Weekend Forecast for December 8-10, 2006
by Reagen Sulewski
December 8, 2006

Why are you laughing and humming the theme song from The Nanny?

Now past the dead zone of the post-Thanksgiving weekend, studios are ready to roll out some of their late year potential tentpoles, including a couple of seasonally appropriate films and two that have their eyes on Oscar.

The Holiday is the big December offering for romantic comedies, starring Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Jack Black. Diaz and Winslet play recently jilted women, located in Los Angeles and London respectively, who trade houses to get our of their ruts. While there they each meet a potential new dude, with Diaz getting Law, and Winslet getting Black. One of these two is getting a raw deal, but I'm honestly not sure which.

There's nothing particularly remarkable about this film, which is basically designed to be inoffensive, cute and cuddly, sort of like Love Actually from a couple of years ago. The cast is appealing to that 24-50 demo, famous but not intimidatingly so, with only Black potentially striking a wrong note (though he seems quite toned down from his manic persona). In short, it's an entirely average looking romantic comedy with a decent premise. In a week with little to challenge it, it could take the top spot at the box office with about $16 million.

Blood Diamond takes on the controversial African diamond industry, following a particular diamond in war-torn Sierra Leone as it changes hands and endangers the lives of everyone it touches. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a South African mercenary who joins up with Djimon Hounsou, playing a diamond miner who has found a rare pink diamond that could give both of them their freedom, or lead both to their death. Jennifer Connelly is along as an American journalist investigating both the war and the diamond trade.

Directed by Edward Zwick (of Glory and The Last Samurai fame), Blood Diamond is essentially an action film with a social conscience, which aren't always phrases that go together well. The action has been downplayed in ads for the film, pressing up the dramatic angles, including a romance and Hounsou's quest to reunite with his family. Brutal on the diamond industry, it aims to be something akin to The Killing Fields or Hotel Rwanda in this respect, but you have to wonder how much Christmas shoppers are in the mood to be preached to.

The film is positioning itself as an Oscar contender, and a nod from the NBR this week certainly helps those chances (if only a little). DiCaprio has seen his star rise again in the past few years after getting backtracked with Titanic. This year's The Departed proved to be one of his biggest hits, but we'll see how of that was due to him with the release of this film. Warner Bros., for its part, is not being incredibly confident with the film, opening it in just under 2,000 screens. I think this will be enough for about a $13 million opening weekend, though.

The movie with the most question marks this weekend is Apocalypto. First and foremost among them is its director, Mel Gibson, whose, oh, let's say "colorful" language earlier this year during the course of an arrest has made him a divisive figure. Next is its setting, in a pre-Columbian Mayan civilization, in the original Mayan language and with no name actors. Never let it be said that Gibson won't take a risk.

Relentlessly violent, it's a look at a culture that few are familiar with, which will attract some viewers out of sheer curiosity and novelty. Mel Gibson's name still means something to people as a director, even with his controversy earlier this year (or perhaps, cynically, because of it). In fact, it's about the only thing this film has in terms of mass appeal. This is no Passion of the Christ-like phenomenon in the making, however, with no particular Christian message to get out. No, it's more of a rip-roaring actioner in the vein of Braveheart, with a warrior attempt to escape his fate as a chosen ritual sacrifice.

Critical reception is mixed, with some calling it one of the best films of the year, or at least the best action film. Still others have bashed it as exploitative and ugly. Released on a surprising 2,400 screens, there's enough curiosity here to push this to about a $10 million opening weekend.

Finally, there's Unaccompanied Minors, aimed at the preteen crowd. It's essentially Home Alone in an Airport Times Five, with five kids marooned at a Chicago airport during a snowstorm, who then proceed to wreak havoc. Among the kid actors the biggest name, or at least the most recognizable face, is Tyler James Williams, who plays little Chris Rock on Everybody Hates Chris. It actually has a whole slew of familiar adult names, including Lewis Black, Rob Corddry, Wilmer Valderamma and B.J. Novak (from The Office), probably in the hopes of appealing to adults, but they're most likely to just drop the kids off and head to Casino Royale.

Unaccompanied Minors sits somewhere in the middle between Catch That Kid and Snow Day in terms of preteen flicks – it has no Nickelodeon support, but doesn't look completely dire. On a pretty wide release of about 2,800 screens, it should open to about $8 million.

After spending three weeks on the top of the box office, Happy Feet is likely to relinquish top spot, barring a complete failure of the incoming films. It's racked up an impressive $125 million so far, making it the third highest grossing animated film of the year so far. It's unlikely to challenge Ice Age 2, though with Christmas coming anything is possible. Give it another $12 million this weekend.

Casino Royale has done a very good job of matching Happy Feet step for step at the box office, with $120 million in its coffers. Audiences have definitely taken to the new James Bond, with the effective reboot of the franchise doing what it was meant to. Watch for this tactic to be implemented for many more languishing projects in the coming years. For this weekend, look for another $10 million for Casino Royale.