Even by its own standards, September has been an anemic month at the box office. The chicken or egg debate on this one rages on, but in the meantime, Hollywood turns to what they've always done in the fall to boost the box office: a horror film. Additionally, a huge slate of limited releases make their bow this weekend as the Oscar hopefuls start to be unfurled.
Weekend Forecast for September 24-26, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
September 24, 2004
Destined to be either the most intriguing or most ridiculous movie of the fall, The Forgotten is this week's headlining release. Openly attempting to associate itself with The Sixth Sense, it's highlighting that there is a twist ending front and center (Sense, you might remember, played it all close to the vest). Julianne Moore plays a woman who wakes up to find that she's the only who remembers her son anymore. I'm sure there's some sort of underlying baby-boomer/empty-nest psychology at play here but that's for someone else's film studies thesis. As more and more of the people around her simply disappear, she seems to have uncovered a secret plot, but by who and what for? And where are my Raisinettes?
The film that this most reminds me of, in actual fact, is The Mothman Prophecies, released in another downtime, January of 2002. It's a bit of a toss-up as to whether Richard Gere or Julianne Moore has more pull on a marquee in this kind of thing, but then Mothman was hamstrung by a terrible title and didn't have those cool shots of someone being jerked out of the air. The Forgotten certainly ups the ante on its audience at the end of the original trailer, when a deathly silent moment is interrupted by a character being snatched by an invisible giant hand. We either get the choice to go along with the gimmick or sit back exasperated. To my surprise, the producers of the film managed to keep the lid mostly on top of this one and are clearly hoping for big things. Under the lowered expectations of the fall, they may get it, and then it will be up to the film to carry word-of-mouth. That doesn't look likely after scanning the reviews, which mostly pan it. Still, it's been a pretty spooky and effective marketing campaign, and it shouldn't have any problem taking the top spot for the weekend. That doesn't mean much at this point of the year, but should be good for about $17 million.
Amazingly enough, there appears to have been a notion about a year back that the world needed two movies about capers involving the daughter of the President, and they both went into production. There's a question as to whether we even needed one, looking at the receipts for Mandy Moore's Chasing Liberty ($12 million total). First Daughter aims a little older in audience simply by having Katie Holmes as the lead, although it's dubious as to whether this project is going to end up with a different result. Personally, it's good to see Michael Keaton back in theaters (his first wide release in almost six years), even if it's just a supporting role in an angsty, high-concept romance.
Holmes's last wide release wasn't quite so long ago. 2002's Abandon barely poked its head into the box office charts, though, opening to only $5 million. Dawson's Creek is a long way away for Holmes, and I'm not quite sure what the solution is to resurrect her as an ingenue. She's already been passed by the likes of Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst (and even then; look at Wimbledon's grosses). Last year's Pieces of April was probably a good start, and an indie career not unlike Neve Campbell's recent films is probably a vision of her future. Getting cast in the next Batman film may or may not turn out to be a good career decision...but I digress. You kind of get the feeling that the producers of this one expected male lead Marc Blucas to be a bigger name at this point, as there's very little in Holmes' history to show that she could create a hit. This should only be good for about $6 million this weekend and will disappear by the first Presidential Debate.
Fortunately among this questionable slate, we have a film that's guaranteed to entertain, although it hasn't been released in quite enough theaters to make its full impact on the box office. I'm referring here to Shaun of the Dead, the self-described "romzomcom" from the creators of the British cult sitcom Spaced, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. A film that's half parody and half homage to Dawn of the Dead and other Romero zombie films, this movie is probably the funniest thing you'll see in the theaters this year. The central conceit is that society is so zombified already that people would scarcely notice if there was a sudden revival of the dead, especially the title character, who shuffles from his job to the couch oblivious to the world around him. Then, suddenly, there's a zombie apocalypse, his girlfriend's broken up with him and all hell's broken loose. Skewering not just zombie films but the romantic comedy genre, Shaun of the Dead is a masterful film. Its biggest challenge at the box office, aside from the fundamental Englishness of it, is the completely unknown cast. As such, it's starting out in only 600 or so theaters. This should be enough to get the word out, as this could easily be the buzz film of the next couple of months. At the outset, it's probably only going to grab about $4 million, though.
The film that had given many people high hopes for this time frame, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, turned out to be a major disappointment, at least in the box office department. The experimentally shot sci-fi actioner opened to just $15.6 million against a $70 million budget and a near constant loop of hype. The visual spectacle didn't prove to be enticing enough to prospective viewers. The lesson to Hollywood: never try. Prospects look grim for legs on this one. Its first weekend was undoubtedly fanboy-fuelled, so look for something close to a 50% drop on the second weekend.
Of the other returning films, Wimbledon is the most likely to have legs; it's getting a small vote of confidence in the form of added theaters, but considering its small start at just over 2,000 venues, it's not the kind of response that I'm sure Universal was hoping for. This one will struggle to crack $35 million total. Bernie Mac's Mr. 3000 won't even do that well, even after opening to a slightly higher figure.
Among limited releases, the ones to keep the closest eye on are Infernal Affairs and The Motorcycle Diaries. The former is a Hong Kong thriller starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung (also in theaters now with Hero) that proved so popular as to spawn a trilogy. A policeman and a criminal are each deep undercover in the other's operation; however, a mole threatens to expose both of them. The catch; we don't know which is which. A possible bet for Oscars (though not in Foreign Film; it's not eligible) this movie promises to be one of the best thrillers of the year. The Motorcycle Diaries is another film that could be an Oscar contender, as soon as it's determined which country is going to submit it (Argentina, Chile and Brazil are fighting it out). The story of Che Guevara's early life and travels throughout South America in the 1950s, it has been described as a "non-political political film". Starring Gael Garcia Bernal of Y Tu Mama Tambien as Che (actually the second time he's played him), this road trip film is the first real threat of the fall to break out of limited release to box office glory.
Also notable among limited releases is The Last Shot, starring Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin. Based on the true story of the FBI using a fake film production to pull a sting on the Mob, the film is getting mixed reviews, although as is typical with films about Hollywood, it is probably too inside to really break through.