By Zach Kolkin
Unlike the past several years, where the opening month of the film industry's summer has seen at least ten new wide releases, there are only eight movies premiering in May 2004. However, just as we are all now quite used to, a number of these (half, in fact) are expected to be big-time "event films". In fact, picking a release date for a film in May is pretty much a question of fill-in-the-blanks. As such, while I've included a prediction for each picture's opening weekend gross, this month's films are listed by the well-worn footprints in which they are stepping.
The 'Tween Girl Movie Slot: New York Minute
$19 million opening weekend
One of the more recently established landmarks on the map of May film releases is that of the "Teenybopper Girl Movie", started last year by The Lizzie McGuire Movie. The success of Lizzie McGuire and its countless clones at attracting the young teen female market has been well-documented, but credit must be given to the stars of New York Minute, the Olsen Twins, who practically founded this whole craze in the process of creating a reputedly billion-dollar empire for themselves. While this is their first theater release of any importance, they have been making millions on their direct-to-video movies for years now. With such a huge built-in audience, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see New York Minute do significantly better than what I'd say is a fairly conservative prediction of $19 million.
The Comic-Book Movie Slot: Van Helsing
$41 million opening weekend
I know, I know, Van Helsing isn't a comic-book movie, but given its target audience and first-weekend-in-May release date, it might as well be. The number of similar films that have gone on to huge success after opening on this same weekend is astounding; Spider-Man, X-Men 2, The Mummy, and The Mummy Returns are all members of the club, and each one opened north of $40 million on its first weekend. Of those four flicks, The Mummy is probably the best comparison, although Hugh Jackman is arguably a bigger star than Brendan Fraser ever was. What will truly make or break Van Helsing, however, is its marketing campaign; if the trailer and TV spots get everyone talking, then the sky's the limit for this Indiana Jones wannabe.
The Oscar-Winning Historical Epic Slot: Troy
$52 million opening weekend
Okay, maybe it's a bit of a stretch to believe Troy will be sweeping the Academy Awards next February as the film's May predecessors, Braveheart and Gladiator, did. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that Troy will handily beat both of those movies at the box office. The film's cast is top-notch, and its ads so far have been superb, both good signs of an impending smash hit. Although this is Brad Pitt's first big-time action movie, the same could have been said for Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and we all know how that turned out for him. Can Pitt possibly be an even bigger star than he already is? After headlining this movie, anything's possible. At the very least, it should end up as the highest-grossing film of his career so far.
The Urban Comedy Counter-Programming Slot: Breakin' All the Rules
$11 million opening weekend
Although not technically a May tradition, comedies aimed at African-American audiences have been turning tidy profits for close to a decade now. Breakin' All the Rules, starring Jamie Foxx and Gabrielle Union, hopes to capitalize on those turned away from sold-out showings of Troy by providing a light-hearted relationship comedy as an alternative. This tactic is always successful to some degree, particularly with films with smaller budgets, such as this one presumably has. Although the movie will certainly not break any records, look for it to slip in under the radar and rack up a good amount of cash.
The Late-May Kiddie Flick Slot: Shrek 2
$65 million opening weekend
Ever since the original Shrek beat out Monsters Inc. for the first Best Animated Feature Oscar, Pixar has been winning its ongoing CGI war with DreamWorks on both the financial and critical fronts. However, DreamWorks is retaliating with a vengeance in 2004, first with this hugely-anticipated sequel. Opening in mid- to late May-proved extremely successful for both Shrek in 2001 and Finding Nemo last year, and there's no reason to expect it won't do the same for Shrek 2. Although there's no question this film is going to be huge, the real question is whether or not it will be able to top Finding Nemo for best-ever opening weekend for an animated movie, as well as highest-grossing animated picture. While it's possible that it will take those titles, it seems unlikely to me; it certainly has a better chance at the former than the latter, but only time (not to mention word-of-mouth) will tell for sure.
The Chick Flick Counter-Programming Slot: Raising Helen
$16 million opening weekend (5 days)
Renï¿½e Zellweger has practically owned this slot the last few years, with Down with Love and Bridget Jones' Diary, but this year she cedes it to Kate Hudson, who is hoping to resurrect her chick-flick-fixture status after last year's duds, Le Divorce and Alex and Emma. One thing this movie certainly has going for it over her other recent efforts is the fact that its trailer actually looks halfway decent, which is (usually, at least) a sign of potential success. By the time Raising Helen opens, it will have been nearly a month since the last movie truly aimed at adult women was released, which leaves a pretty lucrative void for this film to fill.
The Goofy Blaxploitation Movie Slot: Soul Plane
$15 million opening weekend (4 days)
Snoop Dogg's film career is on the rise after his relatively high-profile turn as Huggy Bear in this year's Starsky & Hutch remake, which is a good thing for this film, considering he's the biggest name attached to it. The picture follows in the footsteps of Undercover Brother, which was also released in late May. The film will certainly face plenty of stiff competition at theaters, but it should be able to carve a niche for itself, albeit a small one. The film's trailer certainly isn't as cringe-inducing as it could be, and hopefully Soul Plane will be able to attract audiences looking for a check-your-brain-at-the-door comedy.
The Disaster Movie Slot: The Day After Tomorrow
$49 million opening weekend (4 days)
Release date trivia: way back before the early-May slot belonged to the comic-book movies ("way back" being 1998 or so), the position was owned by disaster flicks, like Deep Impact and Twister. Since then, of course, the comic book movie has dominated, with the only notable natural-disaster movies being The Perfect Storm and, if we loosen the definition of "notable", The Core. Roland Emmerich looks to change all that, however, with The Day After Tomorrow, which has to be the most easily-mocked movie title since I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. I have to say I'm not too overwhelmed by the previews for this picture, and without any big stars in the cast, I have a feeling this one might get lost in the shuffle of summer box-office behemoths. Then again, Deep Impact surprised everyone by opening with $41 million in 1998 (hugely impressive at the time), so maybe there's hope for this film as well.
Marty Doskins's May Forecast
John Seal's May Forecast
Stephanie Star Smith's May Forecast
Zach Kolkin's May Forecast
David Mumpower's May Forecast