March 2011 Preview
By Michael Lynderey
March 4, 2011

Lizards, cats and owls, living together.

Here's a month that's not nearly as littered with obvious blockbusters as last year, when How to Train Your Dragon and Alice in Wonderland exploded their 3D profitability over the unsuspecting marketplace. We've got Rango and Moms for the CGI crowd (you know who you are and what you've done), Sucker Punch and Battle: Los Angeles for the special effects lovers (and for me), and a plethora of other smatterings for anyone else who might be interested in buying a ticket for something, maybe just to say you did. But $200 million grossers? Wait 'til May.

1. Rango (March 4th)

The month's token animated extravaganza (okay, one of the month's two token animated extravaganzas). It's the second foray into voice performery for Johnny Depp, after the Corpse Bride, and as such, it's an indubitable attempt to market a CGI epic on traditional movie star power. As always, critics just loved it, and one might think audiences will too, even though some of the characters have a distinctly unpleasant look to them. With the year in box office not producing much in the way of outright blockbusters, the movie world is very much ready to be conquered, even by a film that doesn't seem to have been born with many hefty credentials. But that lack of competition is key.

Opening weekend: $47 million / Total gross: $133 million

2. Battle: Los Angeles (March 11th)

Nameless, faceless, unfairly stereotyped but presumably malintentioned foreigners from outer space arrive in Los Angeles yet again, apparently unaware that repeated and persistent attempts to conquer the earth had been unsuccessfully carried out by their compatriots from all over the galaxy (the way L.A. is looking at the beginning of the picture, it would seem like somebody already cleaned up after the invasion in Skyline). And so, what do these malnourished interlopers from above and beyond the stars bring to the table this time? Giant robotic monsters constructed out of paper machete? Vaguely dinosauric mutant porcupines with a lust for a good gourmet dinner at an affordable price? Perhaps they wish to eliminate many adverbs and adjectives from the language? (uh oh!). We don't know, and indeed questions like the above are ones that audiences will attend the picture to resolve. There may be other reasons, a few, like a decent trailer and a marketplace bereft of outright action pictures. But I don't know about that March 11th date. There's a reason aliens always invade in the summer, and it's not because Aaron Eckhart revs up a mean barbecue on the 4th of July weekend.

Opening weekend: $45 million / Total gross: $99 million

3. Mars Needs Moms (March 11th)
Faceless, nameless, presumably malintentioned but unfairly stereotyped foreigners from outer space arrive in Johnson County, Wyoming*, apparently unaware that persistent and repeated attempts by their interplanetary compatriots to abduct earth women had resulted in bloody noses and unpleasant bar tabs. Here's Mars Needs Moms for ya, coming in just a week after another CGI extravaganza, and a month before Rio topples its 3D screens. The title is fun, though, and the idea is just loopy enough to be memorable. Still, the real questions with these pictures always seem to be about the $100 million dollar mark (at least to me, they are), and I'm saying no on this one. I always get the answer to that question wrong, though, so don't make much of it.

Opening weekend: $30 million / Total gross: $80 million

*Is the movie really set in Johnson County, Wyoming? Probably not.

4. Sucker Punch (March 25th)

Zack Snyder strikes again, with a quite fascinating-looking menagerie of starlets (Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone) waging a ruthless assault on helpless mechanical beings who wish only to obliterate them into tiny little pieces. And while that premise fascinates me, what Sucker Punch vibes off is a feel of Watchmen without the fanbase, a piece of potentially revelatory fantasy without a proper target audience or a mass filmgoer understanding of what they may be getting themselves into (the underlying premise, about a 1950s mental institution, has the potential to both depress and alienate some of the target demographic). So, just like Snyder's audacious March 2009 picture, this one may open well and then scare off any legs. Gotta root for Scott Glenn, though.

Opening weekend: $31 million / Total gross: $64 million

5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (March 25th)
The first Diary of a Wimpy Kid picture was not a bad deal, with that $15 million budget and a box office gross some four times that. And so here comes the sequel, just a few days and a year to the first film's release, and none too soon, considering how fickle the target demographic can be. The cast's mostly all back (save for the R-rated Chloe Moretz, who in the first film looked mighty depressed that she wasn't cutting the other characters into tiny little bits with a mechanized buzzsaw). That Moretz box office bump aside, it's looking like whatever cosmic forces (quality, timing, awareness) that turned Wimpy part one into a noticeable hit are mostly still with us. And thus, the numbers won't change quite so much from 2010. Not until part 3.

