Everything that's old is new again for this weekend at the box office, if not in fact, at least in spirit, with four new films that feel awfully familiar, though overall figures should stay quiet.
Weekend Forecast for September 16-18, 2011
By Reagen Sulewski
September 16, 2011
What looks to be the top new film of the weekend is an out-and-out re-release, as studios start reworking their old hits for the 3D era. The Lion King is one of the first to get this treatment, as Disney reaches back into its vault like they used to on a regular basis. I won't bore you with recapping the plot of the Lion King, as you have to have been actively ignoring popular culture to not know what it is (and if you are confused, I thank you for making your first visit ever to this website). Ordinarily, I'd say that anyone interested in a 17-year-old movie already owns it on DVD, but thanks to Disney's mercenary vaulting policy, this might be the rare case where there are legions of fans out there who haven't had access to it. The 3D aspect is simply added incentive for a large part of the previously existing audience, but for many younger viewers, it may legitimately their first chance to see the film.
This release is a pretty important one in the scale of things, as if it's successful, you can expect a wide array of classic films to get the 3D treatment – Titanic is already slated for a 2012 re-release – and with Hollywood entirely out of ideas, another cash cow to milk can't be unwelcome. Re-releases aren't traditionally all that lucrative – aside from the Star Wars films, one of the Grease re-releases and yes, the occasional Disney film, most of them haven't made an impact at the box office in recent memory, and even then they're not often ground shaking. That I'm having to go back to the mid '90s to really get good examples should be telling. This makes it pretty difficult to gauge where this is going to end up. One clue would be in the screen count, which at 2,330, signals this as a fairly significant release. Of course, Bucky Larson had 1,500 locations and we see where that got it. I'm confident, though, that people actually want to see this, and the novelty of 3D should be worth about an $11 million opening weekend.
Not really a remake of Bullitt, except for, you know, from the criminal's point of view, Drive is still a bit of a throwback film – the big budget car chase film. Ryan Gosling, who's becoming one of the more unlikely Hollywood hunks this year, stars as a stuntman who hires himself out to criminal operations around LA in need of a skilled wheelman. Pressed into the service of a mob boss, played by Albert Brooks in a rare serious turn, Gosling runs afoul of his employers for reasons I won't really get into, setting the rest of the film into motion, filled with stylish action to spare.
Premiering at Cannes to raves and winning Nicolas Winding Refn the Best Director award there, Drive is not really your typical mindless action film. Critics are all but falling over themselves to praise the film as an amazing meld of film-noir and modern action, with Gosling's obviously calculated Steve McQueen pose setting the tone for it as a throwback. Are audiences really clamoring for a brainy action flick that also has some odd stylistic affectations? Probably not in mass numbers, but reviews are going to help this film along tremendously, in the sense of taking it from $5 million to around $10 million this weekend.
After the deserved critical drubbing that Sex and the City 2 took for its cluelessness about modern culture and how unlikable its characters were, Sarah Jessica Parker obviously felt the need to take on a project where she played a more relatable character. Hence we have I Don't Know How She Does It, which would seem an excellent candidate for the “Oh So Close, But You Totally Missed It” Hall of Fame. Parker stars as a financial executive with two kids, a scenario it appears we're expected to find novel. Crazy sitcomy interactions with her supportive husband (Greg Kinnear) and lecherous boss (Pierce Brosnan) are expected to carry the load (I mean, Brosnan's character's name is Ablehammer. Is this movie written by Carrie Preston?). This is maybe the stuff that would have fueled a Goldie Hawn, or hell, even a Doris Day movie, to really get back into the era where this film seems to belong. I wouldn't be entirely shocked that someone had originally intended for Allison Pearson's novel to be turned into a sitcom, which was then stretched into a movie at the last moment.
Outside of the Sex and the City movies, Parker has at best a mediocre box office record. Her last attempt at comedy outside her franchise was Did You Hear About The Morgans?, which was answered with a resounding “No." There's 2006's Failure to Launch, which is a legitimate hit, but one I place more in Matthew McConaughey's corner. However, the significant damage done to her career by Sex and the City 2 can't be underestimated. While this probably does better than the bafflingly-premised Morgans, I don't see it doing all that much better, with around $8 million being my expectation.
Lastly, we have an actual remake, to round out the weekend of retreads. James Marsden and Kate Bosworth star in Straw Dogs, a remake of a Sam Peckinpah film notorious at the time for its intense violence and bitter social commentary. Marsden steps into the Dustin Hoffman role as a meek screenwriter who finds himself embroiled in a strange local dispute about his father's estate, with Alexander Skarsgard as his main antagonist.
The director is Rod Lurie, who (if I may editorialize for a bit – I know, how unlike me) seems to specialize in making intensely stupid films (Deterrence remains one of the most wall-punching movies of all time), which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the film's creation, though it hardly matters in terms of box office, since its ultra-violence and lack of high-drawing stars practically throws up road flares that this movie will be skipped by mass audiences. Only Tarantino gets away with this kind of violence these days. Add on poor reviews, and I think we're looking at a $4 million opening weekend.
This gives a decent path for Contagion to once again top the box office charts. Launching to a respectable $22 million, the thriller about an epidemic combined a chillingly plausible plot with a great, deep cast, a charmingly old-school way to get a fall hit. I don't see fantastic legs for this film, since I don't hear too many people making really ecstatic cases for it, though “just OK” might be enough in this market. Give it $13 million this weekend.
Essentially the only other film still worth talking about at this point is The Help, which is headed for $175 million, and I'd love to see the person that predicted this beforehand and call him or her a liar. It'd be easy to say that it's taken advantage of a weak marketplace, but that doesn't explain the magnitude of this civil rights drama's success. It should see one more weekend above $5 million this weekend before starting to give way to some of the higher profile September films.