March Forecast

By Kim Hollis

Celibacy. War. Cross-dressers. Reality shows. Vampires. Homicidal hosts of children’s television programs.

Though independently these subjects might seem to have very little commonality, they form the backbone of the stories behind just a few of the different movies that can be expected to impact the box office in the month of March. And impact they will, as the films on the release schedule represent the best combination of quality (on paper) I have ever seen for a single given month. There’s a distinct likelihood that a number of records will be broken, from largest March opener ever to highest overall box office for the month of March.

In anticipation of the month to come, I’m taking a look at the 11 films that I think will have the greatest effect on audiences at the box office. Why 11, you ask? The basic answer is this: I am so excited about the film that I have forecast for the number 11 spot that I simply couldn’t bear to leave it out. Running the gamut from dark comedy to action to old classic, these 11 movies represent a wide variety of viewing choices that will capture a number of different demographics as they vie for dominance in the numbers battle.

11. Death to Smoochy

“I don’t love him! I loathe him!”

Though I find the box office prospects of this film entirely difficult to grasp, it has outstanding peripheral buzz and a killer (heh) concept. Rainbow Rudolph (Robin Williams) has been recently fired from his job as host of a children’s television show for payola and, among other things, being entirely insane. When Sheldon Mopes (Ed Norton) drives the show to success with his purple rhino character named Smoochy, Rudolph plots the ultimate in revenge.

On the surface, this concept may seem tough to swallow, but the poster (you can see it up above) is ingenious and the trailer is hilarious and receiving a lot of attention for what would seemingly be a potentially small release. Still a month from release, the trailer is the 12th most requested at Yahoo! and the movie itself is ranked 348 on IMDb pro’s MOVIEMeter. That number is quite low in all actuality, but I expect that Warner Bros. realizes it has a potential sleeper on its hands and will market it wisely. Look for some clever television ads to come in the next couple of weeks and for people to start discussing the film as they notice the trailer in theaters. The first of three films to be released in 2002 that will allow Williams to explore his dark side, Death to Smoochy promises to deliver a quirky and devious pleasure. Here’s hoping the execution (I swear I’ll stop now) is exceptional.

10. Sorority Boys

Another flick that I’m guessing will come out of nowhere to shock prognosticators is this offering from Buena Vista. Sorority Boys has virtually no star power and an unoriginal premise that borrows from 1959’s Some Like It Hot and Tom Hanks’ old sitcom, Bosom Buddies.

Nonetheless, the film is in the hands of Simpsons writer and supervising producer Wallace Wolardarsky , which gives me a certain level of hope that the material will be handled deftly and cleverly. If audience reaction to the trailer is any indication at all, it should be a decent-sized hit as a large group laughed uproariously when it played before a showing of Super Troopers that I attended. The television advertising has started its run and is appearing in all the right places, most notably on more youth-focused networks like UPN and the WB.

The plot is simple. Three friends get kicked out of their fraternity for embezzling funds even though they are not guilty of the crime. They need to find evidence to prove their innocence but cannot get into their fraternity to find it as only girls are invited in as visitors. They devise a cunning plan…and I’m sure you can gather that they get involved in a number of wacky hijinks along the way.

Still four weekends out, Sorority Boys is already sitting at #87 on IMDb pro’s MOVIEMeter. Expect the television ads to build frequency to almost a fever pitch as the film’s release approaches and for awareness to be high. The youth-oriented audience has proven to be a veritable cash cow thus far in 2002 and as long as that audience doesn’t grow tired of movies, I expect they’ll help push this one along to a healthy opening.

9. Panic Room

The trailer for the latest film from Fight Club director David Fincher has been absolutely ubiquitous. It looks extremely stylish and suspenseful and it definitely has good buzz amongst Fincher devotees in particular.

