1. War of the Worlds
July 2005 Forecast
By David Mumpower
June 29, 2005
Stephen Spielberg's recent films have been among the best of his celebrated career, yet for some reason, audiences and critics have acted non-plussed. It will be a huge benefit to him to flex the box office muscle that I expect War of the Worlds to show. All of the talk that he has slipped in recent years will be quickly forgotten if his remake of the H.G. Wells classic does as well as I think it will. Tom Cruise seems to be doing everything he possibly can to sabotage the project, but the film should still sweep past $100 million by the time July 4th rolls around, anyway. If it does significantly less than that, however, all of the box office doom and gloomers are going to reach a high pitched decimel level ordinarily reserved for Maria Sharapova's grunts.
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
More than any film in July, this Johnny Depp film is proving the most difficult for me to forecast. I am torn between the remembrance of how well The Grinch Who Stole Christmas did and the recollection of the stink of failure that odiferously riddled The Cat in the Hat. Depp's latest bizarre star turn feels deliciously strange, but that is a fine line to walk. Is it going to turn out as well as Edward Scissorhands or has the most stubbornly off-putting A-list actor finally gone too far? Flip a coin. It could go either way. I am inclined to slot this one in The Village/The Hulk territory. I prophesy a strong opening weekend followed by an epic flameout. If the movie turns out to be good, though, $175 million isn't out of the question.
3. The Island
This is Anti-Survivor. People are voted onto an island instead of off it. Pitches like this make people millions of dollars while you stay at home eating cheese puffs and drinking beer. It's enough to drive the human race to alcoholism. What's that you say? You're way ahead of me? Great, it will make the rest of this discussion more palatable.
Despite innumerable petitions to the contrary, Michael Bay is back in the director's chair and this time, he wants to move beyond Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Humvee-joy riding right through the denizens of Tenement Town. His idea this time is to take two great actors, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, and see if they can overcome the normal constrictions produced by a film with camera cuts every 2.7 seconds. Surprisingly, I'm cautiously optimistic about the end result. Bay's visuals are always the gold standard even when his films prove narcissistic. A science fiction epic in the Phillip K. Dick mold could prove every bit as satisfying as a prior Bay guilty pleasure of mine, Armageddon. The key to that film was the quality of the cast, and I hold out hope that Johansson and McGregor will prove equally bulletproof.
4. Fantastic Four
You've seen the commercials. You realize the concern here. If we have learned nothing else from recent comic book adaptations, we now realize that they need to be buzz-worthy in order to captivate mainstream audiences. Otherwise, they earn Daredevil-type numbers if they're lucky. Afterward, they quickly vanish from theaters and are forever banished to a DVD existence involvong outraged fanboys bemoaning all the Comic Book Guy-type issues with the film...like Dr. Doom being on the ship with them when the accident occurs. Yes, I just demonstrated that I speak a bit of Nerd. Fantastic Four was the only comic book I ever liked growing up, so witnessing its shaky footage thus far has me braced for the worst. Director Tim Story was masterful with Barbershop, but his followup, Taxi, is an exercise in mediocrity. Fantastic Four breaks the tie. If it's best represented by the hilarious performance of Chris Evans as The Human Torch, Story is in business. If it's exemplified by the others, particularly Ioan Gruffudd, uh-oh. I haven't had a sense of foreboding to this degree about a film since I saw the teaser for Son of the Mask.
It's about a robot ship! And the ship develops sentience! We have never seen such a concept in the history of science fiction! Surely, we will be overwhelmed with mercurial brilliance once the momemt for which we have so long awaited and Stealth is finally released in theaters. A movie lover can dream, can't he? Marketing Stealth is actually a sticky situation for Sony/Columbia. Here, they have demonstrated the forethought to cast Jamie Foxx just before he became a superstar. The problem is that they gave him the smallest part of three (human) leads. Someone called Josh Lucas, whose last three films made roughly $400,000 combined, gets top billing. Perpetually semi-naked Jessica Biel is next on the billboard. Foxx is there for the purposes of comic relief when the ship acts naughty. Is Sony better served misleading audiences into believing it's Ray's next big movie? Or are they going to be honest about the fact that he's the funny black guy whose tragic death is as inevitable as Lucas and Biel embracing in the sunlight as the credits roll? Tough choice. Under any circumstance, Stealth is popcorn fare. It will open well, be viciously slighted by critics and go on to become a staple of cheesy Saturday evening cable television.
6. Wedding Crashers
Let's be blunt. Putting all the women from the film on the cover of Stuff as they model underwear is a wise move. Now, you have a raucous buddy comedy starring two genuinely hilarious people in Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, and you have highlighted the promised glory of the R rating. That, ladies and gentlemen, is quality marketing. It helps that Wedding Crashers benefits from the presence of Vaughn. His last two lead performances, Old School and Dodgeball, averaged an opening of roughly $24 million. Even better, they are fondly remembered. He is developing a reputation as a reliable comedic lead. Even his smaller roles in Be Cool and Mr. & Mrs. Smith have been so engaging that the marketing on the films has focused on him. Wedding Crashers should continue that hot streak.
7. Bad News Bears
Richard Linklater's last outing, Before Sunset, was one of my favorites of 2004. The production before that, School of Rock, was a bit too over-the-top at times, but it was sprinkled with Linklater moments that I found dazzling. Billy Bob Thornton's performance as a grizzled coach in Friday Night Lights was one I voted among the ten best last year. The combination of Linkater with Thornton in a remake of one of my favorite films growing up is a must-watch scenario. I expect that my tastes will prove similar to those of movie-goers throughout North America.
8. Dark Water
I have officially annointed 2005 as the worst year for horror films in my lifetime. I could make a damn fine Bottom Ten of the year list simply from this genre. Everything has misfired to the point that Boogeyman, a film I disliked, stands as the best slasher flick of 2005. How is that even possible? Like a good little movie loyalist, I stay hopeful, though. Dark Water affords me the opportunity to suppress my bitterness long enough to think that maybe, just maybe, this is the pot of gold at the end of the Bad Movie rainbow. It's based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, the man who wrote book version of The Ring. It has a great talent in Jennifer Connelly as the damsel-in-distress, and the commercials for it give me the creeps. I am not expecting huge box office, but I hold out hope that Dark Water will end the horror slump.
9. Must Love Dogs
I seem to be the only person in the world convinced this will do okay. Perhaps it's the fact that I have noticed the popularity Diane Lane's prior film, Under the Tuscan Sun, has had on DVD. Maybe it's the built-in audience of chick flickers who loved the book. It could just be the fact that I believe women will always be interested in any romantic comedy which has John Cusack aka Lloyd Dobler as the male lead. Whatever the case, I think Must Love Dogs will prove to be a pleasant sleeper hit with domestic receipts in the $40 million range followed by a nice, long life on DVD.
10. Sky High
This film is a little bit The Incredibles and a little bit Thunderbirds. The concept is quite charming. The son of the world's two greatest superheroes transfers to a new school for children such as himself. While there, he goes through the normal traumas faced by awkward teens. If Violet Parr had a sex change, this would be her story. I found both Thunderbirds and The Incredibles to be charming, so I might be showing some bias here. I also made the same mistake in June by overestimating The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Despite this, I feel comfortable predicting Sky High to wind up with a domestic gross in the range of $30 million. That should be good enough for tenth place in July.