There are five brand new wide releases this week, making it quite the crowded weekend at the theaters, but according to us at least, there's only one film to which you should be paying attention. If you don't know which one, you haven't been reading our site very long.
Weekend Forecast for Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2005
By Reagen Sulewski
September 30, 2005
There's really no point in trying to be coy about our affinity for Serenity, the big-budget, big-screen adaptation of the former Fox TV series Firefly. We voted it our #1 most anticipated film of September and October, but I feel pretty confident that it could have been voted our most anticipated film of the entire calendar year 2005, and possibly extending beyond that. We're a little nutty for the series.
This is a film that, as its creators like to point out, really shouldn't exist. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, brought to Fox his pitch for this series, which greatly over-simplifies to "sci-fi western". Frightened and confused by his intellect, they accepted it. But then, as with all things TV executives don't understand, they attempted to change it, and failing that, destroy it. Destroy it they did, through a combination of the "death slot" on Friday nights, showing episodes out of order, demanding a new pilot episode, fumbling the promotion for it and canceling the series just as it was really starting to get rolling. The show was character and dialogue-driven, interspersed with humor that didn't seem to match the sci-fi setting, and it just wasn't meant to succeed on the plot-driven medium of TV.
Even with this mistreatment, the series managed to capture a loyal audience, and in a familiar phenomenon these days, used DVD sales to its advantage, with terrific sales for a series that barely made a blip on the Nielsens. However, a funny thing then happened. The sales didn't slow down, with fans of the series evangelizing to all and sundry, harassing and haranguing friends, family members and total strangers into watching the adventures of Malcolm Reynolds, et. al, with the combination of action, humor and intrigue winning over many. Eventually someone finally took notice. That someone was the good people at Universal, who forever have a seat at my dinner table for reviving this franchise.
Whedon was then given a $40 million budget and the entire original cast and told to go at it, much to the delight of Browncoats (this series' version of Trekkies). He was able to shoot large, continuing the story of these rebels and their fugitive passengers on the run from the long arm of the bureaucratic Alliance. To say promotion for the film has been grassroots would be a dramatic understatement, with fans of the series popping up every time a DVD set is shared. It's just that effective. A money-back guarantee has been offered internally within this site regarding purchase of the DVD set; so far, it goes unused. It's just that good.
A series of early screenings of the film have also served to spread the word about Serenity, with tickets harder to come by than an honest politician. Most screenings sold out in mere minutes. Clearly the core fanbase is excited for the film. However, we are still dealing with a failed TV series becoming a movie, something that has only successfully been done twice (Star Trek and Police Squad). And as exciting as those pre-screenings were, they still sold mostly to pre-qualified audiences, and didn't make a whole lot of waves beyond that. Universal has been advertising the heck out of this thing, which almost has a desperate feel to it, but expectations remain modest. An $80 million worldwide total is the figure listed to justify a sequel, and that's certainly feasible, if a bit less of a slam-dunk than it felt in the giddy days after the project was announced.
Analogs, as mentioned, are tough to come by here, with the most recent similar project being the X-Files Movie. It opened like a rocket out of the gate in the summer of 1998, but faded faster than Rafael Palmiero's legacy, petering out at $80 million after opening to over $30 million. That kind of performance, on a smaller scale, might be expected here. It opens on a downright tiny-by-today's-standards 2,188 screens, with perhaps the hope of sellouts driving future hype. Or maybe it's just more realistic thoughts setting in. In any case, look for Serenity to come in with around $13 million for the weekend, with an outside shot at winning the weekend. Hey, do your best out there to make that happen, OK?
Moving along to less storied films, we have Into the Blue, a thriller starring the illustrious Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, along with Josh Brolin, Scott Caan and Tyson Beckford. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking multiple Oscars for this film. Or is that MTV Movie Awards? I always get those two mixed up. Anyhow, Into the Blue sees a bunch of tanned young 20-somethings out on vacation in the Caribbean, where they somehow stumble up on treasure from a pirate ship and a bunch of cocaine from a crashed plane. Me, I can't even win a free lottery ticket. When the rightful thieving owners come along to reclaim their illicit goods, mayhem and violence ensue, friendships are broken and innocence is lost. Maybe in that order, maybe not. But they're all shirtless, and that's what you're really here for, right?
