June 2006 Forecast
By David Mumpower
I suspect that most people will favor the man in the cape as the top title of June. I am not, however, one of them. Cars has received a rare degree of criticism from people due to the fact that the early teasers were considered shaky, at least by Pixar's lofty standards. I am not of the same opinion. I think that Cars looks as visually stimulating as any project the animation king has ever done. In addition, I have taken a very basic approach to the appeal of Cars. As a boy, I remember exactly to which toys I would gravitate on Christmas morning. Anything with wheels that would allow me to say "vroom vroom" to my heart's content was a great present. I know from enjoying my nephews' smiles over the holidays that nothing has changed in this regard. The remote controls have gotten fancier and some of the toys have grown gigantic, but the premise is still the same. Little boys love cars. This idea has always been killer for that reason. And at the end of the day, no name brand in movies has built up the degree of trust that Pixar has. I will be surprised by box office less than $250 million domestically.
2) Superman Returns
Just as was the case in May, there are two box office juggernauts at the top of the June list. I have gone back and forth on which one to pick for a while now. The Spider-Man franchise notwithstanding, $200 million appears to be the range for comic book adaptations of huge licenses. Batman Begins, X-Men and X2: X-Men United all fell around this range. X-Men: The Last Stand isn't even a lock to go significantly beyond the $230 million range. Now consider that The Incredibles was considered by many to be a box office disappointment by Pixar standards, earning "only" $261 million. And we are only three years removed from Finding Nemo being the surprise success story of 2003 summer box office with domestic receipts right at $340 million. An upset by the man in the cape won't surprise me but based on the empirical data, the return of the most boring superhero in the comic book continuum will fall short of the top spot.
Of course, finishing second this month is not too shabby. Superman Returns has a ton going for it. Bryan Singer's Midas touch is what consecrated the X-Men franchise as worthy of box office glory. Here, he has cleverly cast Kevin Spacey in the Lex Luthor role Gene Hackman made famous almost three decades ago. I trust Singer, the genius behind one of the best movies of all time, The Usual Suspects. Despite this, I have grave concerns about the quality of his first Superman outing. The unknown he cast as the titular lead, Brandon Routh, came across so poorly in the early trailers that they eventually cut all of his dialogue out of the marketing campaign. Kate Bosworth isn't much better. And Superman Returns has a very strange situation in that it could wind up being outshone by a television series on the now-defunct WB. Can you imagine the hoots and hollers if Spacey's Luthor is less appealing than Michael Rosenbaum's? I take the move up to a Wednesday release as a showing of confidence towards the project, but a Hulk-like word-of-mouth scenario is still something that concerns me. I expect final receipts in the $215 million area, but this one's an elevator prospect. Numbers could be much higher or much lower depending on how good it is.
The brilliance of the premise for the latest Adam Sandler comedy is its universality. All of us have joked about having the capability to fast forward, rewind and pause our lives at some point or another. The difference is that Sandler has made a movie out of it, turning himself into a human TiVo. As is the case with most Sandler flicks, the point is to not over-analyze the situation. Over time, audiences have conveyed to the former Remote Control Stud Boy exactly what they want from him. Comfortable, safe humor with the occasional flying tackle is what we want from the man. He has sagely listened to us ever since the Little Nicky fiasco. Mr. Deeds, Anger Management, 50 First Dates and The Longest Yard all wound up with domestic receipts north of $120 million. Click will continue that streak, once again proving that Sandler's broad comedy roles are among the safest plays in Hollywood.
4) The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
The first two films in the franchise earned $144 and $127 million respectively. Those numbers merit a sequel. The catch is that Vin Diesel refused to do the second project and 2 Fast 2 Furious died without him. The movie was critically reviled and for good reason. It sports some of the worst dialogue ever seen in cinema. Don't believe me? It's being aired on Fox Monday evening. Watch it and admire Paul Walker's ability to act in such a wooden capacity you would swear he's pre-Blue Fairy Pinocchio. Okay, don't do that. I wouldn't wish 2 Fast 2 Furious on my worst enemy. The point is that it was clever for the franchise to re-boot with a new star (Lucas Black) and a new setting (given the title, I'm guessing Tokyo). A dramatic change was needed to freshen up the premise for a jaded target audience of savvy teens. Since the cars are the real stars anyway, all that was needed for this film to succeed was a promise that the unpleasantness of its predecessor would be left behind. Now that this is done, Tokyo Drift should have no problem opening well and becoming a huge hit on DVD.
