There's big money on the table this November -- big, big money tied up in massive movie budgets -- and only a handful of titles have that big, built-in audience that are usually associated with a stratospheric budget. Studio executives have to be wringing their hands as the holiday season approaches. Will they have something to be thankful for, or will these execs be getting coal in their stockings for Christmas?
Top ten, by opening weekend gross:
1. The Matrix Revolutions - Warner Bros
Guess who's back, back again, Neo's back, tell a friend. Yes, kids, Neo and the gang are back after a few months off, and they're back to take more of your money. If you're at all like me, you saw The Matrix Reloaded two or more times, bought the game and the DVD, and are anxiously anticipating November 5th. I think moviegoers' juices might have been a little more anxious when Reloaded came out in May, but that shouldn't take too much away from Revolutions' opening weekend. Give Warner Bros. credit for good timing: they brought out Reloaded after X-Men 2 had begun to lose steam; with Revolutions, WB's biggest competition comes in the form of two kids' flicks, Brother Bear and Elf. Without getting into the great R-rated debate, I expect Revolutions to give Harry Potter a run for his money in the November record book, opening around $80 million for the three-day portion of the weekend, with a frontloaded $55 million coming from Wednesday and Thursday.
5-day open: $135 million
2. Cat in the Hat - Universal
Sitting in the Elf screening I was at last week, filled with kids and parents, I was aghast at how silent the theatre was during The Cat in the Hat trailer. The only laughs came at the end of the piece, which was quite weak considering that everyone knows the story and there's nothing to spoil. The obvious question becomes, how does Cat in the Hat compare with the Grinch? The Mean One grossed $55 million during its first three days in 2000, but that release seemed more magical, and more on the radar than The Cat in the Hat. On the other hand, I think these films are easy to sell, and Universal should have no problem selling this one to the masses (when are they going to start is a good question). Three years later, I think Cat in the Hat approaches the Grinch's $55 million, but comes up at short, and then suffers from unsteady legs.
Open: $50 million
3. Haunted Mansion - Buena Vista
After Eddie Murphy made a mistake of Holy Man proportions with The Adventures of Pluto Nash, he's back in his fifth family movie since 2001. Three of those films have opened to $25 million plus and then gone on to gross more than $100 million, making Eddie a real force in the family flick world. Now, hot on the heels of the uber-successful Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney is presenting another theme-park influenced film in the form of The Haunted Mansion. Like POTC, Haunted Mansion doesn't come cheap as director Rob Minkoff (Lion King, Stuart Little) and the Mouse House spent $90 million giving birth to this one. TV ads started weeks ago, as Buena Vista is smartly building awareness early. Competition on the same weekend includes the horrible-looking Timeline, and the more adult Bad Santa. Look for big things from Eddie and The Haunted Mansion.
3-day Open: $47 million
4. Master and Commander - 20th Century Fox
How pissed do you think Fox and Russell Crowe were when Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean became a $300 million plus earner? After seeing South Park's "Russell Crowe: Fightin' Around the World" I would recommend to Johnny Depp that he stay away from Russell at the Golden Globes. Seriously, though, Crowe is looking for a fight again in Master and Commander, the Fox epic that cost the studio an out-of-hand $135 million to make. This week's cover story in Time Magazine makes Crowe look like an egotistical jerk, and the trailer for Master isn't helping things either. Note to Fox: if this film isn't any good, you better change the marketing so that you draw more of your investment out of the opening weekend -- it is an action film, right?
Open: $38 million
5. Looney Tunes: Back In Action - Warner Bros
Are you telling me that no one at Warner Bros had ever heard of Monkeybone? Brendan Fraser's last mix of animation and live action for 20th Century Fox was one of the big disasters of 2001. Monkeybone carried a production budget of $70 million and grossed only $5.5 million (that's $5.5 million total -- not opening weekend). Fraser did have big-time kid success seven years ago with the $100 million earner George of the Jungle, but that was, well, seven years ago. For WB's sake, let's hope those crazy cartoons can sell this one to the kids -- the marketing is frenetic enough to work, and Space Jam, the last Looney Tunes film, opened to a decent $27.5 million in November 1996. Other than the fact that Brendan Fraser ain't no Michael Jordan, there's no reason why this shouldn't find the same success or more, due to higher ticket prices.
Open: $32 million
6. Gothika - Warner Bros
Can Halle Berry open a film on her own? In Berry's prelude to Catwoman, the ingenue plays a criminal psychologist taken over by a vengeful spirit -- a very Halloweeny film opening closer to Thanksgiving. Originally scheduled to open in a very busy October, WB probably made a very smart move holding this film off instead of messing with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scary Movie 3. The release delay also gave WB more time to market this project; the horror angle is unique in November, and that uniqueness could pay off.
Open: $28 million
7. Timeline - Paramount
Leave it to Paramount to make their only film of November a dog of epic proportions. Timeline, based on a Michael Crichton novel, cost the studio $80 million to make, and if the marketing is any indication, the studio is going to say sayonara to half of that. Crichton's last two movies that were based on his novels have gone over like a lead weight - the last was The 13th Warrior (open: $10.3 million, total: $32.7 million) based on the novelist's Eaters of the Dead, prior to that was the god-awful Sphere (open: $18.6 million, total: $37.1 million). At the very least, Timeline's production process was smoother than both of the aforementioned films were, but they didn't star Paul Walker.
3-day Open: $20 million
Elf really could be the surprise of the month. Will Ferrell returns from Old School in Elf, opening this weekend from New Line Cinema. It will be very interesting to see how Elf plays out at the box office -- will parents dissuade kids from seeing it because of Ferrell's hilarious (and raunchy) part in Old School, or will older teens and parents be turned off because this looks like a film strictly for kids? Having seen the film, I was surprised at how young it played, but even Ron Howard's Grinch didn't have this kind of warmth. New Line has pushed preview screenings hard over the last couple of weeks, and early positive word-of-mouth could help this one along over its first three days versus Neo and Trinity.
Open: $18 million
9. Bad Santa
As a direct opposite to Will Ferrell's Elf, we get to deal with Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa. BBT dresses up as Santa so he can rob a shopping mall -- that's until he meets Bernie Mac's Mall Cop, and of course, hilarity ensues. This might be a tough sell for Dimension/Miramax/Disney. The film co-stars the late John Ritter, which may make it tough to market (although Disney had no problem turning ABC's 8 Simple Rules into a huge hit after the death of its star).
3-day Open: $8 million
10. The Missing
I really know very little about this film, other than the fact that it's being released on November 19th in limited release. What I do know is this: it stars two folks desperately in need of a hit, Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett. It's directed by the king of schmaltz Ron Howard, and it has enough pieces of action and romance to draw both men and women. Lastly, it has a great ad on the tube, and towards the end of 2003, like it or not, that's pretty much all you need.
Estimate: $9 million (at wide release)