December 2006 Forecast

By Michael Bentley

December 1, 2006

Is this another one of those Geico insurance commercials?

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1) Night at the Museum

You know, I'm just going to come right out and say it: I'm not much of a Ben Stiller fan. After There's Something About Mary, he hasn't had a single role that I found funny or that I didn't find incredibly annoying. That said, his latest film, Night at the Museum, has all the makings of being a big-time hit. The premise of the story is pretty simple. Stiller plays a security guard at a natural history museum and one night he...somehow ends ups setting off an ancient curse which gives life to everything in the museum. And I mean everything, from the little Neanderthal statues to bugs, cowboys, Theodore Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams) and of course, dinosaurs. Opening the week before Christmas, Stiller and 20th Century Fox should be getting some nice presents in their stockings this year.

Opening weekend prediction: $44 million.

2) Charlotte's Web

Most all of us have read the classic children's book, or seen the animated movie. It is a timeless tale. Wilbur is a pig, destined to end up with the same fate as most other pigs. Charlotte is a talented spider with a gift for writing words in her webs. Together they team up, with the goal of saving Wilbur. And of course there are several other memorable creatures on the farm as well.

And now it has been updated for the 21st century. Somewhat reminiscent of Babe, this fuses live-action with CGI elements for the animals. An impressive cast of actors have lent their voices to the critters, including Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Buscemi, while Dakota Fanning takes on a human role. It's really a near-perfect story for families, especially those with younger kids. Depending how good the movie actually is, it could very easily end up on top for the month.

Opening weekend: $39 million.

3) Eragon

This year's entry in the annual holiday-time race to become the next Lord of the Rings is Eragon. Based on a book by Christopher Paolini (who was a young teenager when he started writing it), the fantasy story is about a teenage farm boy named Eragon who discovers a beautiful egg...a dragon's egg. It hatches and the two become close friends, but Eragon soon realizes that he is a Dragon Rider and the only one who can save his people from an evil king.

Since the story is so new, compared to a much more established fantasy story like Lord of the Rings, it obviously won't be pulling in $300 million anytime soon. But it might be able to appeal to younger Harry Potterites, as well as others who just want to get away for a couple hours and enjoy some nice special effects. One thing is for sure, though. If the appeal just isn't there and it bombs, you can imagine that Hollywood won't be so quick to rubber stamp just any adaptation of a fantasy epic.

Opening weekend: $33 million.


4) The Pursuit of Happyness

In what is shaping up to be a very crowded mid-December weekend, Will Smith debuts his newest feature film with The Pursuit of Happyness. No, that's not a typo, and in fact the misspelling is actually a key part of the plot. In the story Smith is a down-on-his-luck man struggling to get by and care for his young son. Eventually he gets an unpaid job, which becomes the big break he needed, and this changes their lives immensely.

Perhaps he is just smart about choosing films that will be sure-fire hits, but Smith has had a pretty remarkable run of success over the years. With the exception of back-to-back setbacks with The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali, all of his films have grossed $100 million or more, going all the way back to Independence Day in 1996. And, perhaps not surprisingly, those two misses are the only pure dramas that he has done. The story has an inspirational and uplifting tone, but that could spell trouble for Happyness. It should still manage a solid opening on the strength of Smith's name and beyond that it is all up to word-of-mouth.

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