May 2006 Forecast
By David Mumpower
10) Goal! The Dream Begins
You know which sport North Americans cannot get enough of? Soccer! That's right, we as a society enjoy nothing better than the sheer pointlessness of a nothing/nothing tie. Oh, I'm sorry. That's a nil/nil tie, innit? Despite our collective apathy toward the idea of grown men kicking a ball around for 90 minutes, there is going to be a movie about the sport. Sadly, said film will not feature kung-fu experts learning to utilize their craft to improve their sports performance. No, this is just a simple soccer comedy. The fact that it is not straight to video is something of a surprise to me. Getting a wide release is shocking. Goal! The Dream Begins will be relegated to a punch-line with 72 hours of its release into theaters. The lone reason it makes the top ten is because...wait for it...there are only ten wide releases this month. And I still considered slotting some limiteds ahead of it.
9) An American Haunting
As a native of Tennessee, the legend of the Bell Witch was part of my upbringing. Any number of camping trips and hikes through the woods involved scare tactics referencing her. Perhaps the reason why I was so cognizant of The Blair Witch Project six months ahead of other box office analysts was my childhood fear subtlely rearing its head. For obvious reasons, I have monitored this project with some interest. My opinion is that it had a chance to be huge, but an opportunity has been missed.
The Bell Witch tale dates backs to the early 1800s. Adams, Tennessee neighbors Kate Batts and John Bell had a dispute over some property (a slave, if rumors are to be believed). Harsh words were exchanged and Batts made the proverbial threat to haunt Bell from beyond the grave. The flaw with this is that historians have shown she outlived her enemy, thereby negating any need for haunting. Such pesky facts should not be allowed to get in the way of a good horror legend.
What is universally accepted by locals is that her former land includes a cave that has come to be known as the Bell Witch Cave due to its alleged hauntings. Cynics would maintain it is not haunted particularly well since guided tours occur there on an hourly basis. Even so, the legend of the Bell Witch has had a profound impact upon modern box office. The aforementioned Blair Witch Project used it as an inspiration. The current adaptation of the story stars two horror legends, Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek. Neither of them is a box office draw by any stretch, but they have previously starred in two of the most impacting films of the genre, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Carrie. Having them frontline this cast planted the seeds for a stellar box office outing. Unfortunately, the marketing support has been lacking, leading me to believe this project will be another middling horror performer rather than the grand slam it could have been nurtured to become.
8) See No Evil
Tennessee native (notice how I always work that in?) Glen Jacobs is used to being the bad guy. His success as a professional wrestler has come from his portrayal of a crazed burn victim named Kane. As the brother of the always popular Undertaker, Kane's role has largely been to spread fear into the hearts of fans, thereby making them root for the good guy that much harder. For this reason, Jacobs is a natural to play a larger than life villain in a horror film.
Jacobs' combination of gigantic size and menacing creates the sort of natural prejudice and fear that hasn't been seen since Michael Berryman in the original The Hills Have Eyes. His casting is something of a masterstroke here even while allowing for the fact that it is a WWE production. In See No Evil, Jacobs will portray the lone tenant of a run down hotel. His situation changes when eight criminals and a police officer who once shot him attempt to check into his place of residence.
I am not certain how much weight WWE Productions will wield in terms of marketing and exhibition. I do, however, believe this production could be a solid performer if given a chance. The company's decision to create a wrestling angle to play up the film's May 19th release is a solid step in the right direction. See No Evil has a chance to be the latest low budget horror film to surprise at the box office.
What would I consider to be a perfect combination? A movie adaptation of a Carl Hiaasen book featuring music by Jimmy Buffett would be way up there. For this reason, I might be unreasonably optimistic about this production. Keep that in mind going in.
Hoot is yet another cerebral Hiaasen novel wherein he sugarcoats a message about ecology under a shiny veneer of sunny wit. The dude's got skill. This time around, he tells a storny involving a recently transplanted kid named Roy. Formerly a resident of Montana, this lad is now dealing with the humidity in Coconut Cove, Florida.
As is the case with most kids who have moved to a new school, his life is comprised of encounters with bullies and frustration over his not making new friends. One day, he encounters a barefoot Pigpen wannabe named Mullet Fingers. This boy is on a quest to save some owls from a local construction site's intrusion. What follows is a sweet tale about how kids innately understand the insanity of destroying nature better than adults. I don't have high hopes for the film's box office, but I do think it could be a surprise over-achiever.
6) Just My Luck
Ask any Texas Hold'em player, and (s)he will tell you that the x-factor is luck. The fickle hand of fate cannot be resisted, nor may its capricious decisions be undone. Lindsay Lohan is ready to prove this notion in her latest starring role. She will portray THE luckiest in the woman...at least this is who she will be at the start of the movie.
Soon afterward, she stumbles upon her counterpart, the unluckiest man in the world. Cosmic creators could not have allowed for such a matter/anti-matter incursion, so the universe is momentarily unbalanced. When order is restored, the man is now lucky and Lindsay Lohan is in for a run of bad luck that would make even John Daly shake his head in sympathy. Sure, this is pure fluff, but teen audiences are oddly loyal to their skanky icon. Just My Luck should continue to prove that Ms. Lohan is in fact the luckiest woman in the box office world or, at the very least, top ten on the list.
Nothing shouts big box office like shipwrecks. For whatever reason, audiences cannot get enough of gigantic cruise ships getting capsized by natural disaster. This was the case in the 1970s when the original was released, and it remains so today. The most successful film of all time, Titanic, even capitalized on this knowledge as did a later George Clooney release, The Perfect Storm. Poseidon seeks to fill the box office vacuum from five years without such a cataclysmic sea disaster, and I expect it to be highly successful in this regard. Make a trailer this hot, and audiences will come.
