It's a typical spring mix of films this weekend, with four films taking on three different markets, at least one hoping for blockbuster status and all of them hoping to lay claim to a big share the weekend's pie.
Weekend Forecast for April 2-4, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
April 2, 2004
First among these is the comic adaptation Hellboy. The story of a demon brought from hell, his wayward Nazi parents and the scientists who reform him, Hellboy is one of the less mainstream comics in that he's never had a Saturday morning cartoon made about him. However, larger than life and darker-themed comics have found an audience in recent years, most notably Blade, which is already working on its third entry. Hellboy is far less grim, especially considering its subject, and much more like X-Men crossed with The Tick.
Under what looks like 100 pounds of red latex is Ron Perlman as the title character and it's hard to imagine better casting (he was both the writer's and director's first choice) for the gruff yet lovable demon. He's not what you'd consider a box office star, though, and that held up this film for years, with Guillermo del Toro holding firm until he got approval for him. The film's marketers still seem to have it in for the film, as they've chosen what seems to be some of the worst possible lines to promote the film, yet the quality action seems to be shining through. Reviewers are, surprising or not, lining up behind this film as solid entertainment. The question remains as to whether something without stars (Selma Blair and David Hyde Pierce don't count), an out-there premise and little prior mainstream awareness can succeed.
The obvious example of this sort of film working is the aforementioned Blade, which opened to $18 million in 1998. What of Wesley Snipes, you ask? I would hardly consider him much of an impact player at the box office, though he's certainly a bigger name than anyone in Hellboy. Blade set the precedent for just such a breakthrough, and Hellboy is certainly being advertised out the wazoo. Opening at 3,028 venues, we're looking at about a $26 million opening here. One gets the feeling that this could be the rare comic film with legs, as by all accounts, it's better looking than it's advertised. Trust in del Toro.
Action seekers have a couple of choices this weekend, as The Rock continues his quest for a sustained movie career in the remake of Walking Tall (hey, if we're remaking Joe Don Baker movies, how about Mitchell?). Coming back from Special Forces operations, The Rock finds his sleepy little town infested by corruption, headed up by Neal McDonough (of the late lamented Boomtown and Band of Brothers). After being elected sheriff (and with deputy Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame), he proceeds to kick ass and take names to clean up this stink-town (with just a tiny hint of fascism).
When he broke into action with The Scorpion King, it seemed like the world was ready to melt before him, taking that Mummy spinoff to a $36 million opening. Unfortunately the movie, in a word, sucked, and turned a lot of bystanders off him. Last fall's The Rundown is probably the movie that deserved to open big; it had sensible action, a unique setting and an actual plot, not to mention real chemistry between The Rock and his co-star Seann William Scott. However, it opened to only half the amount of The Scorpion King. Setting him up with a slightly annoying sidekick seems to work well and it's a formula they're keeping for this film in the form of Knoxville. After the satisfying Rundown (and with its carefully timed DVD release -- it's the number one rental this week), fans may be willing to give him a second chance... or he may have simply found his plateau. This film may settle his potential once and for all. Give it $19 million for the debut.
When Disney releases a film like Home on the Range, I get of two minds about it. It's nice that they're going with what is essentially an original story instead of adapting yet another public domain myth, but surely they have the ability to come up with something better than this? Have they conceded all creativity to Pixar? Now it's entirely possible I'm being too hard on this film, as it bears a bit of a tonal resemblance to The Emperor's New Groove, another Disney film that looked mediocre and irrelevant on the surface. However, that film ended up being a brilliant masterpiece of anarchic animation, harkening back to the days of Chuck Jones at WB Studios. Home on the Range has that look about it where they're throwing 20 jokes a minute at the screen and hoping something sticks. And it's hard to come down on a film that just comes right out and casts Roseanne as a cow.
What kiddie audiences have come to expect from Disney is the epic and the grand scale (with or without music). It's rare that they play for straight comedy; even Lilo & Stitch went for the epic scope, going into space and leaning heavily on a family theme. Home on the Range is a bit too random to come across that well, and is an early candidate for worst tagline of the year (Bust a Moo). We should see about $11 million here; better than the dismal Teacher's Pet, but not approaching last year's Brother Bear.
There seems to be a bit of an obsession of late with fairytales, royalty and/or heads of state and romance, of which The Prince & Me is the just the latest edition. Julia Stiles plays a college student who happens to fall for a Danish prince who is attending college incognito. Eventually she find out the truth (my bet is on a poorly hidden crown) and faster than you can say "hawk from a handsaw," Stiles is off to taste the rich life of a vaguely irrelevant constitutional monarch in a tiny Scandinavian country. Can a bourgeois American ever fit in high society? Will she give up her career for love? Is this Coming to America from Shari Headley's perspective?
Stiles has had her breakout success already in the "white girls can move!" romance of Save the Last Dance, which opened to an astonishing $27 million. The Prince & Me, however, does not look to have this same potential, and Stiles will still be waiting to recapture that mojo after this film opens. This seems more along the lines of Chasing Liberty, which opened earlier this year to a dismal $6 million. I think this can do a little better but not much. Perhaps $8-9 million is the reasonable figure to expect.
Proving just how far you can go on a name brand and kids who don't know any better, Scooby-Doo 2 opened to $29 million last weekend, taking first spot. The original film dropped 54% in its second weekend and it's tempting to think that with sequel-itis in effect, Scooby-Doo 2 should drop even further. That might still happen, but I think those that would be potentially extremely disappointed in it knew enough to stay away, and we ought to be looking at your standard bad-movie-sequel drop of 50-55%, or around $14 million.
At a $12.6 million opening weekend, The Ladykillers is simultaneously one of Tom Hanks's lowest opening weekends, while also being the Coen Brothers’ highest by a hair over Intolerable Cruelty. I think we know who won this battle. This one, while funny, is simply too weird for general standards and will fall to about the $7 million mark.
Continuing to roll along in its sixth weekend, The Passion of the Christ is showing small signs that it may be making a comeback. Adding 194 venues to once again be the most widely distributed film of the week, it looks to be readying to take advantage of the upcoming Easter holiday. I'm not certain we'll see much evidence of change this weekend, with the film dropping to perhaps $7.5 million, but exhibitors do seem to be expressing faith in the film's earning power.
Among films debuting in limited release, none has been more long awaited than Shaolin Soccer, one of the Hong Kong films that Miramax seemingly held for ransom, or plain just didn't know what to do with. That seems understandable in the case of Soccer, as it redefines the idea of crazy foreign films. Starring Stephen Chow, the Asian Jim Carrey, Shaolin Soccer depicts a group of down on their luck monks who decide to turn to sports to advance their philosophy, using their kung fu moves on the pitch. To call it a broad comedy would be understating it. It's opening on only six screens in New York, L.A. and San Francisco, but is not the kind of film that a prestige release is really going to work for. You may get to see this one exhibited near you soon, but I wouldn't count on it.