January can be something of a two-faced month at the box office. While new studio offerings are typically among the worst a studio can offer, mixed in are holdovers from December looking for Oscar recognition. The first full weekend of 2005 brings one new wide release film from the "dumping ground" pile, and as for holdovers, well, it's a good week to play catch-up.
Weekend Forecast for January 7-9, 2005
By Reagen Sulewski
January 7, 2005
White Noise, while probably an early candidate for Art Bell's film of the year, is just the latest in a series of low-budget, early-year horror films. Where it differs from them is in the pseudo-scientific promotion campaign, which shamelessly pegs its plot device, E.V.P. or "Electronic Voice Phenomena", as a real occurrence. There's a difference between making a story about the paranormal, like The Sixth Sense, and passing off entertainment as fact. That said, the film could or could not stand on its horror merits outside of how it's being sold.
Starring Michael Keaton in his first leading role in quite some time, White Noise is oddly similar to 2002's Dragonfly. After his wife is murdered, Keaton starts receiving eerie messages through recording devices. Believing them to be coming from his wife and other dead people, he starts to investigate further, leading to that precious quote from the trailer, "It's one thing to contact the dead, it's another thing to meddle!" Yes, well, contacting the dead is something we all do on a daily basis.
White Noise is being hammered by critics, who say that while it offers the occasional scare, the head-slapping plot makes the movie nearly unwatchable. Low-grade horror sells well in January, like in past years with The Butterfly Effect and Darkness Falls, which debuted to various degrees of success. I don't expect White Noise to approach either of those films, which opened to $17 and $12 million respectively. However, in a weak January and debuting on 2,258 screens, it should manage $9 million and a likely second place finish.
First place for the third straight week will easily go to Meet the Fockers, which had a second straight weekend above $40 million over New Year's. In a weekend where films held generally steady or increased their take, Fockers dropped just 9% and nearly matched the total take of Meet the Parents in just 12 days. As it stands now, it is well on its way to $200 million and higher and has a better than average chance at becoming the fourth highest grossing release of 2004, which is currently The Incredibles, a moving target at approximately $251 million and counting. Fockers should see about $26 million this weekend.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events held on to second place in its third weekend, increasing slightly to $14.5 million, and butting up against the $100 million mark total. Films that rely on family appeal tend to drop rather quickly after the holidays; however, I think Snicket should avoid that fate to some extent, as although it's no Harry Potter, it does have some adult cross-over appeal. This should make for a weekend of about $9 million for the film.
The Aviator helped its Oscar prospects along by increasing a full 30% over its Christmas weekend take last frame, earning $11 million and moving up to $30 million overall. The Howard Hughes biography already ranks in the upper half of Martin Scorsese's films for box office success, though it has a ways to go to top Gangs of New York at $77 million. This amount is easily in reach if it gets nominated and/or wins in as many categories as many think it should. Expanding slightly to 81 more theaters, The Aviator should add another $8 million to its coffers this weekend.
Fat Albert held its pace as well at $10 million, though this is definitely one film that should feel the January pinch, perhaps dropping by as much as 50%. This film, along with Fockers and The Polar Express, were among the smallest gainers or largest decliners in the top 20, with Darkness, The Life Aquatic and Christmas with the Kranks, another holiday themed film, also performing poorly relative to the rest of the group.
Disney/Touchstone was able to make a holiday push for two of its films, National Treasure and The Incredibles. Treasure jumped back into the top ten with a vengeance, coming all the way from 11th to sixth, while the Incredibles went from about $2.5 million to around $4 million. Throw in Miramax's Finding Neverland and its 90% increase last weekend (and the above-mentioned Aviator) and the Mouse House had a pretty good weekend with its holdovers. I wouldn't expect this to be much of a bellwether; holiday weekends are always a little anomalous. However, box office is box office, and all of their films are performing well.
Kinsey, the biopic of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey starring Liam Neeson, gets what may be its last expansion this weekend, hitting around 500 screens. It has held steady at about $500,000 for the past few weekends, and this may be something of a last gasp attempt at exposure. It will break back into the top 20, but the line-up of holdovers is still too deep to get much further up the ranks. Birth, starring Nicole Kidman, also expands this weekend, after nearly disappearing in a few short weeks. The subject matter of a woman who believes that her late husband may have been reincarnated into a 10-year-old boy seems to have been too much for filmgoers to handle, but it gets a second chance here in about 450 theaters. It should also have trouble breaking into the upper realms of the box office, which has few high earners, but many medium ones at this point of the year.