Weekend Forecast for September 9-11, 2011

By Reagen Sulewski

September 8, 2011

Smallpox is winning so far.

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It usually doesn't take long after Labor Day for studios to start rolling out some of the better films in their fall lineups. This year, it's just one week, with two films debuting that might be in contention for end-of-year awards. Okay, three if you count the Razzies.

Part of Steven Soderbergh's efforts to work in every genre in Hollywood, Contagion is just the second overtly-commercial film in three years for the hyper-prolific director, who has averaged about a film and a half per year for the past decade, in addition to editing, shooting, writing and taking odd jobs like working on the second unit for The Hunger Games. It's exhausting just reading his C.V. In any case, this film gets him back working in the mainstream and with a host of Hollywood stars.

From the outside, it doesn't seem like the kind of film that needs a Soderbergh to help it, looking a lot like an update of Outbreak. Matt Damon plays a man thrust into the middle of a SARS-like pandemic when his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) becomes patient zero for the disease. As it spreads around the world, an all-star team of Hollywood doctors, including Jude Law and Kate Winslet attempt to find a cure before it wipes out humanity. The panic about the virus might be worse than disease itself, however. When will we humans ever learn? Though it's typical Hollywood genre fare, one presumes that Soderbergh can elevate it with his usual mastery of technique and style. Not that I expect most audiences to care about that exactly, but it does present a better product to sell.


Damon and Soderbergh's last collaboration, The Informant!, opened to just $10 million in September of 2009, though these two films basically share only those two things (okay, and a writer). That film was the start of a curious rut for Damon, with four straight films that grossed in the 30s, before last winter's True Grit, and this spring's The Adjustment Bureau (which only grossed $62 million, but that's at least something). With the $21 million opening weekend of that film, it showed that Damon still has pull for the right project (but that fourth Bourne film should be in the back of his mind). The rest of the stars don't necessarily have a ton of pull on their own, but shore up the notion of the film's quality (something I like to call the Robert Duvall Effect). Other comparisons are tough to come by other than the general “thriller” category, which when paired with big name stars usually comes in in the high teens or low 20s. With solid reviews I can see this pushing up to around $24 million for the weekend.

There's actually a pretty easy comparison for the next film of the weekend, Warrior, though the filmmakers and stars would take umbrage. In it, two brothers (Tom Hardy – who actually shot this pre-Inception – and Joel Edgerton) work through their demons and personal-life struggles to meet in a middleweight UFC tournament – like Rocky times two – or, more pertinently and the reason why it's been delayed so long – like The Fighter if Christian Bale weren't a crack addict.

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