Weekend Forecast for June 18-20, 2004

By Reagen Sulewski

June 18, 2004

The guy in the back is two rings away from getting sued by the IOC.

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The multiplexes are starting to replenish themselves with variety after a very spartan May slate. For four weeks running we have now seen at least one film crack the top ten with less than 1,000 screens, leaving theaters with just a handful of films to show. Two weeks of three-deep slates later, we're back up to our usual summer variety, with most genres represented.

It's an odd thing to say about a guy that has two Best Director Oscars, but Steven Spielberg may finally be coming into his own as a filmmaker. Naturally known for his early fantasy and adventure films that rank in the pinnacle of their genres, his films of late have actually impressed me more, even if they don't seem to be destined to be as long remembered. His two futurescapes, Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report, both displayed that his imagination was still in force, both in service of a concept and visually, with some astounding technical work. He then combined that with emotional resonance in Catch Me if You Can, perhaps his most adult work to date. It certainly doesn't hurt that all these films were, to varying extents, large hits.

The Terminal is Spielberg's second straight collaboration with Tom Hanks, who proved bigger than Tom Cruise in the Great Spielberg Experiment of 2002, with Catch Me if You Can out-grossing Minority Report by about $30 million. Here they make the wild swing from comedic drama to dramatic comedy in the story of an Eastern European diplomat who loses his country to a coup mid-flight. A man without a country, he's forced to live in the No Man's Land of the Airport. Loosely based on the life of Merhan Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who has been living in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport for the past 16 (!) years, Spielberg and screenwriters Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson have reimagined this story of isolation and mild insanity as a goofy romantic comedy between Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I suspect there's some deeper themes hidden here but they are being hidden for now by the marketing department.

Spielberg doesn't do this kind of film too often but Hanks and Zeta-Jones are both experienced veterans of the genre. Hanks, in particular, was practically king of the romantic comedy in the mid-1990s, thus making what might be a tough premise to swallow go down easier from association with the two. The only potential sticking point would be what I call the Fallacy of the Famous Accent; this is the third straight movie where Tom Hanks has talked with some sort of accent; Boston (Catch Me if You Can), Southern Dandy (The Ladykillers), and now here, Boris Badanov. If it wasn't for talk shows, I would have forgotten what Tom Hanks's voice sounded like.

In general, it's a risk when stars speak with such an obvious accent, because we know they don't sound like that and we have such an investment in what their voices sound like. Then factor in that few do it well... hey, it nearly killed Harrison Ford's career. After two movies of funny accents, we're probably pretty used to this and it shouldn't present much of a problem. It shouldn't have any trouble taking the top spot this weekend, opening to about $36 million.

The director of Dodgeball, Rawson Marshall Thurber, comes by his propensity for random filmed violence honestly; as the creator of the Terry Tate: Office Linebacker series of commercials for Reebok, the transition to more people hitting each other with balls must have seemed a natural. Add in Ben Stiller playing a variation on Derek Zoolander and Vince Vaughn playing a variation on... every character he ever plays and you've got yourself a concept.

The sport of Dodgeball as an organized association is real, surprisingly enough (just wait until they sign a TV deal) and of course has a history from the playground through to one of the greatest video games of all time, Super Dodgeball for the NES. However, I don't think they're counting on the sadomasochistic camp of dodgeball enthusiasts to drive the film. No, it's the usual band of suckers who line up for Ben Stiller films that they're looking for, though they can't be blamed for feeling a little snakebit after abominations (I refuse to call them films) like Envy, Duplex and Along Came Polly made them question their love for all things Stiller (I'm calling Starsky and Hutch a push).

Surprise of surprises, it looks like they managed to build a decent film around the gags, by balancing out Stiller's scenery chewing with Vaughn's deadpan straight man role. As well, let's not forget that violence is always funny. I see this one as a mid tier hit, opening this weekend to about $26 million, below the normal level of some of Stiller's recent hits but well above the bottoming out that some of his recent films have done.

How many times a day do you think Jackie Chan's agent calls Chris Tucker's agent? Five? Ten? Two dozen? It's looking pretty much like Rush Hour sequels are the only way he's going to keep alive his American movie career, besides, you know, picking good scripts. While technically playing the sidekick in Around the World in 80 Days, he's clearly the main attraction, at least in North America. In the UK it might be a different story for Steve Coogan, who plays the actual lead character in the story, Phileas Fogg, as he is a ridiculously famous comedian who simply hasn't crossed over yet.

However, the focus seems to be on Chan's acrobatic endeavors, which just aren't as acrobatic as they used to be. Luckily he's still a pretty gifted physical comedian, as one of these times he's going to break completely. 80 Days (as all the cool kids will be calling it) is aiming at the family action-adventure market but appears to be failing quite badly. It opened on Wednesday to just $1.4 million, which is quite a pathetic number no matter how you slice it. Chan's last film, The Medallion, opened to just $8 million, and we may not be looking at much more here. In fact, the film is getting much more notice for Arnold Schwarzenegger's cameo as a Turkish sultan than anything, which really is not a good sign.

Has the Harry Potter franchise run out of steam? Well, not really, since anything that opens into the top three weekends of all time has enough steam to power a train all the way to Hogwart's (oh, boo yourself). What we are seeing, though, is that it's become a 'mere' franchise instead of being a Star Wars like dominant presence. Despite setting an opening day Friday record, or perhaps because of that, The Prisoner of Azkaban fell over 60% from weekend one to weekend two. A similar thing happened to Chamber of Secrets, but that film had Thanksgiving weekend in its third weekend to cushion the fall. There will be no such luck here, though I don't expect anything similar to the repeat of last weekend's performance, due mostly to the fact that the insane rush of the first weekend will no longer make its effect felt in the numbers. The heights reached by the other two films in the series at the box office are very much in doubt at this point, though, even as it moves close to the $200 million mark.

Shrek 2, on the other hand, is proving that sequels do not have to scurry from the theaters at first chance, and it may become the highest grossing film of 2004 as early as Friday night and surely by the end of the weekend. It will even be within striking distance of Spider-Man's fifth place all-time spot as Spider-Man's sequel nears release.

Of last week's returning films, expect Chronicles of Riddick to sink like a stone, Garfield to drift out of human remembrance and The Stepford Wives to maybe have a shot at some legs due to an older audience, but I wouldn't count on it. Last weekend was not what you would call your banner slate.

Forecast: Weekend of June 18-20, 2004
Number of
Changes in Sites
from Last
Gross ($)
1 The Terminal 2,811 New 36.2
2 Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story 2,694 New 25.5
3 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 3,805 -50 17.9
4 Shrek 2 3,306 -537 14.2
5 The Chronicles of Riddick 2,759 +2 12.6
6 Around the World in 80 Days 2,801 New 11.6
7 The Stepford Wives 3,057 0 11.5
8 Garfield 3,150 +56 10.4
9 The Day After Tomorrow 2,667 -543 7.9
10 Raising Helen 1,261 -842 2.9



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