June 2004 Forecast

By David Mumpower

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1) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

2004 is a landmark year for book to film adaptations. The biggest selling series of books has already brokered a $370 million movie in the form of The Passion of the Christ. As if that were not enough, the second biggest literary franchise, Harry Potter and the Billionaire Author from Edinburgh, also sees a summer release. There isn’t much left to say about the appeal of these books and their film adaptations.

The lone concern from a box office perspective is that the second film in the series saw a downturn of $110 million worldwide from its predecessor. I don’t worry about this becoming a trend, though. The first movie had the benefit of being just that, the first display of Quidditch and other various Potter CGI on the big screen. Other than that, the appeal of the first two films was limited. It’s the later books which sets the hearts and minds racing for kids of all ages. Even a quick glance at the BOP poll this week indicates that 92% of you think that the best books have yet to be adapted into movies. That means demand will be if anything much larger for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I expect a $350 million performance from this movie and even more from the next one. I also can’t wait to see what Gary Oldman does with the role of Sirius Black.

2) The Terminal

I have written about and discussed this project so many times now that I am running out of things to say about it. A Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg project is modern film's answer to an Alfred Hitchcock/Cary Grant outing. They are the gold standard of cinematic creation as demonstrated by their prior efforts in Catch Me If You Can and Saving Private Ryan.

The Terminal is a much different sort of film for them to try, which is, I presume, the appeal of it. This gentle, fictional biopic is based on a true story of bureacracy gone mad. The thought of someone forced to live in an airport is so implausible that a movie predicated upon such a notion would be dismissed out of hand had it not really happened. The comedic potential from such bizarre circumstances is fertile ground for an actor with the skill set of Tom Hanks.

This looks like a safe bet to be the critical darling of summer 2004. The lone caveat here is that such lofty expectations are often a dual-edged sword. Anything less than greatness could cause the
production to land with a dull thud.

3) Around the World in 80 Days

This is the mystery movie of June. A family film with Jackie Chan and an unknown English comic named Steve Coogan doesn't seem like a box office heavyweight. I am not, however, quick to dismiss its box office prospects due to the fact that I see this as the little engine that could. The charming trailer has a warm, endearing series of delightful encounters. It has all the trappings of your run-of-the-mill Disney classic live action comedy. Despite the fact that this is a Walden Media production, everything about the clips hearken back to the days of Kurt Russell and Dean Jones. The sweet, family-friendly nature of it should prove to be the x-factor in this becoming one of the most surprising performers of the summer.

4) Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Ben Stiller made me laugh in Starsky & Hutch. He did not, however, make me laugh anywhere near enough to forgive the sumbitch for Along Came Polly. Stiller's disaster of a scatalogical comedy is the worst film of 2004 and I include Torque when I say that. Factoring in the already forgotten Envy, that gives Jerry Stiller's baby boy two strong candidates for Razzies before June starts.

The question, then, is whether Underdogs will be a third ding on his comedy resume before the first half of the year is even over. I seem to be in the minority here, but I'm inclined to believe he will avoid that fate. Underdogs looks hysterical to me, and I expect it to be his third solid box office performer of the first half of 2004. What I am braced for is this to be yet another dud. Such a feat would send Stiller onto the Mike Myers list of formerly funny comedians now willing to eschew all attempts at quality in order to make a quick buck. Oh, how I hope this isn't the case.

5) The Chronicles of Riddick

Stating the obvious, Vin Diesel needs a hit. You obviously agree with me as you have collectively selected him as such in a recent BOP poll. While I maintain Will Smith is in slightly more dire straits, there is no disputing the fact that it's put up or shut up time for the Iron Giant.

In order to secure his action hero status, Diesel boldly decided to return to his most notable character thus far, Riddick. The problem is that this role is more of a subversive cult hero a la Bruce Campbell's Ash. The first film was a surprise hit at the time, but the expectations are much higher for this outing. With a massive budget in excess of $100 million, Riddick needs to make a mint just to break even. The movie is in one of the most precarious positions of any summer opener.

I think it will do well opening weekend and I am personally jazzed to see it. Unfortunately, I think it is going to be another xXx-type disappointment relative to expectations. For whatever reason, the hype just isn't there. Don't these people realize Thandie Newton is in the movie???

