Throughout its 16 year history of releasing features, Pixar has been renowned for its impeccable dedication to story over flash and commercialism, substance over style. That was bound to end sometime.
Weekend Forecast for June 24-26, 2011
By Reagen Sulewski
June 24, 2011
If there's a Pixar movie that's most likely to be picked by the company's adult fans as its weakest effort to date, it's Cars. Unless, of course, you're a five-year-old boy, in which case it's the best movie ever made and that ever will be (Hi, Lucas!). As such, it made approximately all of money in the world on merchandising. In the past five years, countries have continued to print money, so Pixar is confident that there is finally enough money for you to buy a bunch more things with Lightning McQueen imprinted on them.
Perhaps taking the criticisms of Cars' apparent aping of Doc Hollywood in the wrong way, Pixar has instead to broaden its parodic approach, making Cars 2 into a globe-trotting spy film. Oh yes, and it's now mostly about Mater. I can hear your collective sighs from here. While Owen Wilson and his Lightning McQueen character are in the film, it's now mostly up to Larry the Cable Guy's hayseed tow-truck to carry the story, which, you know, I could see working as a featurette or a direct-to-something sequel, but over the course of a full-length movie would likely make me want to pop my eardrums. This artistic direction tells you a lot about where Pixar is going with this one – abandoning their adult/kid balance and going straight kid. Look, if we promise to buy a bunch of Frozone merchandise, will you make Incredibles 2 already?
While the box office is pretty much irrelevant here (seriously, Pixar is going to make, and I'm not exaggerating here, billions off merchandising), it's worth discussing at least to some degree. They've added a few familiar voices to the cast to keep adults interested, and replace the ones who died or it didn't make sense to bring along (oh, but Mater made sense? Mater?! AGGH), like Michael Caine, John Turturro and Eddie Izzard, though I suspect the better attraction will be the exotic settings and flashy visuals.
Reviews are worse than any other Pixar film, by a wide margin – it's only their second film, other than, well, Cars, to rate below 96% at Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that undersells its reception in dramatic fashion, as its score will probably end up in the 20s. That's Shrek Forever After territory, folks. For this sin, Pixar will be punished by Cars 2 opening up to just … $68 million and earning the GDP of a small European country in ancillaries. Way to teach them a lesson, people.
The alternative new movie this weekend is Bad Teacher, a black-ish comedy from the director of Zero Effect (that's good) and the writers of Year One (that's bad) and several episodes of The Office (that's... good?) and starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake. The title serves pretty well as plot description here, with Diaz playing a truly terrible junior high teacher forced into the situation of actually having to care in order to win over a new sugar-daddy – a fellow teacher who just happens to be rich.
A raunchy and profane comedy, Bad Teacher is attempting to carve out much of the same territory of Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa, subtracting out about half the despair and disgustingness of that film. What could have been just a one-note film (and may still be) does seem to have a solid array of jokes in its ads, both by and directed at Diaz, including taunts at her potential suitor Segal, and his passive-aggressive courting, and failing that, revenge. Another comparable recent comedy that comes to mind as a non-stop display of cruelty and embarrassment is Just Friends, made before Ryan Reynolds became Ryan Reynolds.
While this variety of film is often a slow starter and quick finisher, there's some hope that it might fare better than many others like it. Okay, reviews aren't great, and Diaz hasn't been burning up the box office lately, but she's well suited to play an easy-to-hate character, Segal is a rising star, and Timberlake can seemingly do no wrong. This film is ultimately going to live or die on word-of-mouth, but it should at least get a good start of around $17 million.
Green Lantern surprised many with a $53 million opening weekend, after an ad campaign that seemed to be circling the drain. The combination of 3D and nerd loyalty likely kept this superhero film, which some are calling a contender for worst of the year, from hitting rock bottom initially, but one wonders how much can be left in the tank after terrible reviews and the launch of Cars 2, which will steal the kid audience away from what's ending up as a film no adults can really enjoy. While it could have been a lot worse, it should have been a lot better. Look for a drop to around $23 million this weekend.
Meanwhile, Super 8, in its second weekend, did manage to have some decent carryover, but not nearly enough to turn this into a breakout summer hit. Dropping to $21 million does mean it could get to around $140 million, but I can't help but think this leaves $50 million or more on the table for the J.J. Abrams monster film. With its cheap budget of $50 million, it can't help but be profitable, but so much more seemed possible.
Mr. Popper's Penguins also seems due for a big drop, coming up against the Cars 2 quasi-juggernaut. Family films seem to be the one reliable place where competition can rear its head, and with the weak critical reception for this Jim Carrey/animal film, it's difficult to see Popper earning more than $9 million this weekend.
Many of the summer's early films are already showing exhaustion, with Pirates of the Caribbean falling out of relevancy this week and headed for a $235 million finish. X-Men: First Class should drop to around $6 million and might break $150 million eventually if it's lucky, the Hangover Part II should earn about the same this weekend and wind up with around $260 million total, and Kung Fu Panda 2 will probably run out of steam at $170 million. These aren't terrible totals overall, really, just positively underwhelming ones. Of course you can look at Pirates' nearly $1 billion worldwide total and immediately stop feeling sorry for that film. Fun fact: Johnny Depp is responsible for nearly $5 billion worth of box office receipts worldwide since 2006.