Weekend Forecast for June 30-July 2, 2006
By Reagen Sulewski
June 28, 2006

Oddly, this drawing is more lifelike than Brandon Routh.

Last year might have been the year of the comic book movie, but the midway weekend of 2006 is anchored by a reboot of one of the biggest comic book franchises of all time. The Man of Steel comes back to the big screen after a nearly 20-year absence in Superman Returns.

First debuting in 1978, Superman was one of the first films to prove that this comic book thing could be a big deal, earning an inflation-adjusted figure of $367 million. Superman II was almost as successful, but it was right about that point that the wheels fell off. Someone decided that Superman wasn't funny enough, and hired Richard Pryor to be his sidekick for Superman III. Then came Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, a horribly misguided anti-nuke tale that ranks among the worst films ever made and was a smoking crater at the box office. Its inflation-adjusted total was approximately $26 million, which makes Batman & Robin's flame out look like Spider-Man 2. They had to kill the character off in the comics to make people forget about it.

After several abortive attempts to restart the franchise in the '90s, most memorably with a Tim Burton-helmed, Kevin Smith-penned version that would have starred Nicolas Cage - which was thankfully deep-sixed before it became the next worst thing than Superman IV. Patience seems to have paid off for Warner Bros, as they were able to wait to poach X-Men director Bryan Singer and try and do the film right.

Superman Returns picks up after the end of Superman II, in what seems to be a pact between the studio and us. "Superman III and IV? I don't know what you're talking about, okzy? Those never happened." Returning to Earth after a long absence, he deals with a world that has gone on without him, with Lois Lane even having had a child. As well, Superman's enemies have grown bolder with him gone.

They wisely decided to re-cast the title role with an unknown, as they'd done originally. Brandon Routh, pulled from the soaps, does his level best Chris Reeve, though expecting him to offer as much in the acting department is probably wishful thinking. The same goes for Kate Bosworth, though she's certainly an upgrade in the eye-candy department for the Lois Lane role. Kevin Spacey shaved his head for the big villain role as billionaire industrialist Lex Luthor, giving the film its biggest star power, if a comic book film even needs it.

No, it's the iconic superhero Superman, leaping tall buildings, deflecting bullets and saving the world against nefarious plots (even if he's so powerful that the scenarios have to become more and more contrived to introduce drama against The Man Who Couldn't Possibly Lose) that's the attraction here. Singer has proved more than adept at making what could be a ridiculous concept work on screen, and full confidence is due his efforts. Critics have lined up in support; all he had to do was not screw it up, but it appears he's knocked it out of the park. Although initial ads were a bit suspect, the action has picked up, including that excellent shot of Superman rescuing a crashing airliner.

Opening on Wednesday at a huge slate of 3,915 venues, Superman Returns is aiming for the similar kind of result that Spider-Man 2 and the last two X-Men movies have seen. A record-breaking weekend is theoretically in the cards, though the mid-week opening will siphon a fair amount away from the weekend. Nonetheless, look for a powerhouse weekend of about $86 million, with $142 million over five days.

One film is trying its hand in counter-programming. The Devil Wears Prada is an adaptation of the Lauren Weisberger "fake-exposé" of the fashion magazine world. The film stars Anne Hathaway as a naïve college graduate in New York who ends up working as an assistant to the most powerful publisher in fashion (who we're all supposed to pretend doesn't represent the head of Vogue), played by Meryl Streep, at her bitchy best. It's Hathaway's first leading role that's aimed specifically at a more adult crowd, so it'll be interesting to see if her Princess Diaries fans will follow her to this kind of role.

Prada has receiving positive, if not glowing reviews, but will skew heavily female. That's a good thing for counter-programming purposes, but limits the film overall. Heavily and ingeniously promoted, it does stand a chance and should slide in with around $14 million this weekend.

Adam Sandler's Click was the top movie of last weekend, earning an about-average-for-him $40 million. The high-concept film about a real Universal remote control and the wacky effects from possessing it was a bit of a change from Sandler's usual outings, but didn't go so far afield to alienate his typical audience. However, the concept seems to have been squandered, and though it shares writers with the thematically similar Bruce Almighty, Click won't see the $200 million plus gross of that film. Look for it to drop to around $22 million this weekend.

Cars pulled itself back after a second weekend decline of over 40% to stay in second place for its third weekend, putting about $160 million in the bank after three frames. This weekend will see it pass A Bug's Life to ensure that it's not the lowest grossing Pixar film, but the heights of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles will be denied to it. It's a bit of a flub quality-wise for Pixar, but that's kind of a relative designation when the film will end up with around $225 million. Give a weekend figure of about $13 million.

Nacho Libre was slammed to the canvas in its second weekend, as the Jack Black wrestling comedy fell over 55%. Whether this is an indication of quality or an eager but limited fanbase is yet to be seen, but it's fairly immaterial as far as the box office goes. Films that drop this much this early typically don't recover. It'll fall to around $6 million this weekend for a little over $60 million running total, which is not bad, all things considered.

Waist Deep was a bit of a surprise in the fifth overall spot last weekend, earning $9 million on just over 1,000 screens. Directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall, the gangster film starred Tyrese Gibson as an ex-con forced back into the criminal life to protect his family. The better than average performance bodes decently for the film's future, but that really only means a second weekend of about $5 million.