By Steve Mason
June 27, 2006
Steve Mason is a Los Angeles-based talk show host for 710 ESPN Radio. He has previously hosted the nationally-syndicated "The Late, Late Radio Show with Tom Snyder & Steve Mason" for CBS Radio and worked the last five Olympic Games for NBC and Westwood One Radio Network. He is also President of
Flagship Theatres which owns the University Village Theatres near downtown Los Angeles (www.FlagshipMovies.com) and Cinemas Palme d'Or in Palm Desert, California (www.ThePalme.com).
Superman Returns (Warner Bros) has become the most critical release of the summer – both for Warner Bros specifically and the industry as a whole. Finally, tracking for the new Bryan Singer-directed superhero flick has headed north, and the awareness for the $210-million dollar epic has found traction.
After the disastrous disaster pic Poseidon ($57 million on a budget of $160 million) and a less than stirring The Lake House ($29 million in two weeks), Warner Bros needs a hit. In fact, WB has generated only $321 million at the box office with its 12 2006 releases, placing it last among Hollywood's major players.
Somewhere along the line, somebody at Warner Bros decided to play 'the gay card'. It is true that Bryan Singer's previous superhero films (X-men and X2: X-Men United) had a certain gay subtext. (In X2, a teen with super powers "came out" to his parents as a mutant, to which his Mom asked, "Have you tried not being a mutant?") But the key in a strategy like this is to subtly court the gay audience without the broader audience becoming too aware of it.
By the time Brandon Routh ended up on the cover of The Advocate, a leading gay magazine, "the gay card" had become a "gay sledgehammer". Combined with a round of flaccid, ineffective TV commercials and a general lack of star power, WB was on the brink of a bomb in tights.
There was never any question that the film delivers. The question became, "Can Warner Bros deliver an audience?"
Last week's Hollywood premiere, which included an appearance by NBA superhero Shaquille O'Neal (the night after he led the Miami Heat to its first ever championship), a steady stream of effusive reviews and an updated ad campaign with a heaping sense of urgency, and Superman Returns is tracking at blockbuster levels.
WB has scheduled Tuesday night screenings to get a jump on the five-day weekend, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest doesn't sail until July 7th, giving Superman Returns about nine days with multiplexes to itself, The opening weekend number along with the generated spin will determine whether or not the picture flies to $250 million.
Spider-Man 2 opened on the Wednesday before Independence Day and performed as follows:
Wednesday before the 4th - $40 million
Friday, Saturday and Sunday - $88 million
Wednesday through Tuesday - $192 million
Cumulative gross - $370 million
Superman may be able to leap buildings in a single bound, but he cannot possibly match Spidey. Warner Bros would be thrilled with $70 million or better for Tuesday night through Monday and $125 million through Tuesday the 4th. That would give Superman Returns a puncher's chance to clear the quarter of a billion dollar mark.
For all of the talk about whether Bryan Singer has made a gay Superman, there is no way that this Man of Steel can be as gay as Pirates' Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp's flouncing and preening in pirate garb makes him the "gayest" hero of the summer – hands down.
Wordplay (IFC Films) – Expanded to 45 screens on 6/23
As promised in a previous BOP column, this quirky and wildly-entertaining doc generated a per-screen average of $7,150. That brings its two-week total to $328,000, and the expansion will continue this week. With guest appearances from President Bill Clinton, Senator Bob Dole and Daily Show host Jon Stewart, this profile of the NY Times' crossword guru has a chance to be IFC's most successful title ever. Wordplay is playing a lot like THINKfilm's Spellbound, which generated $5.7 million in domestic box office.
The Great New Wonderful (First Independent Films) – Opened on eight screens on 6/23
A healthy $4,810 per-screen average for this heartfelt and funny look at ordinary New Yorkers one year after the 9/11 tragedy. Director Danny Leiner delivers on Sam Catlin's excellent script with a terrific cast, including Edie Falco, Tony Shaloub, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Colbert and Olympia Dukakis. Will this film perform when it gets beyond the East Coast? I suspect that art film audiences everywhere will be drawn to this subtle meditation on the way that terrible day changed all of us forever.
Road to Guantanamo (IDP Films) – Opened on 15 screens on 6/23
This is a remarkable docu-drama from director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) and Mat Whitecross. Through a mix of interviews and re-enactments, we learn the story of "The Tipton Three" – three innocent British Muslim men who were held at Guantanamo after being arrested in Afghanistan. Harrowing, timely and must be seen. This film will cause a stir in every town where it opens.
Who Killed the Electric Car? (Sony Classics) – Limited release this Wednesday, 6/28
Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth gets some "green" competition, and this is a far better film. Whereas the Gore film is a glorified PowerPoint presentation, Electric Car is the filmic explanation of why we aren't all driving more eco-friendly vehicles. The General Motors EV1 (electric car) could have revolutionized the auto industry and put us all in vehicles that produce no emissions. Sony Classics managed to get this trailer on-screen with the Gore film at many locations, which will guarantee a solid opening.
The Devil Wears Prada (Fox) – Wide release this Friday, 6/30
When Fox planned the release of this film, they went on the assumption that Supermen Returns would be a traditional superhero pic geared for young men 12-24. That was before we found out that this Superman might be gay, and before Bryan Singer called Superman Returns his "first chick flick". Despite Meryl Streep's reportedly icily brilliant performance, when the WB tracking for the Man of Steel took off, it severely limited the upside for The Devil Wears Prada. With $125 million a real possibility for the Singer epic, there isn't much room for counter-programming. Although it is tracking well with women 25+, Prada is unlikely to top $20 million Friday through Tuesday and topping $50 million in total domestic box office for its theatrical run would be an upset.