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December Forecast

By Kim Hollis

Now that Tim Allen has proven that Santa Claus still rules, it's time to uncover who's on the jolly old elf's naughty and nice lists. An assortment of films open in the month of December, and while the holidays generally mean that movies see smaller opening weekends as people know that they can see the movie during their days off, they also tend to have some phenomenal staying power as word-of-mouth and the need to escape cabin fever draw people to see good stuff that's already in release.

December is also a month for very limited scale releases that are put in a minuscule number of theaters for Oscar® qualification. Obviously, only a finite number of these will wind up as nominees, and an even smaller number will ride those nominations to big box office success (see: A Beautiful Mind). It all adds up to a big challenge as far as forecasting goes, particularly given the fact that 12 wide releases and an ever-growing list of 27 limited release films are slated to hit theaters over the course of the month. As such, it's impossible to do justice to certain films of note in a simple top ten, so I'm going to go ahead and list my ten candidates for biggest box office with a few honorable mentions listed at the end.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ($305 million)

I'm obviously not going out on any sort of limb here. This sequel to the amazingly successful Fellowship of the Ring is poised to reign over all comers this month with little to no difficulty. The first film in the Rings trilogy started off somewhat slight, as December films are wont to do, but The Fellowship of the Ring went on to have such remarkable staying power that it wound up as the number nine all-time money earner in the United States, and the number five film worldwide. A huge load of Academy Awards® nominations didn't hurt its endurance any, and an even greater fanbase has emerged thanks to the magnificent DVDs that have been available since August.

The general trend of blockbuster-scale trilogies is for the second film to be the least successful dollar-wise. That tendency has held true in series from the first set of Star Wars movies to the current group, not to mention the Indiana Jones films. Even so, rules are never hard and fast and if any set of films (other than The Matrix) has the chance to rise above the propensity for declining box office, it's this one. To start, The Two Towers is known for being the more action-filled of the three books, with Fellowship of the Ring featuring a substantial amount of exposition. It's a bit more eagerly anticipated and if anything, it's being more heavily promoted as well. In the debit column is the fact that The Two Towers may not receive the same awards recognition (and subsequent box office boost) that its predecessor did; however, it's way too early to be making that call. If there is a drop-off from the first to the second, my belief is that it's going to be slight. No matter the final number, unless another film somehow manages to shock the world, The Two Towers will be the one to rule them all when it comes to final (not to mention debut weekend) numbers.

2. Catch Me If You Can ($200 million)

Tom Hanks continues to be a box office force, the vaguely disappointing performance of Road to Perdition notwithstanding. That film is considered a stumble, yet it still made in excess of $100 million before it exited theaters. Director Steven Spielberg has also supposedly lost his luster in the eyes of fans who believed he could do no wrong, with A.I. Artificial Intelligence coming in at $78.56 (and bewildering many folks), while a Tom Cruise-fronted Minority Report couldn't muster more than $132 million. The final touch is Leonardo DiCaprio, who hasn't been in a movie since 2000's The Beach, and there is certainly question as to whether the teenage girls who loved him and were a huge factor in Titanic's push to be the top-grossing movie of all time might view him as passé.

All of these points are sure to come into question; however, all that really matters when it's all said and done is whether the film is marketed well. In that regard, there can be no doubt that DreamWorks has put together a wonderfully mannered and stylish campaign that is sure to attract a variety of people. The current commercials running through the rotation are fantastic (and are in fact the best movie ads I've seen in ages) and the trailer is truly appealing. DiCaprio is wildly charismatic and Hanks is the perfect figure to lend the picture an air of credibility for those who might otherwise skip the film due to the younger actor's presence. This story of a con artist who manages to pass himself off as a number of different identities has a Fugitive meets Ocean's 11 vibe and with the holiday longevity boost, Catch Me If You Can is primed to be one of the year's biggest films.

3. Maid in Manhattan ($150 million)

Having seen this trite atrocity, it kills me to acknowledge that the film going to be absolutely huge. People love Cinderella stories, and Maid in Manhattan is as direct a translation to the modern day as you're ever going to find. The marketing attack for the romantic comedy has been well-planned, with sneak previews that have gone very well in addition to a heavy saturation of J-Lo on talk shows and on the radio. It's almost certainly no accident that her current single is titled Jenny from the Block, and emphasizes her Bronx roots (a direct parallel to her character in the film). That song is currently at number three on the charts, giving evidence to the fact that her popularity is as strong as it ever was. She's truly a diva who stands out as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood today, with her recent engagement to Ben "World's Sexiest Man" Affleck giving her additional public awareness

All combined, Maid in Manhattan has the perfect formula for holiday success. Look for the film to have some enduring longevity at the box office as it should be a good word-of-mouth movie (my bad opinion of the picture excepted, of course).

4. Two Weeks Notice ($125 million)

This one only falls below Maid in Manhattan because its commercials are less impressive. Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy is practically a license to print money; audiences are much more interested in seeing her in these types of roles than her serious turn in the recent thriller Murder by Numbers. As if Bullock isn’t enough, her costar just happens to be one Hugh Grant, an actor whose name is strongly associated with rom-coms for the vast majority of movie-going audiences. Put them together and who cares what the story even is? The studio is being quite savvy with the marketing, aiming it solidly at the female audience who watches early morning talk shows and various other highly targeted programs. Two Weeks Notice may not start huge out of the gate, but it will almost certainly have legs that will propel it to some very satisfactory final numbers indeed.