That said, I’ve seen somewhat less television advertising than I might hope though it has certainly been present here and there. Additionally, when I’ve seen the trailer in theaters (and I have seen it many times), it has been met with a lukewarm response. I do believe Panic Room is designed with the movie-lover in mind, as it pays homage to Hitchcock and carries a dark and foreboding tone. Jodi Foster’s most famous role comes from a similarly dark-themed movie (Silence of the Lambs) and seeing her familiar face in the trailers will lend some credibility to the subject matter at hand.

Evidence of the building awareness surrounding Panic Room can be found in a number of places. The film is #70 on IMDb pro’s MOVIEMeter and the trailer is ranked #13 at Yahoo!. If Sony kicks up the television advertising frequency a notch, they should be looking at a bona fide hit.

8. Showtime

Robert DeNiro has surely found a niche in recent comedies where he essentially plays, well, Robert DeNiro. Audiences have flocked to see him in films like Analyze This and Meet the Parents and both have proven to be big enough box office hits to merit sequels.

Building off this little trend along with the recent surge in popularity of reality TV shows, Showtime already has a funny trailer running the circuit in theaters and television ads are just beginning. Using DeNiro in this type of role would never work without pairing him with a true funny guy. In Analyze This, Billy Crystal carried that load as mobster DeNiro’s psychiatrist, while in Meet the Parents he co-starred with the highly talented Ben Stiller. For Showtime, DeNiro will be playing the tough guy cop alongside Eddie Murphy, who will be playing a character based essentially on…you guessed it…Eddie Murphy.

Though Murphy’s recent track record has been somewhat spotty, the pairing of these two does seem to be quite a winning combination and the concept of the film, which casts the two lead actors as real police officers on a COPS-style television series, seems to offer up plenty of opportunities for hilarity. Demerits go to Showtime for its reported poorly received screenings. Still, it does have a decent awareness as its #81 rating at IMDb pro shows. If advertised correctly, it might be a real potential for a breakout, but I’m going to guess it’s a somewhat middling success.

7. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

I’m tempted to put this film so much higher on this list. The re-releases of the Star Wars films did phenomenally well, and there is absolutely no doubt that Steven Spielberg’s E.T. is a family-friendly movie that is very well loved.

My only hesitation to this point is that I see a serious lack of marketing. Though Universal features the E.T. logo in basically everything they do, it’s not getting the television push that I think is necessary to build awareness that this is a film worth seeing again in theaters. The trailer has been getting some play in theaters and our little alien friend is starting to appear in Reese’s Pieces commercials again so I do suspect that as March 22nd draws near we will see a concerted effort on Universal’s part to get the word out that E.T. is back on the big screen. Hopefully, they won’t wait too long.

6. We Were Soldiers

Speaking solely on a personal level, the commercials and trailer for this film leave me cold. They’re utterly dull and completely maudlin. Black Hawk Down took all of the serious issues connected with the reality of war and made them apparent and real without need for sentimentality. We Were Soldiers gives the families of the soldiers a place in the movie and in the process, attaches a heavy-handed feel.

That said, I simply cannot dismiss the box office powerhouse that is Mel Gibson. He was able to drive a similarly themed film in The Patriot to an opening over $20 million (though that was the weekend surrounding the Independence Day holiday) and I think his presence here is enough to guarantee a strong opening. Nonetheless, I’m not going to forecast $20 million based on his good name alone. The themes and premise seem overdone and too little, too late, especially considering that audiences have already been subjected to Hart’s War, Black Hawk Down and Behind Enemy Lines in a four-month span. There’s only so much we can take, and I do believe pushing the patriotism button has gone too far. Though the film is currently ranked #30 at IMDb pro’s MOVIEMeter, it actually fell one spot in the past week rather than rising - and that was with only one week to release.

Still, I'm certain that Gibson will propel We Were Soldiers to open in the high teens. If it was any lesser star, I’d predict far worse.

