It's difficult to overstate how terrible those first few weeks of September were for box office. What makes that all better? Weekends like this one, where they actually bother to release films people might want to see. Funny how that works.
Weekend Forecast for October 5-7, 2012
By Reagen Sulewski
October 5, 2012
Three years ago, Liam Neeson became one of the more unlikely actors to start an action career, when at the age of 56, he reinvented himself as the pinnacle of mid-aged badassery with Taken. Opening to $24 million and then, get this, actually showing legs, it instantly gave him credibility and created a small cottage industry with films like Liam Neeson: Fake Wife Puncher (Unknown) and Liam Neeson: Wolf Puncher (The Grey), with small sidetrips into Liam Neeson: Punching the Clock for the Check (Battleship and The A-Team). Of course, what audiences really want is another dose of the original, and that brings us to Taken 2.
After rescuing his daughter from a sex slavery ring based out of Paris and dismantling it with bullets, the action moves to Istanbul. Neeson brings both his daughter and wife (Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen, both returning) on vacation to the very spot where that ring originated from, which makes him the all-time champion in Tempting Fate. Pop Quiz: you kill members of a mob; is that going to make the rest of them happy or sad? Maybe they should consider Branson, Mo. as a travel destination. Predictably, the head honcho of the Turkish mob wants them all dead, and now he's got to rescue two family members. Presumably for Taken 3, they'll throw in a nephew or a cousin or something.
The formula for this movie isn't that complex – Liam Neeson goes in and kicks butt – but it's an elegant, straightforward style of action, with sensible plotting. Something that simple shouldn't be remarkable, but here we are. It's unlikely that Taken 2 will inspire anything quite so culturally significant as his speech to the kidnappers in the first film (which worked so well they put it on the poster), but by the same token, that cultural capital is what this film is banking on. Sequels to surprise hits can show huge bumps in opening weekends – recently The Hangover 2 almost doubled the take from the first one in its starting frame – and I see no reason not to expect Taken 2 to be an exception. Reviews are actually kind of terrible, but I don't expect fans of the first to care much, and they should give it a ride to first place with around $37 million.
Tim Burton goes back almost to the beginning with his “new” film Frankenweenie. Based on a short film he made as a 26-year-old, it's a stop-motion animated film about a boy who tries to bring his dog back to life with mad science, with horrific – well, PG-level horrific – results. To make the aesthetic he's going for that much more clear and the film just even more precious, it's been shot in black and white. It's a clear labor of love for Burton, but can he make other people care?
He can be forgiven for expecting people to, since for the most part he's gotten most of his fans to follow him through his flights of fancy. I mean, even Dark Shadows opened reasonably well and that had “what were they thinking” written all over it. His last stop-motion outing, Corpse Bride, opened to around $19 million despite an off-putting title and premise, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, which has his name attached as producer, has turned into something of an annual tradition. For what it's worth Frankenweenie has a decent voice cast, including Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Landau, but those are by no means the reasons people would want to see this film. It's Burton's name, and his well-honed grasp of the macabre that will pull people in, although like ParaNorman from a few weeks ago, the focus on a pre-teen character will limit the film somewhat. I'd look for around $17 million here.
After a surprise debut in sixth spot last weekend in limited release, Pitch Perfect expands to over 2,700 venues this weekend. Basically Glee: The College Years, Anna Kendrick stars as a new recruit to an all-female a capella group in college, which is locked in a fierce rivalry with its all-male counterpart on campus. With her new energy and pluck, yada yada yada, you all know how this works.
The film is essentially the vocal version of the Step Up movies, which as we'll all far too aware, have made to at least their fourth outing, albeit with some signs of fatigue. Singing competitions are inherently less visual and a bit harder to make exciting on screen, so the film seems to have wisely compensated for that by adding some raunch and comedy with a group of quirky characters. Other than Kendrick, none of them are particularly well known, although there's a few “oh him/her... from the thing with the guy...” actors in the cast. The famousness or lack thereof of the cast is obviously pretty irrelevant judging by last weekend's $5 million opening on 335 screens. With the expansion, this should jump up to around $9 million.
Hotel Transylvania set a September record with $42 million in its debut and more importantly gave Adam Sandler a hit after a couple of terrible films in a row. Never mind that it's an animated film. It still counts. Suddenly it's a crowded family film market, although Transylvania has an advantage as a more “traditionally” animated film versus the stop-motion animated Frankenweenie, a medium which is yet to see its first huge hit in the current animation climate. I expect a decent holdover here at around $25 million.
The potentially alienating Looper also opened strongly, starting with just under $21 million, and avoiding the fate of another sci-fi fall dystopian film, In Time, by you know, actually being good. All those involved, particularly director Rian Johnson, are going to see career boosts from this, as its modest $30 million budget will be covered quite shortly. Even good sci-fi struggles with word-of-mouth, or at least turning that into strong box office, as fans of it are extremely eager, not to put too fine a point on it. Suffice it to say that I think a second weekend of $12 million would be an excellent showing.