At the outset of the summer, the numerous comic-book superhero films looked to dominate the season's slate. Now with the release of the last one… well, there's still a chance for one of them, then.
Weekend Forecast for July 22-24, 2011
By Reagen Sulewski
July 22, 2011
In the realm of superhero movies, few have been period pieces. That is, until this year, when Marvel ended up releasing two, in X-Men: First Class and this weekend's Captain America: The First Avenger. One of Marvel's premier titles, Captain America has had a long, long road through development, including a best-forgotten Roger Corman adaptation of the project. For the actual big budget version, we're back to another origin story (though this is quite justified), as Steve Rogers transforms from puny 4-F Army reject to volunteer for the Super-Soldier project and sent off to fight the Nazis in support of Old Glory.
We're definitely into “cheesy good fun” territory with this film and this character, which blends the typical super-hero tropes with a war film for more of an action-adventure feel and away from some of the gothic over-reaches of other comic book films of late. Chris Evans plays Rogers in both the (disturbingly) scrawny and stacked versions pitting him against the series' iconic villain, Red Skull (played by Hugo Weaving – warming up for his inevitable role as the greatest villain in history, fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch).
It's right there in the title though as (Spoiler Alert!) this is mostly a setup for Cap to end up in next summer's Avengers movie with Thor, Iron Man, the Professor and Mary-Anne. Finally, Marvel has brought the experience of reading comics, trying to keep up with all the various side-stories and one-offs, into the movie world. Yippee! Although to their credit, they at least managed to put it together – DC's been trying to make their Superman/Batman crossover for like two decades now.
Whether it's a bit of super-hero fatigue, the general lack of quality of the last couple of years of adaptations or that people are taking a wait-and-see attitude towards new comic-book movies, opening weekends for non-sequels are way down compared to past entries. The three main examples this year each dwelt in the $50 to $65 million range for opening weekends, underwhelming in a genre that's seen multiple $100 million weekends. Captain America is trading mostly in the iconic nature of the character, and hasn't offered much in the way of a money shot that would really drive audiences beyond the hard-core committed. Without that, it looks to fall in this summer's comic book range, and should see an opening weekend of close to $60 million.
If you think you saw this week's other wide release, Friends With Benefits, already, you're not entirely wrong. No Strings Attached covered the territory of “attractive people boning” earlier this year, almost plot point for plot point. Here we trade cast members of Black Swan, swapping Natalie Portman for Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher for Justin Timberlake (who, I guess, were on that one episode of Punk'd together). I'd call this an improvement in both actors, at least in the comedy department, and at minimum a tie in the box office department and attractiveness categories.
After that, you're left with comparing which film does a better job of selling its bonafides as a romantic comedy, with probably a greater emphasis on the latter point, and here's where Friends With Benefits is a clear winner. Timberlake has had an amazing career progression since just being the most talented member of the third-best boy band of the '90s, establishing his comedy and general acting chops the old fashioned way. Kunis, meanwhile, hasn't earned as many plaudits as Portman, but hasn't been flying completely under the radar – pretty much stealing Forgetting Sarah Marshall away from everyone else in the film. That's not to even mention that this version of the concept seems to have a little more comedic punch in general – a bit more edge, a bit more sass. I'd look for this to improve on No Strings Attached's $19 million opening with around $22 million this weekend.
Even in the rosiest (and/or bleakest) of projections, there's still basically no chance of Captain America taking down Young British Wizard, even in the latter's second weekend. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 broke all meaningful first weekend records, amassing a frankly-ridiculous $169 million in three days (though including midnight sneaks), and tying the record by hitting $200 million in five days. No matter the opening weekend, the Harry Potter franchise has always wound up in the $250 to $300 million range, though that's without a doubt set to change (thank 3D ticket prices in part for this). For all its successes, the Potter franchise has always been one of the more front-loaded, even as it earned raves from its fans. This makes sense in the larger view – which of them was deliberately going to wait to see the film? That's likely to be a sizable factor as it enters its second weekend, but with an opening as massive and awe-inspiring as this one, it hardly matters. Even with a bad drop it should earn about $75 million this weekend.
Everything else out there looks kind of paltry by comparison – at least for its single weekend takes. Transformers 3 continues to shed the expected 50% plus of its business each week, though it's zoning in on the $350 million mark. Look for it to earn about $9 million this weekend. Horrible Bosses isn't exactly Bridesmaids or Hangover (Part I), but a decent drop in its second weekend means it's headed to the $100 million plateau within a couple of weeks. This weekend should bring it around $11 million. Kevin James' Zookeeper itself had a decent holdover but is starting out at a significantly lower level. Give it around $7 million as it heads towards $80 million domestic.