Weekend Forecast
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
September 30, 2011

Our names are... not important. But we star in Courageous!

As September gives way to October, four new movies will attempt to dethrone the Lion King’s reign atop the box office charts (Disney fibbed when they called this a two week run, apparently). We’ve got comedy, dramedy, religious inspiration and horror. There’s something for everyone amongst the new releases… except for the kiddies, but they seem to be well covered.

Seth Rogen, who co-starred with Faris in Observe and Report, is the biggest name in 50/50, a cancer drama/comedy written by his friend Will Reiser, who based the screenplay on his own life experiences. The great Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) takes on the primary role of a 27-year-old who learns that he has cancer and has only a 50% chance to survive. Rogen plays his friend, and the remainder of the stellar cast includes Anjelica Huston, Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard.

The movie looks pretty darned good, and the movie's 93% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes would certainly seem to bear that out. Trouble is, cancer is a touchy subject even at the best of times, and there has to be some question whether people are willing to see it played out on the big screen, even if critics and word-of-mouth are indicating the treatment is top-notch. Some might be unfavorably reminded of Rogen's previous film that seems to have very similar content, Funny People, which was directed by Judd Apatow. Although that flick started off fine with a $22.7 million opening, a lot of that number can likely be attributed to star Adam Sandler. Rogen definitely can open a film, as we've seen with Green Hornet and The Pineapple Express, but we also know that Observe and Report and Zack and Miri Make a Porno fared poorly overall. Distributor Summit Entertainment has been great with the Twilight series and a couple of other films, but this one is a tough, tough sell. Give it $12 million for the weekend, and hopefully fantastic legs.

The outsider release of the weekend is also the one generating the most confusion. Courageous is the fourth release from Sherwood Church. The Georgia institution took it upon themselves to create faith-based movies rather than simply complain about the product in Hollywood. Their second title, Facing the Giants, was created for a pittance of $100,000 yet it earned $10.2 million domestically and another $20 million on home video.

The third release is the one that changed the nature of the discourse about Sherwood Pictures from nice story to box office factor when Fireproof, the firefighter movie featuring Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Cameron, debuted to $6.8 million. That result was good enough for fourth place and caused a lot of box office analysts to google a lot, thereby sheepishly admitting that they had no idea what the fourth place film for the weekend of September 26, 2008, was about. Fireproof earned almost $33.5 million in theaters and has made a staggering $65 million when we factor in home video revenue. For a production with a $500,000 budget, this is a staggering return on investment.

Hollywood showed the proper amount of respect to a viable box office draw as the fourth Sherwood Pictures release has been upgraded from distribution via Samuel Goldwyn Pictures to Sony Pictures. While this may not be the kindest treatment of a distributor who took a chance on a fledgling production team in 2006, the reality is that Sony opens the door to much larger revenue streams for Sherwood Church. Along with Disney, Sony is the gold standard in movie distribution and a signed contract with them is a win in and of itself for a group of unknown moviemakers whose first release earned roughly $27,000.

Three films later, Courageous has already done the impossible by beating out The Lion King 3D and all the other new releases in terms of Fandango pre-sales. Performing as a de facto sequel to Fireproof, the subjects of the story have changed from heroic firemen to heroic police officers, but the uplifting theme is still similar and the built-in consumer base is the same, only larger now that there is trust built into the brand. With Sony on board and ultra-popular Super Bowl champion head coach Tony Dungy operating as a celebrity spokesman for the project, Courageous is poised to open to $10 million, a spectacular accomplishment relative to scale.

Next up, then, is Dream House, a scary movie that features some pretty solid stars. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz (aka Mrs. Daniel Craig) and Naomi Watts topline the film, which is directed by… three-time Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan? Yes, Sheridan, best known for his work on My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, and In America, will take occasionally take departures from the awards-bait type stuff he is best known for, most notably the 50 Cent flick Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Dream House is another such departure even with the presence of Weisz, who has won an Academy Award herself.

The problem Dream House seems to face is that while the full-length trailer is extremely engaging and interesting, the commercials are so short that all they do is make the movie look like another freaky haunted house type of tale. Since we just had Don't Be Afraid of the Dark about a month ago, Dream House feels pretty stale. Even worse for the movie is the fact that no one seems to like it. At all. Yes, there are only five reviews in for it as of this writing, but every single one is full of rage and poison. Clearly, there were good intentions here, but there's a reason Universal isn't giving it a lot of support. Its best hope is that it's a PG-13 rated scary movie, but with Paranormal Activity 3 getting positive buzz already, that crowd could be willing to wait. Give Dream House $8 million for the weekend.

The widest opener amongst all the new films is What's Your Number?, starring the lovely and hilarious Anna Faris as a woman who remembers back to all of the 20 men with whom she's had past relationships, wondering if one of them might have been the one real true love of her life. While it's a fairly relatable concept and there hasn't been a great film for women since The Help, people seem to have been able to sniff out stinker comedies, and this is looking like another one of those.

Faris has seen some level of success in movies like The House Bunny ($14.5 million debut) and she was also the face of the Scary Movie series. As such, she's got a certain positive level of recognition, but it's pretty limited. What's Your Number? is bolstered by the presence of such supporting talent as Chris Evans, Community's Joel McHale, and Chris Pratt (aka Mr. Anna Faris, who also played Scott Hatteberg in last weekend's Moneyball), but their names aren't going to add a lot to the equation. Faris's high water mark for opening a film on her own is The House Bunny, and that movie seemed to have significantly more support from the studio. This one is probably going to have enough for a $7 million weekend.

Of the returning films, it's looking like we'll have a photo finish between the family-friendly The Lion King and Dolphin Tale for the top spot. The Lion King (in 3D) fell only 27% last weekend, and was clearly not just a one-weekend wonder. It was always meant to be a limited engagement, playing for only two weeks, but Disney clearly saw those two box office victories as plenty of reason to keep it in theaters longer. Here's the catch, though: the movie will be available on Blu-ray in stores on Tuesday. So, the question is whether people are just wanting to recapture the nostalgia of this film on the big screen, or was it just an outstanding extended commercial for home video sale? We've got it falling a little further this weekend than last, down to $13.5 million.

Dolphin Tale is the kind of upbeat, well-intended movie that sustains well in theaters because it's so palatable for entire families and groups to see together. It surprised last weekend with almost $20 million, and there's no reason to think it won't hold up well... unless it's actually competing with the Courageous crowd for faith-based viewers. We tend to think the audience niche is somewhat different for each one, which means that Dolphin Tale should just miss the top spot with $13.4 million.