December Forecast

By David Mumpower

December is always a brutal month for box office prognostication. This is primarily due to the extraordinary legs exhibited by films over the holiday period when the movie-going public has a lot of free time. The flip side of this coin is that opening weekends are often somewhat deflated, since viewers lack the urgency of feeling they have to go see a movie as soon as humanly possible. A certain malaise is created where people feel like they'll get to a theater when they can.

A perfect example of this is last year's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring opening. As difficult as it is to imagine now, the $47.2 million opening (easily a record for the month of December) was considered soft. Many were quick to dismiss the film's long term propositions due to this opening, so it's important to bear in mind as we discuss the coming four weekends that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You never know which films might end up being the next Scream, Grumpy Old Men, or Stuart Little. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that some two-city Oscar candidacy release might end up making $170 million down the line as A Beautiful Mind did just last year. Landmines abound; take all of our predictions this month as an indication of what they are, educated guesses from people unafraid of having opinions. No more, no less.

Now that we've covered the obvious, the correct answers are:

1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I will also boldly predict that the sun will rise and set each day this month. Upsets are always possible (as Sam Raimi frequently prank calls George Lucas to point out), but there is little disputing the fact that the middle Middle-Earth movie is going to make a boatload of money. The question then becomes how much, and history indicates less than the first or the third. I think the hobbits are better positioned than last month's kiddie wizards; still, I'm not certain that this one will have the oomph needed to get past the $308.8 million total of Episode Two. Since I expect it to be the vastly superior film, that's disappointing, but if you just take a moment to consider how far off Lucas fell from the $430 million of Episode One, it's hard to ignore the trending here. For whatever reason, the middle child in the movie trilogy family always winds up with the lousy presents Christmas morning. Put me down some No-Doz for the 45-minute fight scene, though. I think it could only feel longer if Natalie Portman tried to seduce that goofy blonde kid whose name I haven't bothered to learn yet in the middle of the combat a la Enemy at the Gates. And yes, Comic Book Guy, I know that I just combined the two movies so please shut down your "I can't believe you don't know that..." e-mail window and go back to scarfing the twinkie.

2. Catch Me If You Can
6. Gangs of New York

I'm certain that the other Leo film will be a popular pick for the number two slot amongst my site mates, but having seen the two trailers, I just can't envision that possibility. Catch Me If You Can is a marvelous true story which will naturally convert to a fascinating character study in the hands of a Spielberg, Hanks and co. You might remember them from such films as Saving Private Ryan and the start of Saving Private Ryan (they're entirely different movies after all). Gangs of New York, on the other hand, might turn out to be one of the biggest surprises in recent memory when I hit the theater. Right now, though, I hate everything I've seen about this film. I mean seriously everything. It's three days long (and that's with two days of footage left on the cutting room floor) and insulting to my intelligence. I'm sorry if I'm not familiar enough with the history but I refuse to believe that an entire metropolitan city was taken over by a handful of guys armed only with shovels and Dr. Seuss hats. Every time I see a commercial for this monstrosity, I'm forcibly reminded of the Simpsons episode where Ned Flanders saves Springfield from alien invasion using only a board with a nail in it. And I've seen Mouseketeers who are more menacing than Daniel Day-Lewis looks so far. The National Board of Review might be fooled by the costume but I know a bleeder when I see one.

3. Two Weeks Notice
4. Maid in Manhattan

I hope I'm wrong on this one, because I've already seen Maid in Manhattan. If it does more box office than a Hugh Grant/Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, the terrorists really have won. Maid is exactly what it is advertised as being, a generic romantic comedy where an average working class woman is smitten with a man who is theoretically out of her league. Through a quirky set of circumstances involving a child and a dog (you figure out which is which), they wind up spending time together and fall madly in love because goshdarnit, she's the most wonderful maid in all five boroughs and he's the most honorable politician since...well, there's gotta be somebody but I can't think of a name off my head. Anyway, the magic of the concept is that it gives a bunch of lonely people the chance to go to the movie theater and believe that they could Mr. Jennifer Lopez number four or Mr. Red Dragon Victim number "Are We Sure He's Straight". Love is nice. If we've learned nothing else from Pretty Woman (other than to not expect mouth kisses from crack whores...damned elitists), it's that this concept will always work if marketed well. Maid in Manhattan is an awful, awful movie that everyone you know is going to watch.

Two Weeks Notice honestly doesn't look any better, and the concept here isn't as good. A man and a woman are obviously supposed to be together since there's a real Osbournes dynamic between them. He's successful and charming but absolutely helpless on his own. She's a Harvard graduate attorney who has been reduced to holding his hand for several years until she finally reaches the breaking point and wants him gone. She gives him her...wait for it...Two Weeks Notice. Being the shameless cad that he is, Grant's character forces Bullock's character to hire her replacement, who winds up being the nuclear hot Alicia Witt. Satisfied, the attorney plans to go on a dream cruise with her boyfriend only to realize she spends a lot of her time thinking about what her life will be like without the billionaire charmer in her life. I smell a happy ending. Anyway, the reason that I give Maid in Manhattan the slight nod is that I find the concept just a bit more universal. There are more maids out there than Harvard attorneys. The huge positive for Two Weeks Notice is that there hasn't been a set of romantic leads this attractive since Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant hooked up in Charade. We're all about the casting here, and Miss Congeniality and Notting Hill show that both of these leads are tremendously bankable. I also give bonus points to whoever cut the trailer for their clever incorporation of Michelle Branch's Goodbye to You. It's the best usage of music in a marketing campaign in ages.

