October 2006 Forecast

By David Mumpower

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1) The Grudge 2

Halloween comprises approximately 3% of the October calendar, yet the box office month is always built around its presence. 2006 takes this philosophy to its logical extreme with three different top notch horror productions anchoring the schedule. The top two films of the month appear to be safer bets than the third one, but the reality is that this October lacks that true heavyweight to dwarf the rest of the contenders.

Getting the slight nod for top performer of October is Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to the eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head role that became her third $100 million earner (how quickly we forget Scooby-Doo and Scream 2). What all of these titles have in common is that they would have succeeded with pretty much anyone else in her part (okay, maybe not Kathy Bates but you get my point). The Grudge 2 promises more of the same with Amber Tamblyn taking on the role of the Gellar character's sister. Presumably, she will uncover the same otherworldly shenanigans that emotionally crippled her sibling. Whereas the first film offered one of the sleekest, creepiest trailers in recent memory, its successor focuses upon reminding people that pale-faced Japanese children are scary. Color me unimpressed. I just don't see it making more money than the original, but it should still scare up more than enough to guarantee a third title in the franchise.

2) Saw III

And speaking of third titles in franchises, we see the return of Saw for the third consecutive October. The catch this time is that Jigsaw (marvelous character actor Tobin Bell) is not running the show as much these days. Apparently jealous of Batman for having such a loyal ward, everyone's favorite mind games-playing serial killer has enlisted the aid of a former victim. Shawnee Smith, who first won our hearts as precocious, pregnant teen Rhonda in Summer School, has graduated to become a torturous murderer with rather unmistakable Daddy Issues. Saw II earned $13 million more on opening weekend and $30 million more in total box office than its predecessor and while I don't expect similar growth for the third outing, I do expect it to effectively match part two. That should be more than enough to take second place for the month.

3) The Departed

My site-mates Reagen Sulewski and Steve Mason both agree that The Departed is the heavyweight release this weekend. I have no reason to disagree. While Martin Scorsese's projects have not had huge openings in the past, the Who's Who of Hollywood actors anchoring the cast should counter-balance the director's struggles with immediate commercial appeal. The project was originally the recipient of lackluster buzz, but it has made a dramatic turnaround in recent days. 92% of critics at Rotten Tomatoes have fallen all over themselves praising the movie, and I strongly suspect this is a situation where movie audiences will agree. The Departed is poised to be a major end-of-year awards contender, and it should see constant box office for the next several weeks. I look it at 2006's answer to Syriana but with more financial success.

4) `Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

This is the spot in the forecast where a movie studio grows bold. Rather than do a sequel, New Line Cinema offers up a *prequel*. Wow. In your face, Lionsgate and Sony! Oh wait, I am projecting both of those productions to make a lot more money. In that case, never mind. The re-make of Texas Chainsaw Massacre delivered the goods in a lot of ways, particularly the performance of R. Lee Ermey as the sheriff harboring a secret. His return in the same role goes a long way in securing my interest in the project. Even so, I simply don't see this production having the same appeal as its predecessor.

5) Flags of Our Fathers

In the time I spend writing this segment, Clint Eastwood will have written, directed and starred in a movie. And no matter what the subject may be, I am certain it will be an awards contender upon release. Let's face it. At the tender age of 76, Eastwood has mastered the craft of movie creation to a degree that few (if any) in the industry have ever achieved. He can not only craft marvelous works of emotionally resonant art, but he does so using the fewest takes of any director in Hollywood. His mind creates virtual blueprints of various scenes and he has mastered the process of recreating them on celluloid in record time. As much as any person in this industry living or dead, Clint Eastwood is movie-making maestro. Flags of Our Fathers is the first of two titles he has created based on the same premise: World War II conflict in Iwo Jima that led to an iconic image of American victory. Like Million Dollar Baby in 2005, it is poised to become one of the word-of-mouth hits of the holiday season.

6) Man of the Year

We are roughly a month away from mid-term elections, and Robin Williams is here to capitalize upon the cynicism of a nation of jaded voters. Fresh off the unexpected (and disgusting) success of RV, Williams takes on the role of a Jon Stewart type who goes from covering politicians to accidentally being one. As part of a bit for his show, Williams decides to run for office a la Al Franken back in the late '70s on SNL (remember: the idea of Franken as a politician was a joke then). To his shock, the man wins and suddenly realizes he has no idea how to proceed. This sort of broad comedy can succeed if done well but we have seen with Wag the Dog and Head of State that audiences can be fickle about the subject matter. Too smart is just as bad as too obvious. Whether Williams will be able to walk the balance between the extremes remains to be seen but given his sleep-walking through RV, I am cautiously pessimistic here. I am expecting another Head of State in terms of quality but with slightly better box office.


7) Employee of the Month

Dane Cook is allegedly funny. I know this because all of the hip web sites, magazines and various other media outlets assure me he's the next big thing of comedy. Having sampled the abomination that is Dane Cook's Tourgasm on HBO, I can say with complete confidence that every one of them is wrong and I'm right. This guy makes Andy Dick look like Phil Hartman. Even so, Employee of the Month is a genial concept and offers clever casting in the other key roles with Jessica Simpson dating the ditsy, hot blonde (what acting range that will require!) and the brilliant Dax Shepard as Cook's romantic competition for Simpson's heart. The amiable commercials indicate gentle comedy for the masses and I think it could find a niche.

8) Marie Antoinette

BOP fave Sofia Coppola finally follows up the 2003 masterpiece Lost in Translation with a loose adaptation of Antonia Fraser's biopic on the French queen. Spider-Man love interest Kirsten Dunst takes on the titular role while Coppola's cousin, Jason Schwartzman portrays Louis XVI. Early word-of-mouth has been famously mixed with its reception at Cannes flip-flopping between standing ovations and over-zealous boos. While I am not expecting this production to match Lost in Translation's $44 million, I do think it should have a strong enough awards season to justify this position in the forecast. And no, that's not exactly a glowing recommendation about its box office.

9) Flicka

The classic 1941 children's story by Mary O'Hara gets dusted off and updated as a 2006 family film about a girl who loves her horse...but not in a Bachelor Party way, perverts. The premise is tried and true, but I have to question the timing of the release. We are not even a year removed from Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, another Girl's Best Friend movie starring Dakota Fanning...and that title was not exactly a blockbuster. There needs to be some separation between such similarly themed projects and 11 months does not strike me as enough.

10) The Marine

See No Evil, the WWE's previous effort at a movie production capitalizing on one of its stars, earned a meager $15 million, and that was a horror film, a genre that generally is good for at least some easy box office money. The Marine is a god-awful-looking action film starring the modern Lex Luger, John Cena. This vanilla Rock wannabe is utterly toothless and in fact largely despised by the same fanbase likely to support The Marine - diehard wrestling fans. There is, however, one notable exception. Cena has a weird appeal with 12- to 15-year-old girls. Why is this important? That demographic is the same one that turned Titanic into the most successful movie of all time. They also continue to be one of the most loyal movie-going demographics in the current box office climate. The question is whether they'll turn out for an action flick starring their beloved heartthrob. I would hope that most of them have better taste, but then again, it's the same group who used to get all swoony over Lance Bass. God help us all if The Marine does well. Fortunately, it won't.



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