4) Over the Hedge
In 2005, DreamWorks laughed all the way to the bank when their latest CGI-animation entry, Madagascar earned $193 million in domestic receipts. A year later, the studio has seen significant changes. DreamWorks as a distributor no longer exists. Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures, acquired all of the non-animated assets while DreamWorks Animations was spun off into its own entity. While the behind the scenes situation may have changed, everything else remains the same. DreamWorks Animation maintains its dominance in the world of family film entertainment with only Pixar rivaling it in terms of box office success. Sure, Pixar garners quite a bit more critical praise, but at the end of the day, box office matters. DreamWorks is the reigning champion in this category.
Their latest release, Over the Hedge, is a comic adaptation, but of a different variety than the #2 film below. This is a comic strip about a bunch of semi-wild animals who feast off the garbage of humans. During their sojourns into the realm of mankind, they opine about the daily frivolity and inconsistency of our existence. It's good stuff. The problem is that the subject matter is unmistakably adult. Ergo, an animated adaptation of the humor will need to be dumbed down considerably in order to reach a critical mass of people. I suspect that Madagascar's zoo setting will prove to be a larger draw to kids than the quirkier fare offered here. Even so, Shark Tale managed $160 million despite being insufferable dreck. Over the Hedge should at least match that total if not surpassing it by a solid amount.
3) Mission: Impossible III
In the summer of 2005, debates raged about how the psychotic Tom Cruise behavior would impact the box office of War of the Worlds. The end result proved to be that any negative impact was minimal. War of the Worlds earned almost $235 million, making it one of the most successful movie of the year. Even better, the quality was there for the most part with the only issue being the ending. As the entire movie-going public knows, this criticsm is always Steven Spielberg's. Cruise gets a pass there.
Where does that leave us with the Mission: Impossible? Good question. Mission: Impossible was universally regarded as a fine franchise debut with a fatal flaw. The plot was too complicated for casual viewers. So, there was a decision made with the sequel. The focus was placed upon style over substance. John Woo was brought on-board. He had one instruction: keep it simple, stupid. The living legend of directors did exactly this, ramping up the action while dialing down the doppleganging. What did viewers think? The universe opinion was that the sequel's plot was too stupid.
Rather than focus upon the fickle nature of fans, Mission: Impossible producers should focus upon the positive. They now have the boundaries clearly marked. If the original is too smart and the follow-up is too dumb, splitting the difference should lead to a blockbuster. And it's not as if the first two films' box office is a problem. Their combined domestic total is right at $400 million. All that new director J.J. Abrams needs to do is not mess up the good thing Paramount Pictures has going. Will he be able to do this? I don't see why the man who has co-created the Lost phenomenon should have any problem helming this project to a $200 million total, just as has been the average performance of the prior two titles. And more than that would not surprise me in the least.
2) X-Men: The Last Stand
My counterparts appear convinced this will be the top film of the month. I must be honest that I gave it strong consideration as well. In point of fact, the top four selections on this list all appear capable of surpassing $160 million in domestic receipts. Factoring in Poseidon, the top five this month is as strong as any I can ever remember. Determining a champion out of this group is like naming your favorite Stephen King novel. There are so many great ones it is hard to choose.
In the end, I have settled upon the fact that X-Men: The Last Stand has a strong core of teenage consumers. This is huge, because they are the driving force in the marketplace at this point. As tempted as I am to say that they are the key, I believe that The Da Vinci Code's controversy and the awesome drawing power of Tom Hanks will compensate. Adults only make a journey to theaters to see "big" projects, and that is good news for Ron Howard as his project definitely qualifies. I also generally rank my top ten selections based upon final box office rather than opening weekend expectations. My fear that Brett Ratner might break the hearts of many prevents me from writing it down as a $250 million earner just yet. If the quality is there, I will not be at all surprised to see the final chapter of the first mutant superhero trilogy win the month and possibly even the year. Since that is an unknown at the moment, I am going with my gut...and my gut says pick Tom Hanks. X-Men: The Last Stand is still going to be a $200 million performer. The only debates lies in how much extra the movie earns over that domestic total.
1) The Da Vinci Code
My wife told me for over two years that I should read this book. I gave her the polite, "That's nice, honey," and never took her up on the offer until last month. Recognizing what a box office behemoth Ron Howard's latest work was destined to be, I opened up the novel. To my complete shock, I loved the ideas presented. I readily acknowledge that the writing is lackluster throughout, but the logical exploration of religious evolution has captivated me. I have not found myself debating theories from a book to this degree since I first read Ken Grimwood's Replay many years ago.
Say what you will about Dan Brown (and if you are Catholic or Opus Dei, this would probably be a lot), he can back up an argument with facts. His exploration into the minimalization of women in current religion should be considered a moral imperative of a read for free thinkers. In addition, his cappers at the end of each chapter do an exquisite job of enticing a reader to go just a few pages further in the novel. It is the proverbial book that proves impossible to put down.
Even better, The Da Vinci Code lends itself perfectly to movie adaptation and this would be the case even if Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks were not onboard in the lead roles. The sweeping story arc climaxes in a battle of good against evil with a legendary artifact to be won: the Holy Grail. That's good stuff. The controversy about the subject matter only heightens the box office, too. The Da Vinci Code is poised to be one of the three biggest films of the summer. I would be stunned if domestic receipts fall short of $250 million.