6) Garfield

Lasagna, cats and Jennifer Love-Hewitt. This is so much like my dreams it's scary. Except for the lasagna. In the early 1980s, a plucky cartoonist turned his love of the world's most perfect pet into a cottage industry. In the 20 years that followed, Jim Davis has done everything possible to run the franchise into the ground. A fat cat's hatred of dogs offset by his love of pasta may only be mined so many times before it loses relevance.

Sensing the difficulties created by this fact, a rather clever decision was made to target the film toward the youngest demographics. It's a safer (and easier) strategy than angling for redemption from an audience that has long sense passed the saturation point with the Garfield character.

Almost as an apology, Bill Murray was brought on board to make the experience at least tolerable for the parents being dragged to see Garfield. He'll get my money simply as a sign of gratitude for his performance in Lost in Translation, a gesture I'm certain will completely counterbalance his unconscionable slighting by the Academy.

Garfield is what it is: a blatant attempt to get in on the Scooby-Doo gravy train. Scooby-Doo 2 numbers seem to be a realistic scenario here, if not a bit on the ambitious side. It's going to make a mint on DVD, though.

7) The Stepford Wives

Riddled with terrible buzz since virtually the first day of production, this re-make has a lot to prove. Frank Oz lost control of the set, saw the shoot run over budget by a significant amount, and battled with a certain unnamed aging diva. The only good news the project has is the Nicole Kidman name brand. Ever since her separation from Whatshisname, the Australian looker has been bulletproof. Her drawing power is going to be severely tested here. The Stepford Wives trailer is awkward and stilted. This movie has all the earmarks of a bomb, so we're about to find out just how invincible Kidman has become.

8) The Notebook

One of my quirkier movie fetishes is a strong admiration of James Garner. He is an actor who had staked his claim to greatness before I was old enough to appreciate him. That doesn't stop me from appreciating his work in episodes of Maverick and The Rockford Files. He has also participated in several gentle comedies that would have been utter fluff without him. Chief among those are My Fellow Americans, a genial ex-presidential comedy, and Murphy's Romance, one of the best romantic
comedies of the past quarter century. Throw in his sensational work in the Maverick movie and his effort as a cigarette mogul trying to adapt in Barbarians at the Gate and I have just named a great weekend of movie suggestions for you.

James Garner is good.

The presence of the closest thing current cinema has to Jimmy Stewart is reason enough to put this one on radar. The presence of Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, two rising Hollywood talents, as the leads in the film is just gravy. But as if that isn't enough, BOP's John Hamann has been raving about this production ever since he saw it at Show Canada last month. The Notebook appeals to the movie lover in me, and I expect it to strike a chord with other like-minded hopeless romantics.

9) White Chicks

There are two types of people in the world: those who admit that they laugh a couple of times during the White Chicks trailer and there are those who lie and say they don't. Say what you will about the clip, the end bit that skewers Vanessa Carlton is damned funny. It gets one of the surest laughs of any trailer spot in recent memory.

Yes, this looks like garbage and yes, ethnic mismatch comedy is the theatrical equivalent of reality television. Nobody likes it but lots of people still wind up going for some reason. In the case of White Chicks, I don't expect Bringing Down the House level success by any stretch, but I do think this one may pleasantly surprise.

10 - tie) Two Brothers

Garfield is the kitty film that will make the most money, but it's a safe guess to say that Two Brothers will be the better movie. Telling the story of brother bengal tigers, this family flick from the auteur behind The Bear looks sweeter than a box of pixie sticks. As a cat lover, I am squarely in the movie's target demographic and probably biased toward it. Even so, I don't have lofty expectations for the box office performance of Two Brothers. Its simplicity is also its undoing with regards to potential broad demographic appeal.

10 - tie) Fahrenheit 9/11

I have been tracking the progress of this release in my blog for the past month. Anyone who has been reading knows that I feel this is going to break two box office records. It's going to be the biggest box office earner in the history of documentaries and it's also going to have the biggest weekend of any documentary. Yes, those are bold statements that could very well blow up in my face, but 2002 saw the box office behavior of the documentary evolve. People are not afraid of them any longer. Fahrenheit 9/11 has the advantage of being able to capitalize on Mel Gibson-esque marketing as its release approaches. In an election year, such a lightning rod of cinematic controversy is going to get a very solid spike thanks to constant media attention working as free advertising. The fur is going to fly when this one is finally released in theaters, too.



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