May 2005 Forecast: A Box Office Preview
By John Hamann
After a not-so-good Winter season and a not-so-great Spring, here come May and the summer season, whether studios and the movie-going public like it or not. XXX: State of the Union has already flopped and we are left wondering if the sequel was foreshadowing, or a release date mistake by Sony. Looking at May’s crop of films, I’ll tell you now that summer doesn’t really start until May 19th, but it should cook from there, with Memorial Day weekend easily setting a box office record. Below, I’ve laid out what I think will be the films with the nine biggest box office opening weekends of May, from top to bottom.
1. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (20th Century Fox):
$90 million open
The no-brainer for top spot at the May box office is Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but the question is, as always, how big will it be? Revenge of the Sith opens May 19th, a Thursday, just like Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones did three years ago. AOTC pulled $80 million over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its opening weekend, and $110.2 million over its first four days. Surprisingly, this was an increase over The Phantom Menace, which opened on a Wednesday and pulled in $105.7 million over its first five days and $64.8 million from the Friday-to-Sunday portion (despite unfriendly Jar-Jar word of mouth). Revenge of the Sith should open to about $85 million over its first Friday-to-Sunday, but there is the Matrix effect to think about. Matrix Reloaded (the second one) grossed $91.8 million over its Friday-to-Sunday and a powerful $134.3 million over its first three days. However, because the second film put off so many fans and due to the absolutely dreadful early word-of-mouth on the third film, Matrix Revolutions plummeted compared to its predecessor. The Friday-to-Sunday for the third Matrix film was $48.5 million and the first five days came in at $83.8 million. The difference with Star Wars is that although the last episode was dreadful, that was a long time ago, not the six months in between Matrix films. Box office looks soft leading up to the release, especially for kids' fare, so I’m looking for a $90 million open, more if this one’s any good.
2. Madagascar (DreamWorks): $65 million open
Is the box office desperate for a good film for the under-12 set or what? Fox’s Robots has been slowly slipping down the top ten chart. It's been there for eight weeks, and has drops lower than 35% four times out of a possible seven. Madagascar steps up to the plate on May 27th and looks to eviscerate the competition over the Memorial Day weekend. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith has been rated PG-13, so some parents may be keeping their really little ones away from the supposedly dark, two and a half hour George Lucas epic. This means there may be an opportunity. Starring the likes of Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett, and Ben Stiller, the talent is there, and with DreamWorks distributing, you know the marketing will be there as well. Shrek 2 this is not, but remember that the first film with the big green ogre grossed an unexpected $42.3 million when it opened, and followed with a 0% drop over the following Memorial Day weekend. I expect strong lead-up marketing (even with Revenge of the Sith gobbling up space) and a very powerful start for Madagascar.
3. The Longest Yard (Paramount): $45 million
The Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard opens the same weekend as Madagascar, and the Memorial Day frame holds the second weekend of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The holiday frame has all the signs of being the biggest box office weekend on record, with the current holder being Memorial Day Weekend 2004. The Longest Yard is from Paramount, and is directed by Sandler’s go-to guy of late, Peter Segal (50 First Dates, Anger Management). Having Chris Rock and Burt Reynolds as co-stars helps, but they also have former football greats, SNL people, rap stars, and pro wrestlers to further cement the male draw. Sandler hasn’t seen a $50 million open yet over opening weekend; if word-of-mouth is good on this one it could make it, but I’ll bet against it and say $45 million.
4. Kicking & Screaming (Universal): $45 million
Never, ever, bet against Universal when it comes to releasing a summer film. The studio’s first summer release (not counting April release The Interpreter) is Will Ferrell’s Kicking & Screaming, which could be the first successful comedy since Guess Who, a movie that debuted back in March. Moviegoers are hungry for a funny movie and are currently in love with Will Ferrell, who opened Elf and Anchorman strongly over the last year and a half, and has Bewitched with Nicole Kidman coming in June. The trailer for this one is quite funny, and with the Universal marketing machine at work, it could be the top opener over the May 13th weekend. The only question is, will the ‘soccer mom’ demo go to Monster-in-Law instead?
5. Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox): $30 million
It's hard to believe that Ridley Scott’s Gladiator debuted five years ago, and now the famed director is back with a similar-looking piece about the Crusades. This one doesn’t have the fantastic word-of-mouth that Gladiator had going in, but it doesn’t carry the negative word that Alexander had, either. It’s more similar to Troy, Wolfgang Petersen’s Greek epic that debuted last year. Troy cost Warner Bros. $150 million to make; Kingdom of Heaven is in the same ball park at $130 million. Troy counted on Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom to open this one, along with an impressive marketing campaign and trailer. Troy found $46.9 million over opening weekend. This time, Orlando Bloom stars alongside Liam Neeson, with a much less powerful ad campaign. Reviews are soft at this point, so I don’t see word-of-mouth picking up before the Friday open. Look for an opening in the $30-$35 million range, at the absolute tops.
6. House of Wax (Warner Bros.): $25 million
Released the same weekend as Kingdom of Heaven, House of Wax, which stars a bevy of young Hollywood stars, will vie with the epic for top spot at the box office. From WB and Dark Castle, House of Wax stars Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray and Paris Hilton (seeing the skank get skewered is probably worth the price of admission), and most likely cost between $35 and $40 million. I expect House’s opening to fall somewhere in the area of recent remakes Amityville Horror ($23.5 million), Dawn of the Dead ($26.7 million) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($28.1 million).
7. Unleashed (Rogue Pictures): $20 million
Jet Li is back for Summer 2005 with Unleashed, the new film from Rogue Pictures. This violence-filled punch-up has some credibility thanks to the casting of Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins in supporting roles, but I don’t know how far that will go. For opening weekends, Jet Li is usually good for $15-20 million, but because of the release date (May 13th) I think the top side of his box office history is set to be explored. However, much of it will rely on the unproven Rogue Pictures (Assault on Precinct 13, Seed of Chucky), and their ability to grab venues over a busy weekend.
8. Monster-in-Law (New Line Cinema): $12 million
Jennifer Lopez is back (hmmph), and this time she’s brought Jane Fonda with her. Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers worked, so here’s New Line with their take on meeting the inlaws. Lopez has proven that she’s no fluke, starring in nine above-the-title roles that have opened higher than $10 million. Hopefully, people remember Gigli and don’t go to this one. May Kicking & Screaming do just that to Monster-in-Law.
9. Mindhunters (Dimension Films): $5 million
Released over a year ago in Thailand and shot more than three years ago, Mindhunters finally hits screens this May, whether we like it or not. This was supposed to come out in 2003, then early 2004, then June 2004. Now, a year later, we finally get the Val Kilmer/Christian Slater film. Will enough off the stink be off this one for an okay opening? No.
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