There's not a sure thing this weekend at the box office like last week, where the annual Liam Neeson vs. Something movie was pretty close to a guaranteed hit despite its out-there premise. Instead, we've got two sort of medium-sure things in a close battle for box office supremacy on Super Bowl weekend. We're still waiting for that breakout early year hit, however.
Weekend Forecast for February 3-5, 2012
By Reagen Sulewski
February 3, 2012
The bigger wild card of the weekend is Chronicle, the latest in the seemingly annual series of X-Men ripoffs that come our way, such as Push, Jumper, I Am Number Four, and I'm sure I'm missing a few others in there. However, while the teens-discover scary powers genre has been done to death, one thing that hasn't been tried with this type of film is the found-footage gambit. Okay, it's a thin branch to stand out on, but it is at least a branch. One thing that also hasn't really been tried is making the film any good, while may be just crazy enough to work for this film.
In Chronicle, a group of three Seattle teens (led in fame by Michael B. Jordan, with the other two being mostly unknown) discover a mysterious book in an underground cavern, which somehow gives them telekinetic powers. Before you can say “filming this crime spree was the greatest idea ever!”, they're off testing their abilities, starting with pranks and moving on to some light murder. As their powers grow, their friendship is tested and their abilities begin to consume them. First time director Josh Trank, who wrote the film along with first-time screenwriter Max Landis, appears to have breathed new life into this idea, thanks to seamless special effects and an apparent dedication to little things like characters, theme and plot, with this film getting some of the best reviews of the year, as short a time as that is.
This is a film that's burst very quickly onto the scene, with not a lot of hype, so it may not be as big as it could have otherwise been (it's definitely no Cloverfield, for instance). Then again, the undersell may have been a valid tactic in this case, as it plays into how found-footage films typically arrive. Ultimately what's going to hold this film back more than that or its lack of recognizable stars (c.f. The Devil Inside) is its genre, as sci-fi films are a tougher sell than horror films in general. I think quality wins out here, though, and we're looking at around a $16 million debut.
A more traditional release is The Woman in Black, and by that, I mean not just in terms of how it's shot, but in its narrative style, which harkens back to Victorian ghost stories. Daniel Radcliffe gets the lead role in his most significant to date non-Potter role, as a young widower who travels to a seaside house that even Tim Burton would find a little creepy. Throw in some mysterious disappearing children and a local legend of a spectral woman and you've got yourself a proper horror story there.
The relies mostly on jumps and shocks for its scares, which is something, I suppose, in contrast to the gorno movement, or the umpteen number of exorcist stories we've been getting lately. Reviews are decent but not spectacular, which leads up to two main questions – is this a bit too staid idea of a horror film for today's jaded audiences, and do they really care about Radcliffe in a non-Potter role?
When the Potter series started, you probably could have been forgiven for thinking that he'd eventually end up like Jake Lloyd or Haley Joel Osment in the dustbin of child star history. Through the course of ten years, Radcliffe has developed into a decent actor and has worked hard at staying relevant and stretching himself (for instance – he's 22 and playing much older in this film, and plausibly so). The transition away from a plum franchise role is never an easy one for any actor, but as far as proving he can handle grown-up roles, this isn't a bad step. I'd look for around $12 for it this weekend.
Amidst these films, Big Miracle is hoping to be the family film option. Based on a true story about gray whales trapped in ice in Alaska (and not, as it turns out, about Tom Hanks magically wishing himself onto the 1980 US Men's Olympic Hockey team), it stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski as the coordinators of the rescue effort by the small Alaskan town near where this happened. Scientifically designed in a lab to make you go “awww”, this isn't so much a movie as it is an exercise in earnestness, which to be fair is what people are looking for from family films. Universal is obviously hoping for something like a Dolphin Tale performance, though that was in 3D, had a better lineup of stars and didn't look ridiculously hokey. Barrymore has struggled as a solo lead in the last few years, and I don't see this film turning the tide. We should see about $5 million for the whales this weekend.
Although Taken was one of the big surprises of 2009 in how leggy it was, last year's Unknown wasn't able to continue the trend, and performed more or less normally. Now that we know Liam Neeson can be a credible action star, there's not a lot of surprise factor left to audiences. We're still seeing his films, but it's not a “guess who's awesome? No, really, you'll never guess” situation. Opening to just under $20 million last weekend, The Grey should continue in Unknown's footsteps as a moderate hit, dropping to around $12 million this weekend.
Following that, we have a collection of films that seem to be in a race as to who can be out on DVD first. Underworld: Awakening fell over 50% in its second weekend, which is actually not all that bad for the franchise. One For the Money became the symbol for all that's gone wrong in Katherine Heigl's career (besides Katherine Heigl happening to it), while Red Tails and Man on a Ledge underwhelm with both audiences and at the box office. None of these films should surpass $6 million this weekend, and in Man on a Ledge's case, probably not even $4 million.
Some Oscar expansions did make a bit of noise last weekend, in particular The Descandants and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which both earned around $6 million thanks to additional screens. These tend to be temporary bumps, and both films should come down to around $4 million this frame.