Both of these movies break the mystical $100 million marker.

5. Star Trek: Nemesis

It's no exaggeration to state that the balance of the Star Trek franchise lies in this film's performance. Paramount has reached the same crossroads which MGM/UA faced with Goldeneye. Had that film failed, the James Bond series would have been mothballed indefinitely. As it stands, we're three blockbuster films past that point for 007. For Captain Picard and co., the cash cow isn't getting milked much right now. If he doesn't want to be stuck playing Professor Xavier for the rest of his career and the Roddenberry scions want to keep getting obnoxiously large checks, they need a grand slam here, not just a solid single.

The cast of the second Star Trek series are looking a bit long in the tooth these days, so the marketing has wisely focused on the vastly improved special effects along with building a mystery about the villain. I know how the movie plays out and don't want to spoil anything, but I'll state with confidence that the movie should satisfy its core audience immensely. That feat alone is enough to put it on top of Generations and Insurrection; however, the potential exists for this movie to be every bit as well received as Best of Both Worlds or The Voyage Home. The storyline is that unique and clever.

7. About Schmidt

In 1997, Jack Nicholson won the Academy Award® for Best Actor and promptly decided that he was due for an extended vacation. Since then, all he's done is Lara Flynn Boyle and The Pledge. I'll leave it up to you decide which is worse. Now he's back and he's embracing his age with this piece about a retired man out to save his daughter from marrying a man with a drastic mullet. The Oscar buzz for this one is already off the charts; I expect it to platform into wide release in January and still be a box office force by the time the awards roll around at the end of March.

8. Analyze That

This is one of the most generic-looking sequels ever filmed. It might be hysterical, but if that's the case, the marketing campaign has totally failed the movie. With the original film, we discovered that Robert De Niro had impeccable comic timing. In the interim, we've discovered with his Eddie Murphy joint catastrophe, Showtime, that he's topped out already. With Analyze That, we're well into the "ENOUGH ALREADY!!!" phase. Godfather Part IV: Mary Corleone's Story would even be a welcome relief for him after this. There is good news about this project though. Analyze That is the last of the Bad Sequels of 2002 (Two Towers obviously doesn't count). We're safe until...oh wait, Final Destination 2 and The Jungle Book 2 are right around the corner. Why does Hollywood hate us?

9. The Hot Chick

A few weeks ago, the South Park guys mercilessly assaulted Rob Schneider better than I could ever hope to do. The gist of it is that all of his films are based upon the simplistic elegance of putting him in an unlikely scenario. You know, like when he's an animal or a gigolo or a stapler. It's the same movie over and over again with the gimmick overwritten in the script's margin. I think the guy's funny enough in a harmless, Carrot Top sans props way. Having said that, it is indescribably frustrating to me that his films have become such a cottage industry of banality. He's Jerry Lewis without the Rat Pack cool quotient and his presence stands in the way of funnier people getting longer looks. If Buena Vista wanted to give this film a shot at being entertaining, they would have cast Ryan Reynolds. But I digress. Anyway, Rob Schneider films seem to make around $60 million, so I see this one having a moderate December opening (say $18 million) and the usual holiday-inflated legs. If you're not certain of what that means or how it works, keep checking back at BOP over the Christmas/New Year's period for daily numbers analysis. The process will grow clearer then.

10. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

You could pull any number out of a hat for this film and I'd buy that total as its final box office tally. That number could be less than $10 million or it could be $200 million; I'd still nod my head and say, "Yep, I believe it."

The pros and cons here are easy to see. The first strike against the film is that it's a black comedy. Remember the last one of those? It was called Death to Smoochy. Don't worry, know else remembers it either. The other obvious con is that no one has any idea who Sam Rockwell, the guy playing Chuck Berris, is. It's a shame because if we flash back only three Decembers, his presence was noteworthy in holiday cinema. In incredibly diverse parts as a snaky assassin in The Green Mile and an insecure bit actor in Galaxy Quest, he more than held his own with the likes of Tom Hanks and Alan Rickman. Since then, his main claim to fame was as a villain in Charlie's Angels but let's be honest, who remembers any of the guys in that movie? Rockwell is a dynamic presence on screen, and I consider this to be the film that does for his career what Out of Sight did for his director's. That brings us to the pros for COADM.

The cast in the film includes its director, George Clooney, along with Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. This group reads as a cast list for Ocean's 11 rather than a movie with a smallish $29 million budget. Part of that is because Pitt and Damon's roles are cameos, but a lot of it is because George Clooney has learned something important from his friend Steven Soderbergh. You are more likely to be able to make the movie you want if you keep the budget small and talk a lot of your A-list celebrity friends into working for scale. Clooney's overwhelming popularity saves the day here, allowing him to cast a risky choice as the lead. I expect this move to pay off and consider Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to be a very strong dark horse candidate for end-of-year awards attention. With a concept like this and a cast like this, it will garner plenty of notice from viewers. All it needs to do is deliver the goods.

  • Read Tim Briody's December forecast
  • Read Walid Habboub's December forecast
  • Read Kim Hollis' December forecast
  • Read Stephanie Star Smith's December forecast