Weekend Forecast
By David Mumpower
April 15, 2011

Jim Cantore is indeed mesmerizing

2011 has been an unmitigated disaster at the box office thus far, but this weekend delivers hope. Two major releases enter the marketplace, and they are poised to become mutual $30+ million openers, a box office rarity. The question of which title will take first place is hotly debated; I am of the opinion that betting against high profile animation is a mistake.

Then again, I could care less about Rio as a movie (heck, I don’t even play Angry Birds), so I’m going to start with the title I expect to debut in second place. Since the inception of Box Office Prophets and even going back to discussions on the previous site, I have described myself as a huge fan of the Scream franchise. I consider the first film in the franchise to be one of the hallmark cinematic achievements of the 1990s.

The irreverent yet self-aware nature of the Wes Craven project was a near-perfect project at the start of the Internet era. Scream was also quite the box office phenomenon. After opening to a modest $6.35 million, it demonstrated the type of box office legs that are simply impossible in this day and age save for awards season contenders/indie releases. Neither of those criteria fit Scream. It was a wide (for the era) release whose immediate reception was a stifled yawn. Quickly, buzz grew as oftentimes happens for quality December releases. Scream’s weekend box office outperformed the opening frame’s $6.35 million each of the next four weekends. Eventually, Scream exited theaters with $103.0 million (against a $15 million budget), a rare instance where a quality release waited patiently for its target audience to discover it. With the shrinking release windows, such behavior isn’t even possible these days.

Only a year later, Scream 2 demonstrated a box office behavior we have discussed here on several occasions. The quality of the first movie behaved as a consumer line of credit toward the opening weekend of the sequel. Scream 2 opened to an estimated $36 million (no, really) before weekend actuals indicated a more honest $32.9 million. Miramax was mocked incessantly for the gross exaggeration of box office they made with their estimates, particularly since there was no reason to do so. The rest of the top 5 combined for $10 million less than Scream 2. Despite this snafu, Scream 2’s box office debut was stunning. It made more in three days than its predecessor managed in two full weeks of late December release. As is the case with most sequels, it did not match the overall box office total of the original yet it did finish with a respectable $101.4 million.

While we frequently see annual horror film franchises releases now and did in the 1980s, the pattern was quite unusual in the 1990s. Miramax sagely chose to wait another year between projects, saving Scream 3 for February of 2000. It was the first Scream film to be released outside of December, which impacted its legs. On opening weekend, however, the demand for the Scream franchise remained extreme. Scream 3 debuted to $34.7 million, almost as much as Scream 2 had been estimated to make. It went on to earn an impressive $89.1 million in domestic release, giving the franchise a grand total of $293.5 million in less than four years. Scream 3 was not as well regarded as the prior two films, but the franchise was not mothballed for this reason. Alas, director Wes Craven had largely run out of cast members to kill. Only three actors remain from the original Scream. They are Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox. Everyone else has been a victim of the dreaded Ghostface Stab.

Having waited 11 years, this lack of people to kill presents less of a challenge now. Scream 4 introduces a new cast of hip, young Hollywood talent, many of whom are either well known or becoming well known. Kristen Bell has become Disney’s go-to actress in mediocre romantic comedies while her former Heroes co-star Hayden Panettiere tried to throw under Bell’s When in Rome with I Love You, Beth Cooper. Anna Paquin has a thing for vampires…and the actors who portray them. Lucy Hale is a Pretty Little Liar, Emma Roberts runs a Hotel for Dogs, Alison Brie is a part of everyone’s favorite Community, and Aimee Teegarden needs the work now that Friday Night Lights has wrapped.

What do all of these actresses have in common? They will either be killed now or killed later. The current plan for the re-launch of the Scream franchise is for this to be a trilogy as well. If only three people from Scream survived all the way through Scream 3, well, I wouldn’t play those odds at a table in Vegas. The real question this weekend is whether teen kids today know enough about the Scream franchise to be curious about seeing a new entry in a 15-year-old franchise. My suspicion is yes. Released in 3,305 theaters, I am expecting a per-location average of just under $10,000 for the return of the best horror franchise of the 1990s. Scream 4 should wind up around $32 million.

Now then, back to the Angry Birds. Okay, technically Rio features none of them although that hasn’t stopped Fox and their friends at Blue Sky Animation from cozying up to the uber-popular app game. This has built awareness for the latest project from the animators who brought the world Ice Age, Ice Age: The Meltdown and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. They also released Robots and Horton Hears a Who. This is like when a parent brags about their straight-A student getting a job at NASA then mumbles something about one of their other kids getting off with probation/time served. Even so, the reality for this upstart animation studio is that they have created five films to date. The worst of these in terms of box office performance earned $260 million worldwide. Stating the obvious, Rio has impeccable bloodlines.

The other positive Rio has going for it is that we are in the middle of an unprecedented run of quality animation releases over the past 16 months or so. 2010 saw the release of Tangled, Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind. 2011 has featured Gnomeo and Juliet and Hop, neither of which is on a par with the 2010 titles in terms of quality. They have, however, been solid box office performers that have sustained interest in the genre. Rio is clearly a notch above these two films, which opened to $25.4 million and $37.5 million respectively. I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb to forecast an opening weekend of around $43 million for Rio followed by very strong legs. It is well reviewed and features a lot of musical numbers, the magic formula for the sustained popularity of animated hits.