly timed to seize on the recent popularity of verité-horror, such as Paranormal Activity. Starring Milla Jovovich, it purports to tell the story of a series of disappearances in Nome, Alaska,
Shot as a recreation of documentary footage, it follows Jovovich's character as she psychoanalyzes a series of disturbed individuals that seem to share the same delusion. As she gets to the bottom of the issue, there's just one plausible explanation: alien abduction (I mean, obviously), which is where the film gets its title from, referring to the step beyond Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters. These aliens aren't quite so friendly as that, and most of the patients come back catatonic or barely functional.
In some sense Paranormal Activity may have paved the way for this film to be more accepted, but in other ways it could feel like a ripoff (even though it was obviously filmed well before Paranormal was released). It certainly lacks that film's organic buzz and seems more like an extended episode of In Search Of... than a real feature. I don't think this is going to hit in nearly the same way as other recent horror films, and should open to just $9 million.
Meanwhile, The Box is quite literally an extended TV episode, finding its origin in a Richard Matheson-penned Twilight Zone. The premise is as simple as it is ludicrous – a mysterious stranger presents a couple with a box containing just one button. If they press it, they'll be given $1 million, but if they do, someone in the world will die. The film examines that ethical question, but since it needs to fill two hours, throws in some car crashes and stuff.
Cameron Diaz and James Marsden star as the couple presented with this dilemma, with Frank Langella as the disfigured stranger. Director Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame) is no stranger to these kind of convoluted films, but this feels rather ho-hum, and not that worthy of the big screen. This one will have a tiny impact at the box office, with just $5 million.
Michael Jackson's swan song, This Is It, wildly underperformed compared to studio hype with an opening weekend of $23 million, though it's an exceptional figure by concert film standards. Their notoriously short life-spans don't lend much hope to the idea that it can perform like a normal film, as the die-hards already went out to see it. It's hard to imagine too many people that were fanatic Michael Jackson fans but didn't want to see this immediately. Watch for an astonishing drop to around $8 million for the last weekend of its planned two-week run.
Paranormal Activity continues to add a handful of screens each week and although it's not going to hit #1 again, it's all set to cross $100 million this weekend. It's shown remarkable stickiness as a phenomenon, and with these new screens should be able to hold off the challenge from The Fourth Kind. Give it $11 million for the weekend.
Nothing else should manage $5 million this weekend, though Couples Retreat has shown a remarkable resiliency and will eventually hit the $100 million plateau, if not go much past it.