With just one week before we begin to get inundated with blockbusters for four months, that doesn't mean we're without films that can throw up some big numbers in the box office charts. Two of this week's new releases will be in double digits and the possibility for much, much more.
Weekend Forecast for April 22-24, 2011
By Reagen Sulewski
April 22, 2011
As Tyler Perry movies continue to confound all notions of criticism, appeal and even basic economic demand theory, I find myself at a loss to say much more about his films and their continued success. Obviously, Perry knows his market and finds it nearly inexhaustible, with his films coming out at the apparent rate of one every six weeks (really it's just every six months, but still). He doesn't even screen his films for critics anymore, because what would be the point?
Madea's Big Happy Family is his latest in this line, and that first word in the title is the crucial one. When his films revolve around his elderly transvestite alter-ego, the box office jumps from the mid-teens to well above that. That sassy grandmother just hits all the right notes with Perry's fans, so why not give it to them? The plot.. well, who cares, it's more of the same, right? Cast-wise, it's thinner than usual, with Bow Wow, Grey's Anatomy's Loretta Devine and the Old Spice Man Isaiah Mustafa being the most notable names. Does it look good? Who knows, and more importantly, who cares? Opening at just under 2,300 venues, it should grab an opening weekend of $32 million.
And now for films that I can say something about. Water For Elephants has all the look of a prestige film – a star-laden cast, adaptation from a best-selling novel, and a unique, metaphorical setting. You'd almost call it a surefire hit except for the fact that we have a very similar film to compare it to in recent memory – The Time Traveler's Wife. And of course, there's that release date – if the studio really had faith in it, why release it in April?
A melodramatic love story, it stars Robert Pattinson as a depression-era man (hilariously named Jacob, which seems almost calculated to confuse his fans) who runs away to join the circus after the death of his parents (even then, this had to be a cliché), falling in love with an animal tamer, played by Reese Witherspoon. Alas, she's spoken for by the dastardly circus manager Christoph Waltz, and oh, isn't it all tragic and mopey?
Told in a flashback from the point of view of Pattinson's character as an old man (played by Hal Holbrook – that's right, Twi-hards, Edward grows up to look like Deep Throat) leading up to what is apparently one of the biggest circus disasters in history. Oh yes, folks, this here's a bittersweet romantic film. That's not necessarily a bad thing as far as box office goes – Nicolas Sparks has been making a mint off this lately, but it probably puts a cap on things.
Star-wise, Pattinson is arguably the largest draw thanks to his Twilight millions, but those haven't translated outside that franchise. His only notable role other than that was last year's Remember Me, which hit with a thud of an $8 million opening weekend. Witherspoon is several years removed from a live-action hit herself, (2008's Four Christmases) but this role seems like a good one for her, as a tortured seductress. The overall limiting factor here may be the reviews, which are middling-to-poor and should keep all but fans of the book away. That could still be a sizable number of people, though, and at 2,800 venues should open to about $15 million.
Disney continues its Earth Day tradition of nature documentaries with African Cats, following Earth and Oceans. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it delves deep into a pride of lions and a family of cheetahs in their natural habitats. Disney has perfected this format and seems to have a consistent audience for their documentaries, and I don't see this one breaking much from its predecessors, with around a $7 million opening weekend in the cards on 1,200 or so screens.
Although it's not really directly competing, that throws it smack into a fairly crowded family marketplace, with last week's Rio and the now four-week-old Hop, and to a lesser extent, Soul Surfer clamoring for those family dollars. The two animated movies seem quite unremarkable, with audiences checking them out because of what seems more like obligation than anything else. While Rio has gotten significantly better reviews than Hop, there's little to inspire thoughts that it'll replicate the run of last year's How to Train Your Dragon, the new gold standard for legs for an animated film. I'd expect it to come in with about $24 million. Hop could see a boost from the Easter connection, but that's a case of too little, too late, and it should fall to around $6 million.
Swerving a complete 180, we have Scream 4, which opened to a collective yawn and $19 million. While most people who've seen it admit that it's better than a ten-years-too-late sequel has any right to be, that's still damning with faint praise, and I don't see anyone rushing to support this film with multiple viewings. Getting any kind of opening weekend out of this film at all is a bit of a triumph. Look for just $10 million this weekend. After that, we have last week's pile up at $6 and $7 million among five films moving down to the $4 and $5 million mark, with Soul Surfer's inspirational message perhaps coming out on top.