The eyes of the entire entertainment world are focused on the box office of one movie this weekend, as it prepares to either shake up movie making as we know it, or destroy the careers of dozens of creative people in Hollywood. I'm speaking of course, of the Hugh Grant/Sarah Jessica Parker movie. No, wait...
Weekend Forecast for December 18-20, 2009
By Reagen Sulewski
December 18, 2009
Avatar represents the result of the last decade of James Cameron's work, which involved inventing new filmmaking technologies and camera equipment. All those other slackers out there just wrote things they could film normally. Lazy bastards. What he's created from it is a sci-fi adventure epic that appears to combine the romantic aspects of Titanic with the kick-butt action of Aliens, with what Cameron hopes are mind-blowing visuals. It opens this weekend in 3,453 venues, with a heavy emphasis on IMAX and Digital 3D screenings.
This is probably the first great big live action film to really use the recent 3D gimmick to such an effect – certainly there have been live action films (My Bloody Valentine, I am looking at you) recently for which 3-D was really the only reason to see the film, but none have made such a big deal about being game changers, or have promised more than just cheap sight gags.
The problem here is that Cameron has set a pretty high bar for himself, and with a confusing looking plot that seems best described as "... something, something, blue people fighting robots", it's a monumental risk. Of course, Cameron's no stranger to meeting seemingly impossible expectations, as the maker of two of the previous "most expensive film ever made" in Titanic and Terminator 2, both of which still became immensely profitable. As for the cast... well the cast is almost incidental, but includes up-and-coming action star Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Zoe Saldana (covered up in CGI). Definitely on the positive side, it comes to theaters with some awards recognition already in hand, with four Golden Globe nominations and numerous Top 10 list mentions along with some cautiously positive reviews.
There's still the question, even with this obvious technical mastery, whether people actually want to see the film. I think Cameron has earned enough respect that his films are an event, even 12 years since his last trip to the multiplex. The 3-D aspect is really just icing on the cake (and the 20 to 30% markup on those tickets doesn't hurt either). This looks set for about an $86 million weekend.
Did You Hear About The Morgans? stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in Rural/Urban Fish Out of Water Comedy Scenario #495-b. The two play a bickering New York socialite couple going through a potential divorce, which is interrupted when they accidentally witness a contract killing and have to be put in the witness protection plan. In Wyoming. This (apparently) leads to hilarity (we'll just have to trust the filmmakers on this one) involving wilderness mishaps and the two leads' rocky relationship.
While the concept isn't completely devoid of promise, the same can't be said for its humor content, and it's coasting almost entirely on the bankability of Grant and Parker. That's been less than you might expect lately, as leaving aside the Sex and the City movie, they're both averaging about $50 million total grosses for their major releases lately. Romantic comedies usually are pretty safe at Christmas time, though, and opening at 2,700 or so venues, we can expect a debut of about $13 million.
The Princess and the Frog won last weekend's box office as expected, albeit with an underwhelming $24 million. Disney's return to traditional animation was met with a bit of trepidation, as an entire generation raised on non-musical CGI films probably didn't quite know what to make of these funny cel and ink drawings and all the musical numbers. I think some long legs are likely (cause ha! Frogs got long legs! I kill me) but it's going to take a couple of films before audiences learn to care about traditional Disney style again. Give this film $16 million this weekend.
Meanwhile, The Blind Side keeps rolling along, having passed the $150 million mark mid-week. In a weak Oscar year, and with ten nominations available, this is the kind of box office performance, combined with the type of movie (heartstringspuller) that actually could lead to some recognition. It's admittedly a long shot, but you can't say you weren't warned now. Look for $9 million this weekend.
Meanwhile, Invictus had a lot of its momentum undercut by a severely underwhelming $8 million opening weekend. The Mandela quasi-biopic starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood failed to connect with audiences, possibly over the foreignness of the sport involved in the movie (rugby), possibly because Mandela just isn't that important a figure to people anymore, but most likely because Americans couldn't really make a connection between the two things that they cared about. It's certainly not done from an Oscar perspective, but the lack of public support definitely has made a big dent in its candidacy. It earns only about $5 million this weekend, and is going to need a big Christmas week push to salvage much of anything.
Elsewhere, we have New Moon looking like it'll struggle to hit $300 million after nearly breaking the opening weekend record, A Christmas Carol making its way back to respectability with $150 million in its sights, and the expansion of Precious probably hitting a bit too late, getting in after award nominations, but also backlash. All these films should hover around $5 million.