5. 40 Days and 40 Nights

Miramax has marketed 40 Days and 40 Nights perfectly. I see the ad for this film at least four times a night and there’s no question that they’re targeting the ideal demographic by advertising on teen and young adult-targeted shows such as Angel, Buffy and MTV’s Road Rules.

The buzz started early for the Josh Hartnett starrer with a teaser that was clever and hilarious (particularly the “Coming Soon?” at the end). In the weeks building to release, there has been a full trailer released that gives a better indication of the movie’s plot, and then a “blue” trailer that is just outstanding. Several commercials run in the rotation on television and would seem to indicate that there is something for everyone. For the guys there is the apparent bevy of hot chicks who attempt to seduce our hero as he tries to go 40 Days and 40 Nights with no sexual gratification whatsoever, while Hartnett, one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors, should cover the necessary female needs. In many ways, the 40 Days and 40 Nights buildup reminds me of American Pie’s release in 1999. The trailers were outrageously funny, the television ads were great, and there was also an apparent element of romance that would interest young women in addition to the young men who were drawn by the raunchy comedy. Like 40 Days and 40 Nights, American Pie was rated R. That film managed to open to just under $19 million and that was with a cast loaded with unknowns. Hartnett’s presence in 40 Days and 40 Nights adds major breakout potential.

Some indicators that awareness is high include the fact that Hartnett is the number two actor both at Yahoo and on IMDb pro’s STARmeter (and he is the number one actor under 25 at IMDb). His costar, Shannyn Sossamon is the top actor with less than five roles. The film itself is ranked 14 at IMDB pro’s MOVIEmeter and the 40 Days and 40 Nights trailer is the ninth most requested at Yahoo. A lesser indicator is the fact that it is our top requested movie listing on the site, but as you can see, all of the above indicate unusual interest and a chance for Hartnett to finally carry a film on his own. If not for the fact that the R-rating is likely to be prohibitive for a large segment of the actor’s fan base, I would place 40 Days and 40 Nights even higher on my overall list.

4. Ice Age

Ice Age is another example of excellent, perfectly targeted marketing. I first saw a teaser trailer for this film many months back and it was extremely clever. That particular teaser follows a hungry little critter as he meets multiple disasters while desperately trying to clutch an acorn on an extremely icy terrain.

Since then, new full-length trailers have revealed more about the movie and it looks to be a lot of fun. Four Ice Age mammals - a woolly mammoth, a sabre-toothed tiger, a giant sloth, and some sort of squirrelly rodent - join together to help a human baby find his way home. Featured voices include the family-friendly Ray Romano (whose voice is recognizable indeed), Denis Leary, Kirsten Johnson and John Leguizamo.

Fox’s track record for animation has been fairly spotty and limited. Though Anastasia could certainly be termed a middle-of-the-road success (when worldwide receipts are included), Titan A.E. was an unmitigated disaster. The studio has done a tremendous job in building early awareness with this film and as release draws near, the trailers are receiving excellent attention (ranked number two at Yahoo) and the recently opened Web site is terrific and absorbing even for adults (they have a Frogger-style game, what can I say?). Television ads are running during afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons, as well. Its current ranking of 48 at IMDb pro’s MOVIEmeter foretells only positive things.

Since it is clear that some of the reason Titan A.E. was a hard sell is that is was targeted to an older audience, Ice Age’s prospects for success look much sunnier. It is plainly aimed at children and families. Despite the fact that the CGI animation in this particular film looks far inferior to Shrek or any offering from Pixar, it still seems to be a fun story that hits the apparently hungry youth demographic, and it should explode when it hits screens later in the month.

3. The Time Machine

DreamWorks has been pushing this movie like crazy for over seven months now, even when they had nothing more than a lame teaser with Guy Pearce just sitting in the time machine. Originally scheduled for a Christmas 2001 release, the film was pushed back a couple of times but don’t expect that to matter to audiences. They never know about the schedule shuffles but they can sense a perceived quality product.

