Labor Day Weekend is just a throwaway. The real fall movie season starts this week, though by tradition, nothing here is going to set the world on fire. The usual slate of low-expectation genre films is on the way as we make our way towards the prime films of fall and the awards season.
Weekend Forecast for September 10-12, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
September 10, 2004
The phrase, "they made a Resident Evil sequel?" can be read a number of different ways. To the vast majority of people, that's a statement of incredulity on the same level as if someone had invented liver flavored Jello. To a certain section of video game fans, zombie enthusiasts and Milla Jovovich's family, these words are manna from heaven. Released in March of 2002 and based, quite faithfully, on the extremely popular horror video game of the same name, it divided those that saw it more than any similar film since perhaps Starship Troopers. Opening to a modest $17 million, it dive bombed quite quickly after its first weekend, finishing up with just $39 million.
It's an odd choice for a sequel, then, unless you consider how the foreign and DVD markets enter into it. Factoring in the overseas box office figures, the film actually crossed the century mark, and the DVD was one of the more popular of 2002, featuring a pretty legendary commentary track of the cast in various states of inebriation. Resident Evil: Apocalypse picks up where the first film left off, right after the zombie menace (and The Nemesis) had broken out of the Umbrella Corporation's underground lab and started attacking Raccoon City. Even as the city's inhabitants fall to the undead plague, a resistance, formed by the only survivor of the events of the first film (Jovovich) and a band of Umbrella Corp employees abandoned after it was cordoned off. But what of The Nemesis creature? Is that just an unfortunate side effect of the undead walking or is there a greater scheme involved? OK, so that's probably a little too complex a plot for what is, essentially, a shoot-em-up film when we're really here for some Aliens-style mayhem and destruction.
Genre films like this can sometimes see an increase in their sequels' opening weekends, with the best example here being Blade II. However, given how divisive the first film was as far as quality, it seems unlikely that that kind or any kind of increase will occur here. It did have a fantastic teaser and an above average trailer, though, that should keep the bleeding from being too severe. As well, the promise of action and gore means there'll be at least some kind of floor to its appeal that should lead to a decent first weekend. I predict a $15 million debut, but don't be surprised if it sinks even quicker than the original.
Speaking of films with over-developed plots, we have Cellular, starring Kim Basinger, Bill Macy, Jason Statham and several other below radar celebs. If it seems awfully familiar to you, then you probably saw Phone Booth. Both came (originally) from the pen of the same writer, who seems to have a theme going. In a way, it's the opposite angle on Phone Booth, with a man tied to a phone, but this time able to go anywhere. Chris Evans's character finds himself tangled up in a kidnapping plot after the victim (played by Basinger) manages to dial out at random to his cell phone. It's then a race against time to get her help before the rest of her family is captured and/or killed.
It's a plot that Hitchcock would have had fun with, but I don't think anyone is calling David Ellis (Final Destination 2) a director on par with Hitch, nor is Evans an actor on par with Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant. A film like this asks for, no, demands, an extraordinary suspension of disbelief. For whatever reason, this always seems to go over better with an established star in the role. Even Colin Farrell will do, apparently. Even so, Phone Booth was only able to open to about $14 million, and that was with an insane amount of pre-hype about the original premise. Though gimmicks are always popular, a repeated gimmick will have a tough time. Given the lack of star power and the perceived copycat nature of the film, it will be tough for Cellular to have a huge impact. A modest $10 million open seems about right here.
The week after one of the weakest slates in Labor Day history pretty naturally leads to one of the weakest sets of holdovers ever. Using only the three day totals, no film broke the $10 million mark last week, and few of those are going to break $5 million this week. After holding on for two weeks at the top spot, Hero will drop to third or fourth, depending if Without a Paddle can manage to repeat its three-day drop of only 17%. Despite rapturous critical reviews, Hero has found itself a tough sell after a great $18 million start. With this free-fall in progress, $50 million seems to be the upper limit for a total. However, this is pretty much free money for Miramax, so they can't be too disappointed. The third weekend should end up as about $5 million. I'm ready to consider Without a Paddle's performance a bit of a fluke, but it will be able to compete with Hero at about the $5 million mark.
The other summer refugees that continue to perform are about the only other films of note still in release. Watch for Collateral, The Bourne Supremacy, Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite to outlast all the other minnows that make up this sad top ten. The most significant box office event will be occurring well outside the top ten, as Spider-Man 2 should move past The Passion of the Christ for the number two spot for 2004 releases and number eight all-time. Despite the overall drop in box office this year to this point, there have still been three new entries into that top ten, something that hasn't happened in quite some time. It's interesting to note that even in a year that has seen so many films perceived to fall flat, several have turned in performances among the strongest of all time.