Weekend Forecast for December 24-26, 2004

By Reagen Sulewski

December 24, 2004

Hey! That had better not be Lucy Liu out there!

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Welcome back to the continuation of the weekend forecast, picking up on the Christmas Day opening films. With most theaters a ghost town on Christmas Eve, the majority of new movies are skipping the traditional Friday opening and moving right to Christmas Day.

Probably highest profile of these is The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's latest play for an Oscar. Telling the life story of Howard Hughes, billionaire airline and movie tycoon, from his early days in Hollywood up to the beginnings of his mental decline, the film ties in nicely with Scorsese's long-running themes of obsession and self-destruction. Hughes is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a guy who makes you wonder if he'll ever be allowed to live down Titanic. He really is a good actor, honest.

Anyhow, the film is one of Scorsese's grandest scales to date, with a cast that almost enough stars to fill a Woody Allen ensemble. Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, John C. Reilly, Jude Law (and finally, we're done with him for the year), Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm and Alan Alda are just a portion of the names attached to this film, many of whom are getting Oscar consideration of their own.

The sprawling, epic film is being hailed for having a dazzling style, though a few naysayers are criticizing it for a perceived lack of substance or insight. Shades of Gangs of New York, perhaps? I think it's doubtful, as bad as that film was. Still, you have to wonder how much interest there is in the story of a rich dreamer who slowly went insane. Then again, how many people knew who John Nash was before A Beautiful Mind?

In limited release, The Aviator did quite well, averaging about $21,000 per venue on 40 screens. This isn't an astounding figure in the wake of other limited releases this year, but it's solid. On 1,796 screens, expect about $12 million on the abbreviated two-day weekend, with another $17 million in the following week.

Filed under "Who, exactly, asked for this?" is Fat Albert, a live-action adaptation of Bill Cosby's cartoon series, which hearkens back to the days when all you needed to make a "classic" TV series was a catchphrase and The Hack's Guide to Sitcom Plots Vol. 1-3. The film actually has a decent conceit, that the characters really are from the cartoon, although that's maybe the only way you could play the film.

Even at that, the only audience it can really play to is very young kids, as this looks like a disaster in the grand tradition of Mr. Magoo. In what has to be one of the funniest showbiz spats of all time, Forrest Whitaker left the film over "creative differences" (he probably wanted to be creative), with Joel Zwick of My Big Fat Greek Wedding stepping in. In a week of Oscar contenders, this one looks more likely to collect some Razzies. Give it $9 million in two days, though a strong Christmas week of about $16 million could follow, with kids making up a huge portion of the inter-week box office.

Ever one to jump on a bandwagon, Joel Schumacher has taken advantage of the newly rediscovered interest in movie musicals to bring a production of The Phantom of the Opera to the screen. He's probably a good fit for the musical, as his productions tend to be just as overwrought and hysterical and Andrew Lloyd Webber's, though I suspect the combined effect is multiplicative.

For sheer spectacle, the film probably won't be topped this Christmas. However, one wonders how well this most stagy of musicals will translate to the confines of the big screen. I personally can't take much more than 45 minutes of any musical, so the histrionics associated with Webber's material is something likely unbearable to me. However, as probably the most famous Broadway musical shy of Cats (and oh how I hope I'm not giving anyone ideas), it should get by on name recognition alone. Hurting it is the absence of anything in the way of marquee power, with The Phantom being played by relative unknown Gerard Butler, and Emmy Rossum (seen this summer in The Day After Tomorrow) as Christine. Natasha Richardson and Minnie Driver also have significant roles.

Insinuating itself on 622 screens this Christmas, it will probably pull in a gaudy screen average, learning from the example of Chicago, but the lack of other stars will limit it. Give it $8 million for two days, and $13 million over the following week.

