The latter portion of August is historically a dumping ground for all of the movies Hollywood wanted to release in the summer but did not consider to be potential blockbusters. 2012 is a bit different in this regard because two strong openers debuted last weekend and now four new titles are ready to enter the marketplace. Each is well positioned to target a specific demographic. As many as seven titles could earn north of $10 million this weekend, a feat that has occurred on only one other August weekend in box office history. The upcoming weekend should bring a lot of joy to Hollywood.
Weekend Forecast for August 17-19, 2012
By David Mumpower
August 17, 2012
The 800-pound gorilla this weekend comes in the form of Sylvester Stallone. And Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Bruce Willis. And Dolph Lundgren. And…okay, the 8,000 pound gorilla this weekend comes in the form of The Expendables 2. The quick follow-up to the 2010 release is going to win this weekend in a walk. The first movie opened to $34.8 million on its way to $103.1 million in final box office. At a minimum, the sequel will do better on opening weekend.
What we learned in 2010 is that the Ocean’s 11 concept of casting a lot of established names in the same project blends perfectly with a bunch of semi-retired action heroes from the 1980s. Stallone and Schwarzenegger alone had carried more movies in that time frame than most actors manage in their entire careers. Stallone was the lead in ten actions films, assuming that Over the Top qualifies in this regard. Even if it doesn’t, I didn’t include the vastly superior Victory, so he made at least one a year during this time frame. Schwarzenegger filmed nine action titles in the same time frame; yes, the 1980s included one shoot-em-up flick each from Stallone and Schwarzenegger on an annual basis.
Bruce Willis spent most of the 1980s getting famous on arguably the best television show from that era, Moonlighting. He did not make his action debut until 1988; that was a little film called Die Hard. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Willis redefined the action genre by going against the grain in portraying a vulnerable hero who is not impervious to bullets yet will willingly walk through broken glass in order to save the day. In the years that followed, Willis became one of the most reliable lead actors in Hollywood. Any film that combined the presence of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and him was bound to appeal to action genre loyalists.
As you know, The Expendables did not stop with them. Stallone’s 1980s foil, Dolph Lundgren, was added to the cast as a tip of the cap to the Rocky/Ivan Drago battle. Mickey Rourke experienced career redemption at example the right moment by starring in The Wrestler and Iron Man 2. His addition to the cast added to the 1980s legacy. Then, producers recognized that many of the people they would be targeting for opening weekend had been born after 1989, so several frontline stars of the 1990s and 2000s were added as well. Jet Li happens to be my favorite of these, although I am a huge fan of Terry Crews and Jason Statham as well. A tribute was also offered to the professional wrestling and cage fighting scene with the additions of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Randy Couture.
The Expendables was a movie project that legitimately had something for everyone, as long as everyone enjoys watching people get shot in the face. While the quality of the movie was questionable (41% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, 6.5 out of 10 from IMDb users), there still appears to be tremendous anticipation for the sequel. I am of the opinion that Schwarzenegger and Willis are the reason for this. Neither made anything more than a handshake appearance in the original. The trailers have cleverly emphasized that they at least have a gun fight while uncomfortably situated in the world’s smallest car.
Also, Jean-Claude Van Damme has been added to the cast as the bad guy. With no offense intended toward Eric Roberts (okay, maybe a little), Van Damme is a much stronger villain even if I groan every time I think about the fact that his character’s last name is Vilain. The other clever aspect of the sequel is that Liam Hemsworth of The Hunger Games has been added as the lead member of the next generation of The Expendables. Given his recent career trajectory and the popularity of the Hemsworth name, he adds a lot to the franchise of The Expendables moving forward. Despite the mediocrity of the original, I fully expect The Expendables to debut in the $45 million range and become another $100 million hit. I consider this to be among the most clever franchise concepts of the 2000s.
The second strongest opener this weekend, at least on paper, is ParaNorman. This movie features more than just a clever title, too. The creative team behind BOP fave Coraline returns for another round of gothic humor. Laika is a stop motion animation studio helmed by Nike founder Phil Knight’s site. Since such animation is so methodical to create, this is their follow-up to the 2009 release of Coraline.
ParaNorman is a novel take on the socially awkward kid finding his way in life story. Norman is a strange boy whose one talent is talking to the dead. When his New England home is suddenly overrun by zombies, Norman becomes the only person in Blithe Hollow who can prevent a witch’s curse from destroying the town. ParaNorman featured some clever tie-ins for The Olympics including a zombie’s unexpectedly dexterous turn on the pommel horse. Distributor Lionsgate has cause for optimism here. I expect an opening weekend in the $23 million range as well as solid word-of-mouth. The movie is currently 82% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes and if the quality is anywhere near the level of Coraline, we’re all going to love it.
Sparkle is the third new release this weekend. This feature is a remake of the 1976 movie that introduced the world to Irene Cara of Flashdance fame. It was only one of the first films of Philip Michael Thomas, who was either Crockett or Tubbs on Miami Vice. Whichever character he was, Thomas was the cop who wore socks but did not later stave off a Cylon invasion.
The 2012 version of Sparkle stars the aptly named Jordin Sparks in the title role. The real story, of course, is that this film marks the fourth and final movie appearance of Whitney Houston. The recently deceased diva’s previous three films averaged $79 million. Even the worst of them, The Preacher’s Wife, grossed $48.1 million in 1996. In 2012 ticket pricing, this is a $87 million domestic total. In other words, Whitney Houston’s movies have all been major box office hits.
I mention all of this because Sparkle appears likely to be a moderate hit, at least on paper. The posthumous appearance of Houston could wreak havoc with expectations here. Michael Jackson’s This Is It is a recent example of how much people flock to see the final appearance of a music icon. For all of Houston’s personal struggles, her popularity right now is as high as it has been since the release of The Bodyguard. A breakout performance by Sparkle would not shock me in the least. I project a $19 million opening weekend but I could be shortchanging this project a great deal.
Even the fourth best release this weekend offers some upside. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is the latest Disney tale of hope and inspiration. This is an old school Mouse House concept wherein a couple who cannot have children wish for a little boy by placing all their hopes and dreams in a box. The next morning, the boy of their dreams arrives. Yes, he is covered in dreams but he still has plenty of love to give.
Disney has made a fortune out of creating sleeper hits from concepts such as this one. The Odd Life of Timothy Green actually debuted on Wednesday, earning $2,303,636. This is eerily similar to the first day of Hope Springs, which grossed $2,265,292. The Tommy Lee Jones/Meryl Streep movie went on to earn $19.1 million over five days, $14.7 million over the weekend. I do not expect quite that performance from Timothy Green. A $12 million Friday-Sunday after $4 million on Wednesday and Thursday would give the $40 million production $16 million in five days.
Last weekend’s new releases were The Bourne Legacy, The Campaign and the aforementioned Hope Springs. Both The Bourne Legacy and The Campaign are showing signs of front-loading. I expect a 60% drop to $15.2 million but an even steeper decline would not shock me. The Campaign should hold marginally better with a 52% drop to $12.7 million. Hope Springs is holding better than the other titles. I believe it will earn around $8.5 million this weekend, which would be 42% depreciation from its opening weekend.