The film would surely have received a bit of a boost had Guy Pearce been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Memento, but alas, that was not to be. Nonetheless, the trailer has received a decent response and the commercials are reminiscent of the original Mummy campaign. The movie promises to be similar…high on special effects, low on story, and a lot of good popcorn fun.

Of all March releases, The Time Machine is the third most highly ranked at IMDb pro’s MOVIEmeter, sitting at #23. The fact that two-thirds of films released thus far in 2002 have opened in double digits indicates that audiences are starving for good product. Like many of the effects-laden projects before it, The Time Machine should attract fans of all ages. Whether it has any staying power will of course depend on actual quality.

2. Blade II

Yes, you heard me correctly. I did in fact forecast Blade II as the number two film of the month. Though I expect most prognosticators to predict it will shatter records and do gonzo box office, I have to admit I’m not feeling it…yet. With the film still a full four weekends out, there exists the possibility that the ad campaign will pick up and awareness will build to a more feverish pitch.

Blade II is obviously the sequel to the mildly successful 1998 Wesley Snipes film. That first film managed to do $17.07 opening weekend on its way to $70.11 total box office. It followed that success with a very middling $29.12 in rental receipts but it is a general rule that films that are lower in rentals are heavily purchased instead. Unfortunately, the studios are always a bit tight-fisted with this information and numbers are difficult to find.

So while Blade was certainly a hit, I wouldn’t go so far as to classify it as a huge hit. A surprise? Absolutely. Nonetheless, an actual comment I heard at the theater when they showed this trailer last week (before a great target demographic as the feature film was Queen of the Damned) was, “Why did that film even need a sequel?” The overall response from that bunch was very tepid.

The upcoming sequel should have gotten a boost when ads appeared during the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, those ads were not good. In fact, looking at USA Today’s 14th Annual Ad Meter, Blade II ranked lowest of all films advertised during the broadcast and was in the bottom ten overall.

The fact that Blade II is a sequel is a huge bonus, though, and it does have an excellent ranking of 27 at IMDb pro. Its trailer is currently the fourth most downloaded at Yahoo. It’s going to be a movie that does phenomenally well at the box office but my fear is that it is going to fall below some perhaps too lofty expectations.

1. Resident Evil

I am as surprised as anyone that I have selected this film as number one for the month of March. It’s based on a video game, is directed by a guy who was not the fanboys’ first choice, and has no real star power.

None of that matters. I mentioned The Mummy’s ad campaign when I was discussing The Time Machine earlier, and I am astonished at how deftly Universal is handling the marketing for Resident Evil. It’s not being billed as “based on a video game.” In fact, if I hadn’t played the game myself, I would have no idea that this was the case. The special effects look good. The story that is presented in trailers and commercials is hot and the two actresses who have been selected to carry the load are perfect in their respective parts. Milla Jovovich looks amazing as she is the primary lead but I suspect that the up and coming Michelle Rodriguez (who wowed audiences in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious) as a badass will interest fans as well.

The commercials are playing with some regularity already and hit an excellent demographic as they are being played during shows like Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell. This film appears as if it can go past that smaller target audience, though, and I would definitely expect Universal to give this one a heavy push. If they’re smart, they’ll continue omitting the fact that Resident Evil is based on a game.

Now come the astonishing statistics. Resident Evil, still three weekends out, is the highest rated of our March releases at IMDb pro with a ranking at #7. It is the number one most downloaded trailer at Yahoo. It is the third most requested preview page at -- behind only Matrix Reloaded and Terminator 3 (perhaps you’ve heard of them).

The basic fact of the matter is that when I set out to write this column, I had no intention of placing Resident Evil even within my top five. After doing a little research, I had to reevaluate and I did so to the point where I came to truly believe this film will burst onto the scene in a completely unexpected manner. Look for March to be an entertaining and noteworthy month for forecasters as it all plays out.

  • Read Walid Habboub's March forecast
  • Read David Mumpower's March forecast

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