The flip of the calendar to November brings a distinct change to the box office, with studios bringing out their heavy hitters, hoping to capitalize on the holiday box office season. This time is no different, with both a major animated film and a war movie with heavy Oscar potential hitting theaters.
Weekend Forecast for November 4-6, 2005
By Reagen Sulewski
November 4, 2005
Many eyes around the industry will be closely watching the opening weekend figures of Chicken Little, which is the first solo CGI animation effort from Disney without the input of Pixar. Since the production deal between the two companies is nearly up and with Pixar threatening to take is star-imprinted rubber ball and go home, this film serves as a trial balloon for Disney to see if they can rebuild their animation empire with no outside help.
Their first choice of subject seems sound enough; based on the famous fable of Chicken Little and the falling sky, this film contemporizes that setting, and places the film the day after Chicken Little's infamous call for panic, which turned out to be just an acorn hitting him on the head. Or was it? In this film, which broadly parodies Signs and other alien invasion films, that incident was actually a prelude to a full-scale attack by creatures from space. Now that our plucky young hero has been proven right, can he and his friends save the day?
Clearly trying to cover the same ground as DreamWorks' Shrek, Disney doesn't seem to have come charging out of the gate, with critics hammering the film for being derivative and uninspired. The celebrity voice list for the cast might help, including Zach Braff in the lead (who, thank the heavens, is actually doing a character voice, and not just using his normal speaking voice), along with Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn and Gary Marshall, although there's no Tom Hanks or Robin Williams in the mix to really make the film an easy sell.
Early ads for this film actually had more promise than later ones, which have gone into gimmick mode, showing the lead character just dancing around. What an animation demo reel has to do with the movie is anyone's guess. However, any thoroughly promoted CGI animation film (ignoring Valiant just like Disney did) still will draw in a family audience. I wouldn't look for a huge crossover, but a weekend of about $40 million should be in store.
The other major release of the weekend is Jarhead, which falls into the Platoon/Full Metal Jacket-esque, boots-on-the-ground view of war genre, bringing it to the days of the first Gulf War. Combining drama and humor for the cynical treatment of modern warfare to which we've become accustomed, it is based on a memoir from a Marine who fought in that conflict, covering the time from his enlistment through boot camp and into Kuwait.
Both cast and crew are top notch, headed by Jake "I'm in Everything" Gyllenhaal as the lead "jarhead", along with Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard and Chris Cooper and directed by Sam Mendes of American Beauty fame. All could be major contenders come awards time, with the film's stunning cinematography also receiving a ton of critical praise.
The humor and quirkiness of the film comes through heavily in the film's trailer and ads, and features a stunning use of a Kanye West tune to set an apocalyptic mood. It's a brilliant piece of marketing and has really ramped up interest for this beyond normal war films. Opening on around 2,400 screens, this should find close to $21 million this weekend.
The genre of films that consistently worked to grab audiences during September and October was horror, with last weekend being a prime example. Saw II opened to $31 million, which was the highest opening weekend since all the way back to the middle of July and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Made for just $6 million, it's already one of the most profitable films of the year, and even the inevitable 50% or higher drop can't hurt that fact. It should earn another $13 million this weekend.
The Legend of Zorro came in with about $16 million, a mild disappointment compared to the $22 million that The Mask of Zorro brought in seven years ago. It took a critical drubbing, and the subtle transition to a family friendly swashbuckler proved to be a mistake for this franchise. Watch for Zorro to fade out quickly, bringing in just another $8 million this weekend.
Expanding into wide release is Good Night, and Good Luck, a look at CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and his attacks on the Joseph McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. Directed by George Clooney, it also stars David Strathairn as Murrow, along with Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson and Jeff Daniels. In the early days of broadcast journalism as a medium, Murrow was instrumental in establishing its teeth in the face of intense political pressure, especially from the rampaging anti-Communist crusader McCarthy. The film has had critical praise heaped upon it as a socially important film, and has cruised along well in limited release, nearly making the top ten on fewer than 300 screens. It jumps to 657 this weekend, and may just break through this weekend, with around $3 million.
Also with a chance to make the top ten on a small number of screens is Shopgirl, the tender and melancholy romance based on Steve Martin's novella and starring Claire Danes. Moving up to around 500 venues, this film has performed well but not spectacularly in limited release, but definitely has the opportunity to catch on with mainstream success.