Weekend Forecast for December 5-7, 2008

By Reagen Sulewski

December 5, 2008

I'm a lot more likable as Titus Pullo, I'll give you that.

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Four straight weeks of strong box office come to a screeching halt as we transition from November to December through the worst weekend of the year. As always, the weekend after Thanksgiving sees a burned-out marketplace take a week off to recharge.

Still, Hollywood insists on not having a weekend go by without at least one release. Three actually come out in some semblance of "wide release", but only one is truly everywhere.

The Punisher: War Zone is the third attempt to make a movie franchise out of the Marvel comic about a vengeful renegade cop, and the second in just four years. After Dolph Lundgren in the 1980s and recently, Thomas Jane failed to make the project tick (the latest version grossing just $33 million), it's been handed over to Ray Stevenson, a British actor whom you probably know from the HBO series Rome. And although it doesn't seem to be his fault, Stevenson doesn't seem to have made it work, either.

Maybe no one can, and it might be time to face the fact that this just isn't a character that people care about. The kind of machismo gunplay it offers hasn't been popular with audiences since the Reagan administration and has largely been replaced with martial arts films. And while comic movies continue to be hot, I don't think that the general public really recognizes Punisher as a comic character. We should also consider the fact that Stevenson is an engaging and charismatic guy, but he's just not well known enough. Lionsgate is probably right to dump this film on this weekend in just 2,500 venues, and I'd look for a weekend of about $9 million.

A couple of smaller films also debut, with Cadillac Records and Nobel Son hitting theaters. The first is, somewhat confusingly, the story of the rise of the Chess Records record label, one of the foremost blues and gospel labels of the 1950s. Adrien Brody stars as Leonard Chess, the label's founder, with a number of other major talents from that era portrayed in it, like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, and perhaps most notably from a marquee factor, Beyonce Knowles as Etta James.

Although on the surface this might seem like Ray-times-10, what it really does is chop up the focus of the film and make it more about the process of making music than the musicians' lives themselves. That is not a recipe for a box office hit, and I don't see the appeal of watching a collection of actors sing other people's songs. Opening on 686 screens, I expect about $4 million for this in its debut.

Nobel Son is barely worth mentioning except for its release on about 900 screens. A thriller dumped on this weekend from the director of Bottle Shock, it stars Bryan Greenberg as a son of a potential Nobel Prize-winning scientist (Alan Rickman) kidnapped on the eve of his father's big award, for the $2 million in prize money. Bullets and epithets fly in a Tarantino-lite thriller that feels like an STV movie that escaped. Coming from studio you've never heard of, don't look for more than the bare $2 million here.


Which brings us to the returning films, the real show this weekend. Four Christmases comes in with a slight edge for the top spot after winning last weekend, and its holiday themes certainly don't hurt as we head into the Christmas season. Although reviews were not kind to the Vince Vaughn/Reese Witherspoon film, this is the sort of movie that's generally immune to reviews, at least once an audience has decided to pick it as their Holiday Film of the moment. I'd look for a weekend of about $15 million here.

That leaves the question of whether it can hold off Bolt, which pulled a neat trick by improving on its opening weekend over Thanksgiving. While this obviously bodes well for the film's reception, a lot of that was predicated on families having excess time to hit the theaters last weekend, something that's not necessarily true this time. In other words, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, at least when it comes to family films getting artificial boosts. Still, it's a film that's received a ton of good will, and should be able to parlay that into another couple positive weekends, and maybe through the Christmas season. Look for a $14 million weekend here.

On the opposite spectrum last weekend was the vampire-adaptation Twilight, which even with the holiday assist, fell over 60% from its remarkable opening weekend. One wonders what the drop would have been on an ordinary weekend. While teen audiences obviously would have run through a concrete barrier to see the film on opening weekend, they proved to be more or less satiated following that, and repeat business is't all that much of a factor. Odds are good this drops into single digits just two weeks after opening to almost $70 million, a stunning turn of events. Give it $9 million this weekend, though that still brings it to almost $140 million total.

Quantum of Solace hung in decently with $18 million, and is edging up to the all-time Bond record of $167 million, held by Casino Royale. Barring global catastrophe, that's dead certain to happen sooner or later, but probably not this weekend. It's another $9 million earner.

Madagascar is another animated family film that did well over the holiday weekend, and earned a rather stunning amount for such a generic looking movie. Thank those penguins, I guess. It's getting up to the point of surpassing $200 million, something that will probably happen before the new year. But first, $8 million this weekend.

Australia landed with a bit of a thud at $14 million, far short of what many might have hoped for this epic film with a nine-figure budget. Basically, producers overestimated the appeal of an Australian Pearl Harbor quasi-musical with stars that have never truly proven themselves as leads. It could happen to anyone, really. Give it $6 million this weekend.

In expansion news, Milk, the story of assassinated San Francisco politician and gay-rights advocate, jumps to 99 screens after making it into the top ten in just 36. Starring Sean Penn as the lead character, there are naturally questions about how well this plays outside major cities, but Brokeback Mountain theoretically had the same problem. Then again, with it not being a love story, there's a lot of limitation. It should see another $2.5 million.

Slumdog Millionaire, the latest from Danny Boyle and probably Milk's biggest rival for Oscar consideration at this point, almost pulled the same trick last weekend on 49 screens. A love story about an Indian boy and his quest to prove his love through a game show, it's been an audience pleaser of immense proportions wherever it's played so far, including at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was a People's Choice Winner. Getting a smaller expansion to about 78 screens, it should also come in with about $2 million.

Another potential Oscar film opening in limited release is Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard. It's an adaptation of a stage play about a series of interviews between a British journalist and Richard Nixon shortly after Watergate that eventually sealed Nixon's reputation. Early reviews are quite strong, but on three screens, it won't be a box office factor this weekend.

Forecast: Weekend of December 5-7, 2008
Number of
Changes in Sites
from Last
Gross ($)
1 Four Christmases 3,335 +25 15.1
2 Bolt 3,516 -138 14.5
3 Punisher: War Zone 2,508 New 9.4
4 Twilight 3,620 +195 9.1
5 Quantum of Solace 3,423 -78 8.9
6 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 3,317 -392 8.0
7 Australia 2,721 +79 7.2
8 Transporter 3 2,626 0 5.3
9 Cadillac Records 686 New 4.1
10 Milk 99 +63 2.5



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