After two weeks of underwhelming performance from new films, some might look towards Labor Day weekend for some help in that department. To those people I say only this: Ha!
Weekend Forecast for September 2-4, 2011
By Reagen Sulewski
September 1, 2011
Three films from lesser studios make up the new offerings this weekend, as the major studios abandon what's traditionally the slowest weekend of the year, and one of the few with a documented depressive effect on box office. The film of the three with the best chance comes from the most established name of those studios, The Weinstein Company's Apollo 18.
Another entry in the “found-footage” horror subgenre that was initialized by The Blair Witch Project and recently revitalized by the Paranormal Activity films, this film purports to be assembled from reassembled footage of a secret moon mission after the official end of the Apollo project (how NASA managed to hide launching a giant-ass rocket is perhaps best left to the imagination). Once arriving there, the two astronauts on the mission encounter some… thing that begins to take one of them over, leading to disastrous results.
As a setting for a paranoid horror film, it's hard to imagine what might be better than the inside of a lunar module on the moon – not only can the characters literally not go anywhere, there's no possibility of hope arriving. Then again, it leaves the film with a rather fatalistic air, though the filmmakers are probably expecting us not to think about that just yet. Also, that didn't seem to hurt the other films based on this idea – both the Paranormal films grossed almost $200 million worldwide.
Befitting the notion that a recognizable name would be distracting to the idea that this is somehow documentary footage, the two (English) actors in this film are no one you've ever heard of, so there's no help in that respect. It's also been withheld from critics, which doesn't speak highly of its quality. However, the primary indicator of success for these found-footage films seems to be what potential audiences think of the setup. While that's unpredictable at best, the novelty of a moon-set horror film should bring horror fans out in some number. The slowness of the weekend is going to hold it back, but I'd look for a $13 million start.
Coming at the horror genre from a little more traditional angle is Shark Night 3D, which is more or less the same film as last year's Piranha 3D, but with fewer tits and less outright grossness. A group of 20-somethings travel to a remote cabin on an island for a weekend for boating and partying, only to discover that someone's released some man-eating sharks into the lake, with predictable results. Not only has this madman released them, but he's helping the situation along by making sure these kids end up in the shark's paths. Chomp chomp chomp ensues.
Although late summer/early fall tends to be prime-time for horror, this year in particular has seen a bit of a glut of them, in addition to rather softer performances from some of the lower-rent entries. Ads for the film are pushing the tangential connection with the Hostel series. I'm not buying that as a potential selling factor among casual horror fans, especially when we're moving away from the torture porn aspect into animals eating people, which is no longer a license to print money. Last year, even with a momentous amount of hype, Piranha was only able to manage a $10 million opening weekend. For Shark Night (which, for the record, seems to take place mostly during the day), which doesn't arrive with as much awareness and the biggest name being Sara Paxton, things look decidedly worse for it. I'd expect around an $8 million start.
Starting Wednesday was The Debt, an espionage thriller from director John Madden, starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds as Mossad agents who were tasked to track down Nazi war criminals and did so successfully – or so they thought. With some business left unfinished, they're brought back into service to complete what they thought they took care of already, working against one of their own and with startling secrets brought to light.
Reviews are actually quite good for the film, as much as it matters. Opening to less than $1 million on Wednesday, the die is basically cast for it, and at less than 2,000 venues, it should come in with about $5 million for the weekend.
While it does look to be dethroned, The Help still can't quite be ruled out for a third weekend atop the charts, if Apollo 18 fails to connect with audiences. The civil-rights era drama crossed the $100 million mark mid-week and shows only slight signs of slowing down. Headed towards being one of the least-likely $150 million earners of the year, this performance, plus its “important” subject matter, will make it very difficult for the Academy to ignore it come Oscar time. At the very least, it gives Touchstone a huge war chest to fight for it when the time comes.
The rest of the anemic selection of returning films is probably led by Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which should likely slide in at just over $5 million, leaving last weekend's new films, Colombiana, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Our Idiot Brother well back, with between $3 and 5 million. We've got a lot of chaff to separate from the wheat for the next little bit.