Into the Blue comes to us from the directorial vision of John Stockton, who brought us Blue Crush. He's got a theme with his movies, at least. Paul Walker's appeal as a lead when he's not driving real fast and furious-like is, shall we say, fairly minuscule. Timeline was a noisy flop, Joy Ride made just $21 million but earned back its budget, and all his other roles have only required him to stand in the background and look pretty. 2005 has been Jessica Alba's year in a manner of sorts, what with potentially star making turns in Sin City and Fantastic Four. Both of those films were carried on their concepts, however, and not really on star power. Not much of that should transfer over to this film. As a low level thriller appealing to a young demographic, it's going to find a decent niche, and is the widest new release of the weekend. That should be good enough to earn it around $10 million for the weekend.
Following a well-received limited release on 14 screens last weekend, David Cronenberg's A History of Violence opens wide this week on about 1,340 screens. The disturbing thriller stars Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris and others in a film that has been praised for its disturbing and realistic violence (and per stories about Cronenberg's exhibitionism on the set, it's realistic sex as well). It earned a very healthy $37,000 per venue on those 14 screens, which obviously can't carry over here. It should, however, come in for around $8 million this weekend, and become one of David Cronenberg's most successful films, such as it is (let's not forget The Fly, though).
Continuing in the vein of Disney's recent successful films of inspirational sports stories, The Greatest Game Ever Played hits theaters this weekend. The story of the 1913 U.S. Golf Open, it stars Shia LaBeouf (of Holes and Constantine fame) as 20-year-old amateur golfer Francis Ouimet, whose victory in this tournament over a heavily favored British pro helped to popularize the game in the United States. Directed by Bill Paxton, it follows Miracle and The Rookie in this style, albeit with a largely unknown cast and a story relatively unfamiliar today. It's also seeing a fairly small release, at around 1,000 theaters, and should open to around $6 million.
Rounding out the new wide releases is Oliver Twist, a new adaptation of the classic Dickens tale from Roman Polanski (I promise, no jokes about Polanski working with kids). This is a film with pretty clear Oscar ambitions, being both an Important Story and having an Important Director. A musical version of this story named Oliver! (exclamation points are big in musicals) has already won Best Picture back in 1968, which puts pretty long odds on this one winning this year. However, other awards are very well possible. The production stars a group of mostly unknown British child and character actors, with one significant name being Ben Kingsley in the role of Fagin. It made a very modest $68,000 on five screens last weekend, and is expanding to 776 in this frame, which puts it in position to earn around $4 million this weekend.
Last weekend saw a strong showing from the two big wide releases, Flightplan and Corpse Bride, which both broke the $20 million mark or very close to it. Flightplan was the number one film of the weekend, mining the same lost-child territory as last year's The Forgotten to considerable success. Reasonably well received, it stands a very good chance of hanging on to top spot with about $14 million this weekend. Corpse Bride came in at $19 million, continuing Tim Burton's successful 2005. That figure was almost a best-case scenario for a stop-motion gothic musical, a genre that Burton has pretty much all to himself. Look for this to drop to around $10.5 million this frame.
A couple of other significant films debut in limited release this weekend. MirrorMask is the first major motion picture based on a work by legendary fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who co-wrote this original story with director Dave McKean. Echoing The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, it is going after the same group of people that still remember Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal with fondness, and I know there's a bunch of you out there. It opens this weekend on 14 screens.
The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio opens on 41 screens this weekend, and is another film that could be remembered come Oscar time, likely for Julianne Moore's lead performance. She stars as a 1950s suburban housewife who discovers a talent for writing commercial jingles, at a time when yada yada yada, barefoot and pregnant. This is the kind of movie that typically inspired adjectives like "inspiring" and "uplifting", but looks to be a slight cut above the rest.