The September movie schedule has demonstrated all of the appeal to consumers as season tickets for the Kansas City Royals. Don't think I'm exaggerating for effect, either. There have been seven titles released since Labor Day, the traditional end of the summer box office season. The average opening weekend of this group is $7.8 million. Even worse, five of those seven films failed to reach even the $10 million mark and another, The Black Dahlia, did so by a suspicious less than $6,000. Gridiron Gang is the "winner" thus far with a $14.4 million debut, but even it is widely considered disappointing given the subject matter and the film's lead actor's track record. Let us not sugarcoat this. We are in a box office rut.
Weekend Forecast for September 22-24, 2006
By David Mumpower
September 22, 2006
So, how does Hollywood plan to get themselves out of this mess? The same way they always do! They plan to appeal to the lowest common denominator with a production that does so proudly, perhaps even stubbornly. Enter Jackass: Number Two, now with more scatological humor than ever before!
Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and Bam Margera's first outing, Jackass: The Movie, was a shocking performer upon its release in October of 2002. The $5 million production opened to an amazing $22.7 million on the way to total domestic receipts of $64.3 million. Even the most unscrupulous Hollywood bean counters had difficulty hiding the profits with that baby. A sequel was a no-brainer (no, that's not a cheap shot at Steve-O), but the difficulty was in finding enough new stunts to satiate their die-hard fans while accommodating the schedule of suddenly white-hot Knoxville.
The artist formerly known as Phillip John Clapp saw his schedule fill up with what seemed like frontline projects, at least on paper. Alas, Men in Black II, Walking Tall, Lords of Dogtown and The Dukes of Hazzard all wound up being either critical or financial disappointments. After the critically reviled Hazzard adaptation, Knoxville looked at the choices available to him and decided that returning to his roots was the way to go. In January of this year, he threw his body back on the line for the entertainment of frat boys and high school kids across the country. His decision appears to be a smart one, as Jackass: Number Two finds absolutely nothing in the way of box office competition from returning releases. Its opening weekend of $25.6 million will indicate more than the previous two weekends' biggest pair of openers combined. And let this be a lesson to you kids out there: The real money is getting your tooth pulled out on camera. That college education crap is wildly overrated. The real money is in guerilla video.
Jet Li, the reigning king of martial arts movies, is abdicating his throne after the release of this, his latest action epic, Jet Li's Fearless. His stated opinion is that he wants to quit while he's on top and he cannot imagine a better time to stop than after a quality project such as Fearless. Critics seem to agree with the opinion as the movie has been very well received thus far (74% positive at Rotten Tomatoes as I type this). The movie tells the story Huo Yuanjia, the founder of the Chin Woo Athletic Association. Unless that's the official title for what Jean-Claude Van Damme was doing in Bloodsport, I have no idea what that group is, but the action scenes in Fearless are (allegedly) Li's best ever. If you are anything like me, that's plenty good enough reason to go see it. An Unleashed-like $10.2 million seems to be in the cards for what BOP guarantees will not be Li's final movie in the genre, no matter what he or his agent says.
The weekend's expected critical darlings are a disappointing lot. All the King's Men has the sort of pedigree that only a handful of productions each year may claim. Academy Award winners for Best Actor Anthony Hopkins and Sean Penn join former nominees Patricia Clarkson, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law. Also on board are Emmy winners James Gandolfini and Kathy Baker as well as Mr. Indie, Mark Ruffalo. The production they have joined up to remake is one of a handful in Hollywood history to win Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture. And all of this knowledge leads us to wonder what in the blue hell went wrong, as the 2006 update of the 1949 classic has by all accounts missed the mark by a great deal. As Steve Mason referenced in his column yesterday, the early buzz has been mixed and the reviews rolling in now are nothing short of hostile. A stunning 87% of critics at RottenTomatoes give All the King's Men 2006 a thumbs down, making it a fascinating exploration in how uncontrollable a movie production can be. If this great a cast can misfire this badly, just imagine how much of a struggle it is for your average small-budget, no-name production to turn out a quality release. All the King's Men is a movie few people seem to want to see in spite of its cast. An opening around $8.2 million is to be expected.
The final release this week is Flyboys, an amicable throwback story about some long-forgotten heroes of World War I named the Lafayette Escadrille. These Americans grew frustrated by America's decision to sit out the start of the war, so they joined the French Air Service in 1916, becoming the country's first fighter pilots. The movie recounts their daring in-flight adventures opposing the 20th century's ultimate bad guys. Star James Franco continues to show promise as a lead actor, but I'm afraid he will have to wait until Spider-Man 3 to know any real box office success. Flyboys is a fun little film, but it's going to struggle to bring in more than $6 million this weekend.