And... they're off! The four month orgy of explosions and superstars known as the Summer Movie Season begins today. While one spot in the list of the highest-grossing films of the year is already taken, every week from now until August will have at least one film hoping for a spot of its own there. The first contestant is Universal's Van Helsing, claiming the highly coveted "first out of the block" position.
Weekend Forecast for May 7-9, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
Universal is practically the king of this slot, going all the way back to Twister and continuing on through The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Proving that they're not the only studio that's rummaging through their back catalogue for ideas, Van Helsing uses three more of Universal's classic monsters as a backdrop for CGI-laden action scenes. The Van Helsings, for those not up on their vampire mythology, was the family that had a bit of a grudge against Dracula. However, they're not really disguising the fact that this story is effectively "Batman in the 19th Century." Dark, brooding avenger, loaded for bear with weapons, does this sound familiar to you? Only this time, the demons he's fighting are literal.
Taking the title role is Hugh Jackman, who might be becoming to this weekend what Will Smith was to July 4th a few years back. As Wolverine, he pretty quickly became the focus of the X-Men series (quick, what does James Marsden look like? no peeking) and X2 held this spot last year. While you can't ignore the fact that the franchise (rightly) gets most of the credit for the $85 million opening weekend, Jackman is the actor who's made the most of appearing in the series.
It's only natural, then, for him to try and branch out into his own action franchise and this one appears to be a pretty good fit for him. Handed over to the steady hands of Steven Sommers, who brought us both Mummy films (hey, you went and saw them, don't start with me), I wonder about the sense of loading all three villains into the same picture; look at what that did for the Batman series and what are you going to do for the sequel? The whole thing also looks a bit cheesy, too, but then again see: The Mummy films. History has proven that it's almost impossible to fail here, as you have America's undivided blockbuster attention. However, this doesn't quite have the feel of a cultural phenomenon, such as the one that got Spider-Man to a record-shattering weekend two years ago. Instead, I'm looking for "just" your average modern blockbuster level, or around $60 million.
The Olsen Twins (oh sorry, I keep forgetting to use their real names: Thing One and Thing Two) must have thought they had a perfect plan; when all those boys were off watching Hugh Jackman battle the stupid monsters, they'd get all the girls into their super-fun movie about clothes and stuff. Then along comes Lindsay Lohan's film to ruin everything. It's the start of a brand new Hollywood teen feud! Okay, I'm being slightly ridiculous. However, the surprise showing of Mean Girls does throw a bit of a wrinkle into the counter-programming efforts of New York Minute (oooweeooo). Given that 75% of the audience of Mean Girls was female and under 25 and appears to be getting some pretty favorable response, you have to wonder how much room there is in this niche.
The Olsens have done one other real live theatrical release in addition to the approximately 17 kajillion video movies they've made since the end of Full House, 1995's It Takes Two. At a $20 million total gross, it didn't exactly set the world on fire, though it does count as Steve Guttenberg's biggest hit in a long time. They've come a long way since then, mostly by appealing to that disturbing demographic that has that Legal Age Countdown Web site as their homepage. Surprisingly, the film doesn't look all that bad (and hey, Bob Saget cameo! Funny!) in an Adventures in Babysitting kind of way. It should split the market with the second weekend of Mean Girls for around $15 million, which is pretty good, all told.
So color me surprised on the success of Mean Girls, at least to the extent that it has so far. With the possible exception of Anne Hathaway, Lindsay Lohan is the first of the new generation to have a bonafide hit without the use of an exceptionally gimmicky premise or from the crossover of a TV show. $25 million is a pretty significant shot across the bow of the teen movie market. Turns out that Alicia Silverstone comparison I made last week was more on the mark than I knew. Mean Girls is adding screens again this week, always a sign of exhibitor confidence, so it should pretty well even in the face of the direct competition from New York Minute. Make it $15 million in weekend two and a potential runoff with New York Minute for second place.
Man on Fire won the battle of second weekend films last frame quite handily, outpacing the romantic comedy 13 Going on 30 by a much greater margin than in their first matchup. The latter may have suffered a little from Mean Girls, but I hesitate to put too much stock in that. Man on Fire is pacing nicely alongside the take of Training Day and is even doing slightly better. Moving into summer, I would expect Man on Fire to be able to outdo its $76 million total by $5-10 million or so. The 50% plus drop for Garner's comedy is disappointing by any standards -- you have to do better than that to hold on to your screens in May.
The trio of films in the 4-5-6 slots from last weekend shouldn't be around to bother us too much longer. Godsend, Laws of Attraction and Envy all fit in the narrow range of $6-7 million in their debuts. With their reviews ranging from indifference to outright despising, there's nothing that'll bring these films back to life. If you absolutely have to see these films in the theater (what, did you lose a bet?), this would be a good time, while you can.
The most hyped documentary of the year so far (at least until Michael Moore really gets going) opens this weekend as well. Super Size Me, the story of the filmmaker's month of eating nothing but McDonald’s food, won the documentary award at Sundance with its scathing condemnation of fast food culture. Just by reputation alone it has achieved a kind of cultural victory; just a few short weeks after the film premiered at this year's festival, McDonald's, the inventor of the Super Size meal, announced it was no longer going to be offering the option at its restaurants. This echoes a similar quasi-victory pictured in Bowling for Columbine wherein K-Mart decided to stop selling ammunition at its stores (leaving Michael Moore speechless for perhaps the first time in his life).
As Bowling for Columbine showed with its $21 million, the appetite for documentaries has become a little larger than it used to be, especially when dealing with social issues. This could be the buzz limited film of the summer and it is already starting out on 41 screens, an enormous amount for a documentary. If the idea that the film is more complex than just "fast food is bad for you", this could approach BfC's documentary record. A good start on this many screens could be anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.