The best limited debut of last weekend belonged to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson's latest. On just two screens, it earned just shy of $100,000 last weekend, and expands to 1,105 venues on Christmas Day. The quirky film, which as with his The Royal Tenenbaums, looks to tackle issues of families, real and created. Returning to Bill Murray again as a lead (and maybe this time is the charm for Oscar), Anderson is known for both cast loyalty (all of his films have had either Owen Wilson or Bill Murray) and for intricate set design that is as much of a character as any of the actors. As an interesting aside, this film shares both Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe in its cast with The Aviator.

With the exception of Spanglish, this is probably the best bet for "heart-warming" of any film in release this holiday season, though in a particularly warped way. Anderson's films have gained quite a cult following, to the point where Tenenbaums broke the $50 million mark. It remains to be seen if this film can do that, or even if it's as good (a paucity of guild awards is troubling) but it looks to have every chance to perform at the box office. Make it $6 million for Saturday and Sunday, and about $10 million for Christmas week.

It's never a good sign when the child actor in your film has made it to the end of junior high by the film's release when he was only in elementary when you were filming it. Such is the case for Darkness, the English directorial debut of Jaume Balaguero. The film was finished in 2001 and released in several foreign territories before finally making its debut in the United States on Christmas Day. I smell contractual obligation.

A moody 'spooky-house' horror film in the vein of The Others, The Shining and Session 9, the film revolves around a spirit that needed to claim the lives of seven children for various nefarious purposes. With Anna Paquin and Lena Olin, the film doesn't in fact look half bad; however, it is getting zero promotion, and horror films are almost never popular at Christmas. It'll be lucky to break the top ten with $3 million.

The top spot at the box office will belong to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, though Meet the Fockers should give it a tough run. The primary family film of the weekend, it also has the crucial adult cross-over factor that should make it the easiest consensus choice for families. Even with the Christmas Eve lull, look for a shallow drop off of about 15-20%, to $25 million dollars, with it cleaning up during the week for around $40 million.

While Twelve may be the new Eleven, a 55% drop is the new 40% drop, as Ocean's Twelve took a plummet to $18 million after a $39 million debut weekend. Christmas will stem the bleeding here a bit, but only to about $11 million over two days, and then $15 million over Christmas week.

Two films likely to have a very Merry Christmas this weekend are Spanglish and The Polar Express. Spanglish had a rather disappointing $8 million debut last weekend but is exactly the kind of film that can really catch on during the holidays, a la Patch Adams (no merit comparison implied here) or The Family Man. A very small drop over the two-day weekend to $7 million, followed by $13 million over the week should salvage Adam Sandler's latest dramatic reach somewhat.

Express, meanwhile, has been chugging right along, dropping less than 15% the past two weekends. With the added Christmas exposure, this may even see an uptick this weekend, to about $9 million, then perhaps as high as $18 million over the week.

A couple of other significant films open in limited release here, with Hotel Rwanda, a sort of "Schindler's List for the Rwanda genocide" starring Don Cheadle. Winning the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival and being nominated for a Golden Globe for best Drama, it has an outside shot at Oscar glory.

The Woodsman is Kevin Bacon's best shot for awards in some time, though it will likely come from the Independent Spirit Awards if any. Playing a pedophile attempting to reintegrate into society though wanting to keep his privacy, Bacon has received some of the best praise of his career. The film, not so much. The material is almost certainly too controversial and unappealing to make much in the way of box office impact.

Forecast: Weekend of December 24-26, 2004
Number of
Changes in Sites
from Last
Gross ($)
1 Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events 3,623 +3 25.1
2 Meet the Fockers 3,518 New 20.4
3 The Aviator 1,796 +1,756 12.3
4 Ocean's Twelve 3,290 0 11.1
5 The Polar Express 2,618 -250 9.3
6 Fat Albert 2,674 New 9.1
7 The Phantom of the Opera 622 New 8.5
8 Spanglish 2,441 +6 7.8
9 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou 1,105 +1,103 6.7
10 National Treasure 2,201 -536 4.5



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