Weekend Forecast for May 21-23, 2010
By Reagen Sulewski
May 21, 2010

Proof that there really is someone for everyone.

This weekend brings one of the major bellwether films of summer, as the first 3-D movie of the season debuts. Additionally, one of the shakiest hooks to hang a film on in some time hits multiplexes.

Shrek Forever After is the fourth film in the Shrek series (hard to believe they resisted making the pun in the title more prominent – it’s the only subtle thing this series has ever done), the franchise that opened up the CGI animation wars to more than just Pixar, and kept DreamWorks afloat for a few extra years.

In a plot that’s essentially A Wonderful Shrek (another direct comparison I’m surprised they resisted), the Mike Myers-voiced ogre finds himself whisked away by Rumpelstiltskin into a version of Far Far Away where he never existed. Because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie, it’s a nightmare version of the world, where ogres are hunted for sport, and worse, he’s never met his true love Fiona.

But really, I overemphasize the plot here. More than anything it’s a framework to throw tired and random pop-culture jokes on, and let Mike Myers run wild with a (still unexplainable) faux-Scottish accent. As lazy and insipid as these movies have become, it’s hard to argue with the results, as the three films have brought in over $2 billion worldwide just in theatrical release. The series may not be bulletproof, as the drop from the second film to the third showed – producers may have left $300 million on the table worldwide – hence, the move to 3-D for what is suggested may be the final instalment of the series.

While 3-D has proven to be a bonanza for live action films – not just Avatar, but also Alice in Wonderland have become massive hits because of it, and otherwise mediocre films like Clash of the Titans changed from bombs to blockbusters – its efficacy for turning animated films into bigger hits is less proven. It’s largely been irrelevant for the films like Up and Bolt, and How to Train Your Dragon became a hit on world-of-mouth rather than appreciation for its FX. Perhaps the technology jump just isn’t as apparent, or maybe it’s the reluctance of parents to spend the extra dollars on tickets for children at the theater, but in any case, we’ve yet to see an animated film really take advantage of the medium.

Curiously, ads for it haven’t really been pushing the 3-D angle so much. Perhaps producers have come to the same conclusion about its value. Or maybe they’re just banking on a perceived increase in quality from Shrek the Third to bring this franchise back. I think the damage was done and there’s not a lot of heat from this film, which should limit it to around a $95 million opening weekend – still massive, but will leave it well behind other films in this series in the long run.

Can you base a feature length film around a 30 second sketch? Saturday Night Live’s been trying for years with limited success, and is ready to give it another shot with MacGruber, the other film opening this week in wide release. A broad parody of '80s action films and TV (and more specifically MacGyver), it stars Will Forte as the title character, a special forces operative known for his ability to piece together elaborate spy devices using household objects. Called in to stop a terrorist (Val Kilmer – who I honestly can’t tell if he’s slumming or not) from destroying Washington, D.C. with a nuclear warhead. Goofy and apparently incredibly filthy hijinks ensue.

Also starring Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe as part of MacGruber’s team, it’s an unusual cast for an early summer comedy with delusions of blockbusterhood. It’s also shockingly well reviewed for an SNL film, with the vast majority of critics giving it at least a qualified thumbs-up. I know, I’m scared too.

No SNL film has truly been successful since Wayne’s World, which is a frightening amount of time ago now. MacGruber is hoping to break that streak of losing, trying to avoid becoming another Night at the Roxbury. The character isn’t that well known, and the humor to mine from it seems slight. The writers, director and producers apparently seem to agree, what with the addition of a more general parody of action movies, and the raunchy material. While I still don’t think this will make a gigantic difference, it’s at least given itself a chance to break out. Comparisons to Beverly Hills Cop and The Hangover seem reallllly optimistic, though, and a more realistic definition of breakout for this film is around the $14 million mark.

Shrek will end Iron Man 2’s two-week reign at the top of the box office, which is certainly no shock, but it’s perhaps a little surprising at just how quickly it’s fallen off the pace. Shedding almost 60% of its initial weekend total, it’s in real danger of falling behind the weekend pace of the first film already, which would spell trouble for any intentions it might have of surpassing Iron Man’s $318 million.

It’s impossible to not call this a hit by any rational measure, as this is probably what we’d have expected for an Iron Man sequel without the knowledge of what the first one did. A little correction from that steep drop in the second weekend should be in order, with around $25 million this weekend.

Robin Hood landed squarely in mediocrity land for its opening weekend, with $36 million, a little over $200 million short of what it needs to break even. I don’t expect any rescue from word-of-mouth, although a big drop would surprise me as well, as this doesn’t have the feel of a front-loaded film. A second weekend of $18 million wouldn’t exactly be a victory, per se, but it would at least stem some of the bleeding from the bad press over the film’s budget.

Last weekend’s two romances ended up with fairly unremarkable numbers, in both senses. Letters to Juliet landed right in the average spot for a romance with decent matinee talent – its $13.5 million is solid and should lead to a $50 million final total, while Just Wright managed $8 million and ought to end up with around $25 million. Neither failures nor runaway successes, this is about the last time you’ll hear about these films until you’ve run out of options on a Friday night several months from now and you see these pop up on cable.