Welcome to tentpole season. This weekend's two action films aren't quite what we've been conditioned to as November blockbusters, what with neither of them being a sequel or an adaptation of a comic book or children's series, but really, Hollywood, you had me at “things explode”.
Weekend Forecast for November 12-13, 2010
By Reagen Sulewski
November 11, 2010
It's strange to think how things have changed in the film world so that an alien invasion action film filled with special effects and which will open in over 2,800 venues could be considered an indie film. Yet here we are and you can now make Independence Day in your garage, provided you own your own effects studio and know a bunch of C-list actors. Skyline is a $20 million film, that looks like a $100 million film, about a world wide invasion by aliens, who suck up people after hypnotizing them with a blue laser, or something. A rag-tag bunch of ethnically diverse Angelinos fight back with whatever they have on hand, which happens to be plenty of weapons. It's ID4 meets Cloverfield with a more coherent plot and/or camerawork.
Eric Balfour (the second-generation copy of Johnny Depp via Skeet Ulrich) leads this group, and the fact that he's a “Whodat?” to the vast majority of the country tells you what you really need to know about this film's star power (Donald Faison, Turk from Scrubs, is arguably the most famous of the cast but has received close to no exposure in the ads). Mostly we're here to see stuff blow up and big scary aliens.
The specific premise of the film also enters into things as well – it alternates between tremendously creepy and “wait, what? That makes no sense”. The producers and studio have to be hoping that not enough of the second kind of reaction occurs until after you've seen it. The idea seems to be in recreating last year's success of District 9 (well, I assume not the Best Picture nomination part), though I doubt either the opening or the end figure ($37 million and $115 million, respectively) will be matched. No North American reviews are available (uh-oh) but those few that have escaped from overseas publications aren't exactly raves. On the other hand, it's short and things blow up. Look for it to garner an opening weekend figure of around $33 million.
If I didn't know better, I'd think Denzel Washington and Tony Scott have a thing for each other. They've now worked together five times, each time finding a flimsier and flimsier excuse for teaming up. A more suspicious person could draw some conclusions here. Unstoppable is 2010's excuse for them to work together, and seems to have been created with the thought process of “aw, it's been 16 years since Speed, let's remake it. Butbutbutbut ... on a train.”
Constructed almost entirely out of cliches, Washington plays a veteran train engineer teamed up with rookie Chris Pine when The Unthinkable happens: a train full of hazardous materials goes out of control with no-one on board and could cause total disaster, somewhere. And it's only these two plucky blue-collar guys who hate each other initially but grow to respect each other who can stop it!
Tony Scott knows how to construct an action film, though, and reviews are surprisingly strong, focusing on it as pure popcorn cinema. Washington's come into his own as an action star of late, with this year's The Book of Eli having the second-biggest January opening weekend of all time, while last June's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 established his cred in runaway train movies (an important genre!). Unstoppable is a bit silly even for this type of action film, which should keep it from hitting greater heights. All in all, we're probably going to have a solid little genre film with an opening weekend of around $25 million here.
Update from Wednesday: Morning Glory threw up a pedestrian $1 million on its opening day, though mid-week openings for non-tentpole films get little publicity these days. This may not be cause for concern yet for the Rachel McAdams romantic comedy, but it's definitely not cause for celebration. I'll downgrade slightly for its opening weekend to around $13 million.
A trio of strong returning films make this a potentially complex one in the charts. Megamind leads the way after its $46 million debut that still managed to feel like a bit of a disappointment due to its high profile cast of Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt. It is a bit strange, though, since every time one of these animated films comes out, there's the potential for megabucks, so when then turn out to just make a lot of money, it's kind of a let down. It should still find its way to around $29 million this weekend.
Due Date grabbed $32 million in its debut, a fine start for a road comedy with an untested-in-comedy lead and an underground figure. I expect that label can be taken off both of these actors at this point, with Robert Downey Jr now a legitimate draw in anything, and Zach Galiafianakis an established comedy force. The dividends on that may have to wait for their next movies though, as Due Date received a middling review from the public at large and will very definitely not repeat The Hangover's epic run of last year. Give it $18 million this weekend.
Despite going all serious on us, Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls stayed in line with the rest of his efforts, opening to $19 million. While that's good news for Perry, we've still got his track record to look at for the second weekend for his films, which is uniformly terrible. If it doesn't drop 60%, it'll be close to it, and will add between $7 and 8 million to its coffers this weekend.