5. About Schmidt ($115 million)

Jack Nicholson has every chance of garnering an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a retired insurance man searching for redemption. Audiences love the actor in these quirky, neuroses-filled roles for whatever reason, and the awards buzz and critical reaction is certainly reminiscent of As Good As It Gets, which translated Academy Awards success to big box office in its year of release. Of all the films opening limited this month, About Schmidt definitely looks to be the one with the most mainstream appeal and should ride that widespread interest to a very successful run in theaters.

6. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind ($110 million)

Sam Rockwell may not be a household name, but if any film is poised to show the public what an appealing, charismatic and talented performer he is, this will be the one. Based on current awards screening schedules, Confessions certainly appears to be the movie that Miramax will push the hardest. And really, is there any question why? Though Rockwell isn’t a widely known name (despite phenomenal turns in films such as The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, and the unknown Safe Men), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has an amazing pedigree. It’s the first directorial effort for George Clooney, who also costars. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Academy Award nominee for Being John Malkovich in 1999, adapted the script from Chuck Barris’ book about his life as a television producer, game show host…and CIA assassin. Finally, supporting cast members include Drew Barrymore and Really Big Star Julia Roberts. And honestly, it might be the best chance executive producer Steven Soderbergh has for an Oscar this year, given the dismal performance of Solaris and the critical rebukes of Full Frontal.

Call it gut feeling, call it whatever you like, but this film just feels like a winner. The trailer is subversive and winning and the story about a well-known ‘70s icon being a hitman for the CIA is extremely intriguing and unique.

7. Antwone Fisher ($100 million)

Last year’s Best Actor at the Academy Awards, Denzel Washington, makes his directorial debut with this film about a sailor prone to violent outbursts who is sent to a Navy psychiatrist for help, resulting in a journey to recovery. In addition to his directing duties, Washington also plays the psychiatrist, with newcomer Derek Luke playing the young sailor. Washington, ever an audience and awards committee favorite, is still riding a lot of goodwill thanks to his win and this film will most certainly benefit. It may not be a big winner when awards nominations are announced, but should at least be a contender.

8. Star Trek: Nemesis ($87 million)

It’s been a few years since the Next Generation gang last ventured into theaters, and they’re back with new bad guys and a somewhat intriguing storyline. As far as box office performance goes, the Star Trek films have been up and down, and I’m afraid this one might suffer from a decline in interest over the past several years. Despite that fact, it’s going to have middling box office returns as the die-hard fans will almost assuredly turn out along with the mildly curious.

9. Gangs of New York ($75 million)

Finally! The Monty Python Gumbys hit the big screen!

This movie just oozes of awfulness. It was delayed from its original opening date last December and contentious arguments between director Scorsese and the Miramax Weinsteins have been rather widely rumored. Its primary selling point is that it stars Leonardo DiCaprio - and while he certainly doesn’t hurt Catch Me If You Can any, he’s not a big boost for this film, either.

I say all that and then I take a moment to pause…DiCaprio was also the primary star of an overblown, way-over-budget, oft-delayed film with all sorts of negative press back in 1997. That film went on to become the biggest movie ever in box office history, both domestically and worldwide. Still, I feel quite safe in saying that Gangs of New York is no Titanic.

Though Titanic was sad, long and glossy, it was also romantic and somehow resonating. Gangs of New York is about just what it says: gangs. It’s going to be violent, rough and possibly disturbing. We’re also not looking at a typical gangster film, but rather a movie about 1800s New York natives who battle incoming Irish immigrants with top hats, sticks and other seemingly rudimentary tools (that’s the impression the trailer gives, anyway). Fans of Scorsese are going to be interested, but the general public probably won’t be. Even so, the film will probably be able to ride a wave of curious cinephiles to middle-of-the-line receipts, but not enough to recover its budget.

10. The Wild Thornberrys Movie ($72 million)

I could have put any one of four movies in the ten slot and felt pretty good about it, but I decided to give the Thornberrys the edge since it’s a family film solidly positioned during the holidays. Nickelodeon films are entirely confounding. Rugrats and Jimmy Neutron have been solid successes on the big screen, but toon characters like Doug and Hey Arnold! have been substantially less lucky. The Wild Thornberrys is a cartoon more in the vein of Rugrats, though, so much so that the two families will be paired in a feature film to be released in the summer of 2003. Advertising is already making the rounds during children’s programs and even during morning talk shows, so awareness should be fairly high amongst both the kiddies and their parents. Since there aren’t that many new family films coming out during the holidays (apart from the dubbed Italian film Pinocchio), Nickelodeon should be the main box office addressee.

Honorable Mentions

The Hot Chick

Don’t ask me why, but people love Rob Schneider in these silly comedies. Both Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and The Animal were wildly successful for what they were (with Deuce being a monster video hit) and The Hot Chick seems to be very similar in tone, though with perhaps more appeal to females.

Drumline

This film is my pick for breakout hit of the month. The trailer is a blast, and it’s got appeal for a unique demographic.

Analyze That

I’m afraid I’m just not feeling it for this sequel. It looks painfully unfunny, both in commercials and trailers, and movie audiences are going to get that same sense. Maybe people are tired of the DeNiro comedy hour (if so, the bell may be tolling for Meet the Fockers).

Chicago

Musicals just don’t usually do big business, and this one looks to be much more self serious than last year’s Academy Award nominee Moulin Rouge (and that’s with MR being a tragedy, people). It’s one I’m looking very forward to on a personal level but it’s not going to have much universality.

  • Read Tim Briody's December forecast
  • Read Walid Habboub's December forecast
  • Read David Mumpower's December forecast
  • Read Stephanie Star Smith's December forecast

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    Thursday, November 23, 2017
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