July 2005 Forecast

By Michael Bentley

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1) War of the Worlds

The maestro, Steven Spielberg, is back with arguably his most anticipated Summer "event" film in years. War of the Worlds is based on the H.G. Wells novel (and made even more famous by Orson Welles' terrifying radio broadcast in 1938) and is about alien invaders who have come to destroy Earth. Box office king Tom Cruise (we'll get to his recent dalliances in the news in a moment) stars as a man trying to protect his family from the threat. This looks like a textbook example of a popcorn flick if there ever was one. Opening the week leading up to the July 4th holiday, Spielberg Inc. will be tough to beat.

...Except for one thing. In case you haven't heard (read: in case you've been abducted by aliens), Tom Cruise is in love. Really in love! And drugs are bad! The X-factor in all this is whether or not TomKat's recent psychotic behavior has turned anyone away from this film. It may have been unthinkable a few years ago, but can Tom Cruise hurt a film's box office?

Opening weekend prediction: $72 million + $28 million Wed/Thurs. + $18 million Monday.

2) Fantastic Four

Let's see... an invisible woman with a force field, a big strong guy, and an elastic/stretchy guy. I can't believe they had the nerve to steal this idea from Pixar's The Incredibles! Doesn't anybody have any original idea anymore?

No, but seriously, for those of you who aren't comic book fans, the Fantastic Four was Marvel Comics' first big hit back in 1961- even before Spider-man and The X-Men became sensations. The lovely Jessica Alba, fresh off her head-turning role in Sin City, is the Invisible Woman; Michael Chiklis of The Shield is the big, strong Thing; and then a pair of lesser name actors are Mr. Fantastic (the stretchy guy) and the Human Torch. The question everybody is asking is: will this one be more like those two blockbuster series, or will it be more like the dud that was The Hulk two years ago? Or at a minimum, will it at least be better than the seldom-seen straight-to-video turkey (albeit with a cult following) from 1994 that seems like Ed Wood made it?

Opening weekend: $44 million.

3) The Wedding Crashers

The eternal frat boys, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson (or is that Luke, I never can tell), team up again in The Wedding Crashers as a couple of bachelors who realize that they can score with women big time by sneaking into weddings. Vaughn has started to make a nice career working in comedies, with roles in Be Cool, Anchorman, Dodgeball, Starsky & Hutch, and Old School, among others. The trailer has been getting a very positive response, and with a tagline like "Hide your bridesmaids", this is sure to be one of the bigger comedy hits of the Summer. The R-rating might hurt it with teenagers, but 20- and 30-something adults should be out in force, and it may even do well as a date movie.

Opening weekend: $38 million.

4) The Island

Bless you, Michael Bay. I didn't think I could make it a whole year without one of your fine films.

Opening weekend: $35 million.

5) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I've never been a huge fan of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder as the oddball candyman, Willy Wonka. But I am still scratching my head over why a remake is necessary. I guess money does indeed talk.

Supposedly this version follows the book a little bit more closely, and focuses more on Mr. Wonka (played by Johnny Depp). Judging solely by the trailers, though, I don't know what Depp is trying to do, but it freaks me out. He comes off as a cross between Michael Jackson and Ru Paul - and, no, that's not a good thing. I can easily see this being a complete bomb. On the other hand, I can easily see this being one of the big hits of the year. Let's call it somewhere in the middle.

Opening weekend: $30 million.

6) Sky High

At this point, Kurt Russell is trying to single-handedly revive Walt Disney's floundering live-action film division. In Sky High, he stars as the heroic superhero father of a teenage boy who attends a special high school for children with superhero parents. This movie looks like a harmless, fun farce in the vein of Spy Kids (with maybe a little bit of The Incredibles sprinkled in). Sky High could be the breakout hit of the summer and will likely reap big rewards for Disney down the line on DVD.

Opening weekend: $23 million.

7) The Bad News Bears

The Summer of Remakes continues with The Bad News Bears, a reissue of the classic from the "middle aged man gets in trouble and must lead a team of child misfits in some sport, overcoming all sorts of hilarious obstacles along the way" genre starring the late great Walter Matthau. Before you moan and groan, keep in mind that this has the versatile Billy Bob Thornton in the lead role and is directed by Richard Linklater. I am always skeptical of remakes, but this has a good pedigree and looks like it may actually be worth the price of admission. One hurdle it will have to overcome is that it opens during a very crowded weekend along with The Island and The Wedding Crashers - not to mention the wide array of films opening in the preceding weeks.

Opening weekend: $18 million.

8) Must Love Dogs

When I think of this movie, The Truth About Cats and Dogs immediately springs to mind. Whether that is good or bad, I don't know. What I do know is that this romantic comedy stars Diane Lane, John Cusack, and a Newfoundland. And though I'm not a psychic and I haven't seen it, I can tell you how the movie ends: she ends up with him and they all live happily ever after.

Opening weekend: $17 million.

9) Dark Water

The recent wave of Japanese horror flicks turned into American remakes continues with Dark Water. Of course, this has been a very successful formula with such (surprise) hits as The Ring (with Naomi Watts) and The Grudge (with Sarah Michelle Gellar). This one also features a big female lead, Jennifer Connelly, as a mother who takes her daughter to live in a grungy apartment. Naturally, evil doings begin to transpire. One wonders if Dark Water will also continue a trend from other Connelly films by having her character walk down the end of a pier.

I think that the studio is hurting itself by releasing this in the middle of a crowded summer season. We'll never know for sure, but it seems like domestic box office would be better in the Fall (think Halloween) or Winter. Nevertheless, there are a lot of horror fans out there, and this will certainly turn a profit before all is said and done.

Opening weekend: $15 million.

10) Stealth

Stealth seems like an interesting movie. It is about a group of Navy pilots who find themselves competing with a plane flown by artificial intelligence. The A.I. begins to think for itself, though, and the pilots must stop it before it's too late. The casting is fairly strong, with Jessica Biel, Josh Lucas, and recent Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx. The problem is it just comes off as something that we've seen before; kind of a cross between Top Gun and Terminator. Stealth may get lost in the box office shuffle.

Opening weekend: $13 million.

Just Under the Radar

The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats is a fascinating new documentary that features a cast of scores of well-known comedians who are each telling the same joke. It is a very raunchy joke, which allows for an interesting study - on both the filmmaking and individual level - about what is funny and what is not. This will remain a limited release during its theatrical run, as the language is sure to offend many people, but it is garnering a lot of discussion and buzz.

Happy Endings

There are two things you need to know about this movie. First, it has a very illustrious cast including Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ray Liotta, and Bobby Cannavale. Second, the title refers to special perks that a client might get from a masseuse. Indeed.

Hustle & Flow

This year's winner of the Audience Award for best dramatic picture at the Sundance Film Festival was Hustle & Flow. Sure to remind many of Eminem and Curtis Hanson's joint, 8 Mile, Hustle & Flow is about a street pimp with dreams of making it big as a rapper. The movie is actually getting a relatively wide release and should pull in some sizeable numbers, especially from urban audiences.



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