Opening weekend: $24 million / Total gross: $59 million

6. Red Riding Hood (March 11th)

Catherine Hardwicke reimagines the teen world once again, after the lucid Thirteen and the saccharine Twilight. It's a little hard to peg down what's going on here - Amanda Seyfried has been opening those cute little romances very well lately, and she's surrounded by a heady mix of young actors and malevolent supporting players (and Virginia Madsen, too! I like her.). On the other hand, furry werewolf pics haven't necessarily been taking off at the box office lately (yes, yes, I know, Taylor Lautner), and it's not always easy to get teenagers to attend films set in villages where people dress funny and talk like they've been reading an awful lot of historical fiction, lately (yes, I know, I know, The Village). Perhaps once more it will fall on that ever-elusive element, quality, to make or break the numbers here. The ball's in its court now.

Opening weekend: $21 million / Total gross: $47 million

7. Limitless (March 18th)
This is that solo vehicle that Bradley Cooper's been craving ever since The Hangover. And here he is, without a malevolent Sandra Bullock (All About Steve) or a wound-up Liam Neeson (The A-Team) to hold him down. The idea is kind of loopy, with Cooper's vaguely-everyman seemingly getting to spend half the picture as a costume-less superman of sorts, before dabbling in thriller plots and villainy provided courtesy of the ever-masterful Robert De Niro. As with film #6, it's an intriguing idea paired with an up-and-coming movie star in a marketplace ready for a breakout. Thus, the questions are as before: How good is it going to be? How much do audiences trust Cooper? And will it get too weird? The answers will bend this from a minor breakout to a decent hit, if they're the right answers.

Opening weekend: $17 million / Total gross: $46 million

8. The Lincoln Lawyer (March 18th)

Not a biopic, but one of those legal dramas that haven't been doing that well lately. Star Matthew McConaughey made his name in a Grisham film, after all, and it's very appropriate as such that it's a lawyer picture that marks his transition from comedy to drama once more. The supporting cast (William H. Macy, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei) is certainly worthwhile, and the novel this is based on has its fans here and there. If good reviews are headed down the way here, and something tells me they are, the Lawyer may get a bit more mileage than at first may appear.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $41 million

9. The Adjustment Bureau (March 4th)
Bureau is a post-modern science fiction thriller based on a Philip K. Dick story, which instructs the ready viewer to expect some kind of plot twist coming down the pike here (see, John Slattery is actually a doctor who has come up with a radical new way of treating his comatose patient, played by Matt Damon, while Sexy Nurse Emily Blunt parades in and out of the operating room, inspiring absurdist fantasies; if that's the actual twist, tough luck). Damon is really the king of $30 million-area grossers (he's like Tyler Perry divided by two), and it looks increasingly like this film will not say goodbye to all of that. Could it crack the $40 million mark? We shall see.

Opening weekend: $14 million / Total gross: $39 million

10. Beastly (March 4th)

Beauty and the Beast(ly) redux for the younger set. Here's Alex Pettyfer, introduced to the world (well, more or less) two weeks ago in I Am Number Four, in a film pushed back from last summer to capitalize on his burgeoning fame. Vanessa Hudgens, seen also soon in Sucker Punch, is on hand. It's all based on a children's book of some renown, to someone, although the buzz factor for this retooling seems on the lower end of things. The opening weekend may turn out all right.

Opening weekend: $12 million / Total gross: $29 million

11. Paul (March 18th)
The British Nick Frost-Simon Pegg team is matched here with hipster director Greg Mottola, responsible before for Superbad and Adventureland, in a film this time that contains no teenage characters. The trailers offer up some droll laughs, as is expected of Frost and Pegg, but the box office histories of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz offer modest prospects, and nothing about Paul seems to undermine that image.

Opening weekend: $12.5 million / Total gross: $27 million

12. Take Me Home Tonight (March 4th)
I like the song, and yet another film set in the 1980s is always a good idea (we're just getting into those period pieces, I think, and all the better). Otherwise? Prospects are not pleasant. But it's nice to see Topher Grace again.

Opening weekend: $10 million / Total gross: $23 million