5) The Break-Up
I vacillated on whether to put Nacho Libre above or below The Break-Up. They are entirely different sorts of comedy projects, and each has its upside. I suspect that The Break-Up's legs are going to be shortened a bit by the expected poor word-of-mouth, but Vince Vaughn has circled into star territory over the past couple of years. His presence in what would otherwise be deemed a chick flick should compensate for the hostile negative reviews. Jennifer Aniston remains the opposite of a box office draw, but after Old School, Wedding Crashers, and Dodgeball, Vaughn has earned a strong degree of trust from his fan-base. I expect an opening in the $30 million range, and I do think it has an outside shot of $100 if people don't absolutely revile it.
6) Nacho Libre
Describing the pleasant joy of this trailer is complicated. A fat guy with a bad mustache leaves the monastery long enough to live a secret life as a lucha libre. Yes, this sounds ridiculously stupid in theory. But it's Jack Black. Also, the commercials are funny. I mean There's Something about Mary funny. I do have concerns that this is an example of everything funny being shown in the ads, but Nacho Libre is one of the most unique comedy premises in recent memory. I can't help but be jazzed for it, and I suspect it will wind up being one of the true sleepers of the summer box office season. An interesting question I've had while debating Nacho Libre versus The Break-Up is which actor is more of a star at this point, Black or Vince Vaughn. I'm inclined to say Black mainly due to King Kong, but Vaughn's depth of recent work is impressive.
7) Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties
First of all, that's a great title. In addition, I understand the rationale behind dismissing this project as a cheap follow-up to a successful original. That's because Garfield 2 is exactly such a project. Even so, being a quick knock-off didn't stop Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed from earning $84 million domestically. Sure, that's significantly less than $153 million the first film made and yes, Garfield's $75 million is lower than either of those. That tapers my expectations a bit, but I still expect A Tail of Two Kitties to wind up in the $50-$60 million range before finding solid life on home video. Depressing, innit?
8) The Omen
I had much higher hopes for this project a month ago than I do today. Let's be blunt here. The early word on this is piss-poor. The Omen was one of the most terrifying movies of my childhood, surpassed only by the Anthony Hopkins puppet thriller, Magic. I had presumed that the premise of a youthful scion of Satan would be the type of horror premise a studio could never screw up. I appear to be mistaken in this regard. Even so, it has name brand recognition. Given that we are in a box office era where horror films are the safest play in the industry, one with a safe track record should still be good for a $22-25 million opening.
9) The Lake House
Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves re-unite for the first time since Reeves decided he was too good (or, God forbid, too smart?) for the Speed sequel. Their new project is a re-make of Siworae, a South Korean film by Hyun-seung Lee. The tale is a time-traveling romance involving two tenants of the same apartment. They are separated by two years, but discover that a magic mailbox (yes, I'm serious) allows them to communicate through time. Bullock and Reeves had tremendous chemistry together in Speed and this is the only pure romance in the early summer box office period. It will fit a niche and could do a surprising amount of business given the star power involved. I wouldn't advise underestimating this one.
10) The Devil Wears Prada
Wait, Meryl Streep is portraying a villainous psycho bitch? How will she ever pull off this acting stretch? Thank God we're talking about one of the most gifted natural thespians of our generation. Otherwise, she could never succeed at playing...well, herself. The story is based on the Lauren Weisberger novel of the same name. The story involves an impressionable, wide-eyed young woman's first experience with the Manhattan magazine industry's darker side, namely a venomous editor-in-chief who employs her as an assistant. The Boss from Hell premise is going to strike a chord with some folks, but I'm not sure how much wide ranging appeal it has.