Weekend Forecast for Jul 22-24, 2005
By Reagen Sulewski
July 21, 2005

You can shoot me anytime, baby.

Following two straight weeks of rising box office fortunes, a slate of four new films hopes to keep that trend alive, in what seems to be a late-summer with the ever-increasing feel of momentum.

Leading off the pack is The Island, the noises-and-shiny-lights production from Michael Bay. A sideways remake of a horrible and forgotten '70s sci-fi film, The Island posits a future where a rich upper-crust keeps clones around for spare parts, fooling the clones into submission by convincing them that an environmental disaster has spoiled the world except for an isolated island, the Earth's last getaway. In reality, going to The Island is the same thing as when your parents told you they took your puppy out to a farm (I hope I didn't just ruin someone's day, there).

When one of the clones discovers the truth, and escapes, it's a race to recapture him before the horrible secret of cloning is revealed. This, of course, leads to lots of explosions. Ewan McGregor plays the clone that just couldn't not look behind the curtain, and Scarlett Johansson the one he saves from the chop shop, and together they discover that the world is not quite what they'd been led to believe, and in reality looks like what you'd expect a group of art and set designers to describe the future as.

So it's Michael Bay's Minority Report, then. As high-concept action films go, it's a promising premise. Then again, despite the few stabs at social commentary about the clones being completely unfamiliar with even basic portions of society, if anyone thinks it's going to be about anything but a big extended action sequence, you're a little bit delusional. As (justifiably) criticized as Michael Bay has been over his career, he's never really made a boring bad movie, and The Island is more than likely to satisfy at least on a visceral level, even as it inspires dangerous levels of eye rolls.

In addition to the red hot McGregor and Johansson, the cast also includes Bay-regular Steve Buscemi, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean and Michael Clarke Duncan, which is not an all-star team, but are respected "That Guys" of the action world. The advertising contains some dazzling action pieces and hints at interesting concepts (even if they are by and large "borrowed" from Spielberg) that should make this a decent hit this weekend. Look for around $45 million in its first three days.

The Bad News Bears is a remake that on its face should seem blasphemous, but looks much better when it's broken down. Starring Billy Bob Thornton as the alcoholic, lecherous and all-around boor coach of a misfit little-league softball team, and directed by Richard Linklater, who has successfully directed kids' films sans saccharine, this remake of the 1979 classic starts to look better already.

The plot is virtually identical, which admittedly does call the necessity of the film into question, but Linklater and Thornton do have a good chance to put their own stamp on this material, as long as they keep the nastiness of the original, which they seem to have done. And really, who doesn't enjoy seeing an alcoholic loser hit kids with a ball or cuss them out? Because, you know, he's trying to help them.

Thornton has been close to this kind of material recently, with the moderate success Bad Santa, which reveled in its misanthropy to the tune of $60 million. School of Rock was Richard Linklater's take on similar material, with the certifiable Jack Black teaching kids to misbehave in socially acceptable ways. That one earned $80 million total, so this film has a strong pedigree.

Marketing has strongly emphasized the "bad boy" nature of the film, which is something sorely lacking of late, even as last weekend's odd and raunchy films succeeded. Fondness for the original, and what looks like a job done right, will drive this film to success itself, and it should come in with about $23 million for the weekend.

Next up is Hustle and Flow, a potential sleeper about the rap game. Starring Terrence Howard (most recently of Crash), Ludacris (also of Crash) and Anthony Anderson (...not in Crash), it tells the story of an aging pimp, played by Howard, who in a mid-life crisis and sensing the end of the road in his chosen occupation, tries to break into the Memphis music scene. Looking somewhat like a grittier and less personality-driven version of 8 Mile, it has the potential to really strike a chord with audiences and potentially become a cross-over hit.

Few of the actors are really known much to the public, save Ludacris, who isn't primarily here for his acting chops. However, reviews have been quite positive, praising director Craig Brewer's attention to character and reality. Receiving a fairly limited release on just over 1,000 screens, it should nevertheless find its niche and open to about $8 million this weekend.

Last of the new films is The Devil's Rejects, the sequel to rocker Rob Zombie's directorial debut, House of 1000 Corpses. This film finds the three pro(?)tagonists of the first film, lead by the villainous Dr. Satan, roaming the countryside looking for more people to maim and mutilate, although they are on the run from a family member of one of their many, many victims.

Zombie delights in pursuing gore and twisted behavior for the sake of itself, and The Devil's Rejects will no doubt be more of the same. Corpses originally received a fairly small release and opened only to about $3 million. This film is opening wider to around 1,700, but the level of gore presented here self-limits the audience (not that he'd ever tone it down, but I digress). For those interested in hard-core horror, and you know who you are, this film is for you. For everyone else, this is very much not. It should open to around $6 million and have an extended and lucrative run on video.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory took last weekend with a strong $56 million, surpassing estimates and cementing Johnny Depp's street cred as the actor we like to see being creepy. Crossing demographics to bring in families as well as older audiences proved to be crucial here. Although there were some concerns about just how creepy it was, these had to be comments from people who'd never seen the original or read the book. At any rate, strong word-of-mouth should propel this some, although not to the extent of Depp's most recent summer hit, Pirates of the Caribbean. Look for it to bring in about $32 million this weekend.

The Wedding Crashers performed strongly in second place last weekend, parlaying its hard-R rating into just shy of $34 million. This makes two summers in a row with a hit comedy for Vince Vaughn, who we can safely forgive for a lot of those films he made in between Swingers and Old School now. It may not fare as well in the legs department as Depp and company, but should still play strongly through the late summer. Give it another $19 million on the weekend.

Fantastic Four's fall in its second weekend is surely giving the marketing department at Fox fits, with over 60% coming off that opening weekend figure of $56 million. Although it's already broken $100 million, the end of the road is already in sight here, and its final box office will likely end up in the neighborhood of $150 million. That's a decent figure for sure and prior to opening weekend, not one I would have predicted. Still, that drop-off can't taste good.

The same thing goes for War of the Worlds, albeit on a grander scale. It's about to pass $200 million, but is seeing its box office chopped in half each weekend. It should earn another $7 million, but it will need a little more insurance than that to stay the number two film of the summer.