Even though Memorial Day has lost its place as the official start of the Summer Movie Season, it has always been one of the bigger weekends of the year. This year, the confluence of two ultra-blockbusters promises to make this one record breaking.
Weekend Forecast for May 28-31, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
May 28, 2004
I'm convinced that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin have a barely disguised misanthropic dislike of all mankind. After practically inventing "monument porn" in 1996 with Independence Day, and thoroughly trashing New York with Godzilla, they're back to killing billions and billions of people in the awkwardly titled The Day After Tomorrow. An environmental fantasy film, Tomorrow tells the story of a single gigantic storm that starts the next Ice Age, due to global warming (no, it's not an oxymoron, though the film is no meteorological thesis).
More than that, it's an excuse to watch some big cities get trashed, alternately by floods, tornadoes, earthquakes (um, okay) and other assorted extreme weather. There's a subplot in there about a father and son reconciliation, but man, that's just filler. Audiences for the most part have become sophisticated to the lack of sophistication in disaster flicks, taking "quality" with a huge grain of salt as long as they get to see their carnage. The trailer promises that in spades, being one money shot after another (and for some reason, a shot of a lunch cart racing through the aisle of an airplane). It's probably as good a trailer as Twister as far as showing destruction (but not Independence Day, which is nearly untoppable).
Because movies like this blow their entire budget on the special effects, it's critical to get recognizable but not overly expensive names for your leads (unless you're Jerry Bruckheimer, in which case you just hire Bruce Willis). They've satisfied that here with Dennis Quaid (who seems to have exchanged careers with Harrison Ford), Sela Ward, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ian Holm, who while not all household names, are recognizable "that guys" who lend credibility to the film. Add in a pretty clever localized campaign and you have all the makings of a behemoth. Ignore the crazy political spin (from both sides); it's dumb summer fun. Over the four days of Memorial Day weekend, it should bring in a massive $90 million, or around $70 million in three days.
That may not be enough to win first place this weekend, as Shrek 2's record breaking opening weekend makes it a tough competitor and perhaps even a favorite to take the top spot, especially with the family-friendly nature of the weekend. With an astonishing $108 million three-day figure and terrific reviews, even a 35% drop would give it a win. Considering that the first film actually increased from weekend one to weekend two in the same spot, prospects look even rosier. The current all-time champion Spider-Man managed to hold on to 65% of its audience in its second weekend and that was without a holiday weekend, so it's not like there's not precedent for this kind of thing.
Where precedent has not been set is two films potentially earning so much in the same weekend; the current record for the top two films in a weekend is $125.1 million, by Star Wars Episode II's opening weekend and the third of Spider-Man. These two films together should shatter that, even just using their three-day totals. Expect $81 million over three days for Shrek 2, and another $104 million over four, which would put it very close to surpassing the mark set in the entire run by the first Shrek of $267 million.
Counter-programming takes a couple of forms this weekend, with the romantic comedy Raising Helen, and the Snoop Dogg comedy Soul Plane. Raising Helen likely has the broader appeal and the bigger star, in Kate Hudson. She broke through completely last year with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which opened to $23 million and crossed the $100 million mark in total. Of course, she also managed to star in one of the summer's biggest bombs, Alex & Emma. This film should land somewhere in the middle of those two.
However, there are serious questions here. Raising Helen is another one of those thinly veiled attacks on successful women, by guilt tripping them into thinking that a) women can't be fulfilled unless they have tons of children and b) no woman who has children can possibly have their great career. That some women lap this kind of insulting message up surprises me to no end. I think it's going to alienate a certain section of 20- and 30-somethings who will see what's being fed to them and stay away. It may be able to pull off around $15 million for the holiday weekend.
How much of a movie star is Snoop Dogg anyway? That's the main question that will be answered after the opening weekend of Soul Plane, which is probably hoping to be the black Airplane! It looks a bit too scattershot for that, but there are a few hints at cleverness, like a safety video that's a parody of the Destiny's Child song "Survivor". On the other hand, it also features Tom Arnold. Does that sound like an enticement to anyone? You pays your money, you takes your chances. A couple of years ago, Undercover Brother set the standard for black-themed spoofs, at least quality wise and opened to $12 million. That's probably the ceiling for Soul Plane over the holiday weekend, especially with a smaller screen count (about 1,500).
Among returning films, Troy wasn't able to avoid the 50% curse in weekend two, dropping almost that much to about $24 million. While it should pass the $100 million mark after this weekend with ease, it doesn't look to be justifying its amazing $200 million budget. It looks to be ending up around $130-135 million total. That's about the same final number I expect for Van Helsing, which continued its free fall in its third weekend.
Super Size Me expands again after successfully breaking the top ten, the first documentary to do so since Bowling for Columbine two years ago. Just by sheer number of films, it should find itself out of the top ten this week but will continue to build. Morgan Spurlock's expose on the fast-food industry has a very good opportunity to play through the entire summer and beyond.
Another limited release of note that is making its debut this weekend is Saved! starring Mandy Moore and Jena Malone. A religious satire about teen pregnancy, it's in the tradition of films like Election, which skewered the political system by way of a high-school presidential election. Subversive black comedies have to work hard to grab an audience, and this will be no different.