November 2004 Box Office Forecast
By John Hamann
Let me be the first to give thanks for the month of November, at least in movie-land. September and October have been brutal in terms of movie choices, save for some limited releases and of course Shaun of the Dead. Finally, we move out of the winter of box office discontent, and on to some fat prospects from Pixar, Tom Hanks, Bridget Jones and SpongeBob SquarePants. I've laid them out in terms of what I expect from total domestic box office.
1. The Incredibles - at least $300 million domestic
I feel like I've had to wait eons for this one. Brad Bird of Iron Giant fame joins the unbeatable force that is Pixar in what looks to be one of the most "fun" movies we've had all year. Pixar is looking to build on the success that they have had from the November-December market, releasing The Incredibles on the same weekend they unleashed Monsters, Inc. on the world back in 2001. Monsters opened to $63.5 million and grossed $255.9 million domestically. It made twice that worldwide, with the total gross coming in at about $523.1 million. With the PG rating on The Incredibles, families may show up for this one instead of individual children, making this more of a family movie than a kid flick. With a wider audience, I'm expecting late shows to sell out over opening weekend, and make the Incredibles a $70 million opening weekend hit. I expect a Nemo-like $300 million take, and a worldwide gross that doubles the domestic. If you're going to run out and buy the Pixar stock because of the impending success of The Incredibles, you might want to think twice, as the stock has already risen 20 points in the last year due to the extensive marketing this film has already received. This is as close to a box office sure-thing as there is, and should help Pixar in negotiations with whomever for the distribution contract for their films.
2. The Polar Express - $250 million
Tom Hanks has re-teamed with Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis for what looks to be an absolutely magical Christmas film. Tom Hanks can sell anything, and this computer animated/live action spectacular looks to be an easy knock out of the park. Zemeckis has done this sort of thing before, as he helmed Who Framed Roger Rabbit way back in 1988. Based on an award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express is about a train that takes kids who are losing their faith in Santa up to the North Pole to meet the big guy. The trailer is simply a knock out of the park, but the storyline is going to keep some demographics away, which should keep The Incredibles safe on top. Still, look for this WB release to make some serious coin both home and away; it better, as the production cost is reported at $150 million.
3. SpongeBob SquarePants - $100 million
Can three movies, all aimed at kids, gross more than $100 million in a single month? We're about to find out, as SpongeBob SquarePants heads to theatres on November 19th. I can't tell you that I'm intimately associated with this title, but I can tell you that SpongeBob is a very popular show amongst the kiddies, and seems to have a whole bunch of adult fans as well (I know BOP's Les Winan likes SpongeBob more than Clay Aiken). Nickelodeon has said they are aiming the film at the 2-80 set, and the company has said they have $150 million in marketing contracts set to go, so SpongeBob will be at your local Burger King any time now. If the film can draw beyond the extremely young, it may have a chance at finding $100 million in domestic box office receipts.
4. National Treasure - $100 million
I wish this one would disappear from the release schedule. I have to wrap my mind around the fact that it is coming, and whether I like it or not, its going to do big business at the box office. Nic Cage is back in his first film since 2003's Matchstick Men, playing Benjamin Franklin Gates (I can't be the only one who groans at that can I?) in a film that has Cage protecting a war chest hidden by America's founding fathers (I bet the war chest holds less than the production budget on this one). Disney has opened the promotional flood gates, partnering with likes of Visa and McDonalds (amongst many others) for a combined overall $160 million marketing program for this film. Early word (or guerilla marketing) is supposedly good for this one, so maybe Disney can buy a hit.
5. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason - $100 million
Ahhh, Bridget, you're back, and just as messed up as the last time we saw you. Yes, everyone, it's sequel time. This time the Bridget Jones franchise is blossoming into a second movie,after a huge international success the first time out. All your favorites are back: Bridget, Mark Darcy, and Daniel Cleaver. It seems the boys are fighting again over our Bridget, as the trailer makes the sequel look like a repeat of the first film, but I doubt audiences will mind. The original Bridget Jones's Diary was a huge hit on home video after grossing a little over $70 million domestically, and this one should have no problem beating that.
6. Alexander - $75 million plus
Oliver Stone is back and this time he's dragged Alexander the Great along with him. IMDb reports a $150 million budget on WB's Alexander, the first of competing Alexander projects to make it to the screen. This is Oliver Stone's first non-documentary big screen movie as a director since 1999's Any Given Sunday, and couldn't be more different. Hollywood wild child Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer all star in the epic, and while it doesn't have the money shot trailer that the disappointing Troy had, it still may wow at the box office. I'm looking for $75 million with mixed reviews, and much more if its got any Oscar quality at all.
7. Christmas With the Cranks - $65 million
After Surviving Christmas flopped in October, I'm now gun shy about the success of Christmas With The Cranks, as its source material from John Grisham was called Skipping Christmas, which is just to much like the Bennifer disaster. The good news for Sony/Revolution release is that this one at least looks somewhat funnier, and stars Tim Allen, Dan Ackroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis in the leads. The screenplay is from Chris Columbus, and Revolution Studios owner Joe Roth is taking on the directing duties, so it may get some free press from that. I'm still not getting a good feeling from this one (maybe Christmas is still too far away) so I'll peg the total gross around $65 million.
8. Seed of Chucky - $35 million
This one is certainly not my bag, but I'm sure there is a legion of slackers just waiting for Chucky's return. This time out, the storyline revolves around Chucky's offspring, and series writer Don Mancini is at the helm of this Rogue Pictures release. Jennifer Tilly is playing herself and the voice of Chucky's bride. While the trailer makes it look like Britney Spears and John Waters appear in the film, only the more normal one (Waters) is actually in the picture. Before writing this one off completely, let's remember that the last Chucky movie opened above $11 million and grossed more than $30 million - this is a franchise with a built-in audience, and should do above average business.
8. After the Sunset and Alfie - less than $30 million
My picks for flops for the month of November go to two films that will gather dust in the A-section of your video store for years to come: Alfie and After the Sunset. Alfie is Jude Law's take on the 1966 Michael Caine movie of the same name. After the Sunset is Pierce Brosnan's latest crack at a non-James Bond role, with Salma Hayek as the non-Bond girl. I expect both to open to less than $10 million over opening weekend, and will be surprised if either one grosses $30 million by the end of its run.