Weekend Forecast for September 10-12, 2010
By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis
September 10, 2010

Ask him what The Hammer is.

In 1996, the nascent Playstation video game console was still awaiting its first killer app. The launch titles for the system were a mediocre lot, with gamers generally liking the concept of the compact disc-based system more than the execution of the early titles. Six months later, the release of a title billed as a survival horror game changed the opinions of many of those frustrated gamers. The original Resident Evil was not only an instant best seller for the Playstation but also one of the best reviewed games during the system’s shaky first 18 months.

Over the years, the Resident Evil franchise grew to become a videogame monolith, eventually earning the dubious honor of big screen adaptation. While many of these attempts flame out in glorious fashion, Resident Evil once again surprised, with several reviewers declaring the zombie thriller’s first outing as the best videogame adaptation ever. Yes, that was an ignoble compliment, but the first Resident Evil film demonstrated an innate understanding of the concept that made the videogame franchise so popular. People love killing zombie dogs. When the trailer advertised Milla Jovovich kicking one of them in teeth, consumers were hooked. The movie was a surprise opening weekend hit, earning $17.7 million (an inflation-adjusted tally of right at $23.0 million) on the way to $40.3 million worth of final domestic box office (roughly $52 million in 2010 dollars). The $35 million production wound up with worldwide revenue of $104 million before becoming quite popular on home video, as is oftentimes the case with videogame adaptations as well as zombie flicks. Resident Evil catered to both audiences, proving itself to be a lucrative low budget gothic franchise for Sony Pictures.

You know the rest by now. Resident Evil: Apocalypse may not have been the best movie ever made or even on the good side of the good movie/bad movie equator line. It was, however, a $50 million production that garnered $128.9 million worth of worldwide box office. It also featured the popular Resident Evil character of Jill Valentine, complete with splashy outfit and kicky boots. That part may only interest me and actress Sienna Guillory, whose performance in the film was…lacking.

The financial performance of the second film guaranteed a third and that title, Resident Evil: Extinction, came up with a clever hook. The trailers centered upon a killer concept, a zombie battle taking place in the abandoned tourist trap that once was Las Vegas. The dystopian element played well with consumers as the third Resident Evil release became the largest debut (by a small increment) with $23.7 million on its way to the best worldwide performance for the franchise to date, $146.2 million against a production cost of only $45 million. If you add up the numbers, $130 million worth of (pre-marketing) investments for the films in the Resident Evil franchise have returned residuals in the amount of $380 million. BOP’s Josh Spiegel opined yesterday that he would never understand how these films keep getting made; here is his answer. The combination of zombie battles with a videogame flair sells tickets to people like myself, one of the most ardent supporters of this franchise going all the way back to the initial game’s release in 1996 (I still have my copy in storage somewhere).

To their credit, the creators of the franchise are aware of the fact that some elements have grown stale. As such, they faced exactly the same dilemma in making the fourth movie that the videogame’s producers did in making the fourth title. Anyone who follows that industry is well aware of the fact that Resident Evil 4 is one of the most triumphant videogame projects to date. Chosen game of the year by any number of industry reviewers, it was also a huge seller on multiple consoles.

The twist was that the outdated control scheme and game style of the original title was thrown out the window in favor of massive battles and frequent boss fights. Within the first 15 minutes of gameplay, a Resident Evil 4 player is battling an entire town of “humans” who have been infected by parasitic organisms who completely control the host bodies. So, the zombies look just like the rest of us.

Resident Evil 5, a bestseller from 2009, also follows this trajectory and I mention it for one very important reason. The first boss fight in that game involves a giant man swinging an even larger hammer. Anyone who has seen the trailers for Resident Evil: Afterlife suddenly understands where I’m going with this. Several of the popular elements from the recent videogame reboots are being carried over to the latest movie adaptation, which guarantees quality action sequences…and hopefully fewer clones than the last film.

There is also one added development to factor in when we discuss the potential opening weekend of Resident Evil: Afterlife. After Avatar fundamentally changed the way consumers look at the emerging technology of digital 3-D presentation, we have all been waiting for that next title that blows us away. To date, all of the potential contenders have disappointed, many of them shamelessly taking 3-D ticket pricing without offering 3-D quality (I’m looking at you, Clash of the Titans).

While everyone rushes to judgment that 3-D is an overrated, temporary box office phenomenon, they ignore the core premise of all corporations, which is to follow the money. Sony wouldn’t be making 3-D televisions such a staple of their electronics division unless they planned on supporting it with quality programming. We are witnessing some vertical integration here as the Sony Pictures arm sells some Sony 3-D televisions down the line thanks to the spectacular visuals of their latest movie release. This is why they showed the forethought that no one else has demonstrated thus far, using James Cameron’s own technology to ensure that Resident Evil: Afterlife is one of the best looking titles on the 2010 calendar. This is the rare 3-D release whose special effects look special, and that could aid the bottom line. 3-D ticket pricing alone should guarantee that this is the biggest Resident Evil debut to date. We think a $28 million opening weekend is in line for this one.

The only reason I am not predicting an even larger first frame is that Step Up 3-D looked good on paper as another established franchise (how scary a thought is that?) that should do bigger business thanks to more expensive tickets. And we all know how that one turned out. Plus, I’m extraordinarily biased when it comes to all things Resident Evil, so it’s best for me to downplay my expectations whenever possible. Resident Evil: Afterlife looks like a liquid metal action flick to me and I will be there tomorrow evening. With college football heating up and the NFL starting on Sunday, however, there need to be a lot of other people joining me in order to guarantee that this one is as successful as the previous three. If it does disappoint, I'll blame it on the surprise return of "actress" Sienna Guillory. (David Mumpower/BOP)

No one should have high expectations for last weekend’s openers, which had the benefit of the Labor Day holiday to prop up their Sunday results. If you look at trending over the past three years, the best a movie can hope for is to drop 45%, while there have been a couple that have gone all the way up to 64%.

The former result is the hopeful outcome for last weekend’s winner, The American. If we compare it to Traitor, another movie that had good reviews but odd word-of-mouth (along with a popular star who doesn’t open movies to huge numbers in Don Cheadle), it should see a decline somewhere in the 45% range. This would give the George Clooney film a second weekend total of around $7.2 million.

Machete will fall to the other extreme, as its violence and exploitation have an odd built-in audience (and so does director Robert Rodriguez). Like Gamer last year and Halloween in 2007, it should fall close to 65%, for a second frame finish near $4 million.

Finally, Going the Distance didn’t have much of a start over the Labor Day holiday weekend, which isn’t necessarily a popular time to open a romantic comedy. The closest comparisons are probably All About Steve, which dropped 49% in its second weekend (but was also horrible) and Extract, which fell 50%, both after debuting during the four-day Labor Day holiday. Even though it looks charming enough, there’s no reason to think Going the Distance won’t suffer a similar fate as it will tumble to $3.5 million. (Kim Hollis/BOP)