Weekend Forecast for May 2-4, 2003

By Reagen Sulewski

They're all waiting for Halle Berry to take her top off.

The past four months have simply been a warm-up, as we enter the season of week after week of unfathomably large box office weekends. Taking the coveted opening weekend of summer spot is X2: X-Men United, getting the promotion from the mid-July slot where the original X-Men started. With this positioning, it should join the company of such films as Gladiator, The Mummy and last year's record breaking Spider-Man that have opened the season with a bang.

Many questions surrounded the release of the first X-Men film in July of 2000 with the low-wattage of its stars, the possibly alienating nature of the fanbase and a director that had never taken on a project anywhere near this size. These proved to be unfounded concerns, as X-Men became the third highest opening film of 2000 and the eighth highest grossing. Of further note is that the $54.5 million it started with was the sixth largest opening weekend ever at the time. Three years later, there's every reason to think that it can maintain that company. In just this short period of time, though, that benchmark has undergone a dramatic shift. To illustrate this fact, to become the current sixth highest opening film today, X2 would have to surpass the film that was then the highest ever opening film, The Lost World, at $72 million. Even still, this seems like a pessimistic figure for this sequel.

If there's one complaint laid against the first X-Men movie, it's that director Bryan Singer seemed a little unsure of himself behind the camera and wasn't able to quite fulfill his vision of the mutant superheroes. In addition, the film also had to play to two different audiences, the hardcore comic book fans and the casual movie fans with little knowledge of the series. On the second go-round, the origin stories are all almost out of the way and that second category of audience member is much smaller. As such, Singer is free to delve further into the rich histories of the characters and storylines with less risk of alienating regular folk who are a bit terrified of all these people with blue skin and claws in their knuckles. I speak of the die-hard X-Men fans, of course. They should expect a much richer experience this time around for all Singer's efforts.

The second film picks up almost exactly where the first one left off, where Professor Xavier expressed "a deep regret" for anyone coming to his school of mutants looking for a fight. You can't leave a line like that hanging out there without exploring it. After a mutant attack on the President of the United States, Brian Cox's General William Stryker leads an attack on Professor Xavier's Mutant Academy. Mutant powers are on display and wackiness ensues. Early word has this film as a marked improvement in all respects over the perhaps merely adequate introduction.

If there was a breakout character from the first film among the large cast, it was definitely Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, who played the edgy outsider unaware of his past and power. Taking nothing away from him, a new character could become nearly as big a breakout: Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler, a gravity-defying, space-warping, blue-skinned mutant. It's perhaps appropriate that they've saved him for the second film, as the special effects associated with him needed to be perfected. Nothing could sink an X-Men film faster than unconvincing visuals. Luckily this problem appears to have been solved and Nightcrawler's effects, among others, look top-notch.

Thus, the film becomes a very easy sell, with exciting action, a "for the fans" storyline and a record 3,741 venue debut. The sky is perhaps the limit, though at the very least, last May's $114.8 million debut for Spider-Man seems safe. X2 finds itself now in the rarified air of a Star Wars or Harry Potter film. A three-day start of $80-90 million seems to be its range, with the upper half of that seeming more likely. Although it has only two weekends before the Matrix sequel steals its thunder, a satisfying experience could still leave it as one of the highest grossing films of all time by the end of its run.

One other new film hopes to grab some attention in a potential counter-programming attempt, although it's difficult to counter-program against something that appeals across demographics. The Lizzie McGuire movie goes after the pre-teen and teen girl audience, perhaps the only market that isn't saturated by the X-Men hype. Starring up-and-comer Hillary Duff, the popular TV show jumps to the big screen in a very significant 2,800 plus venues. Just a month after the similarly targeted What a Girl Wants and its $11 million start, Lizzie McGuire hopes to find a little face time to make people even aware of its existence. This loyal audience will hunt to find the movie and it should eke out about $15 million in the shadow of the behemoth.

The rest of the top ten becomes mere noise to the signal. Identity snuck out a first place finish last weekend over the previous two weeks' winner, Anger Management. On a normal weekend, Identity could once again become the story of the weekend, as with its twist ending and likable stars it has all the pieces in place to become a leggy film. It still plays as an alternative to the mutants, but loses a bit of momentum to all the X-Men buzz. After making $16 million last weekend, it's the only other returning film that will make over $10 million this weekend.

Anger Management is no slouch, though, as it has already passed the $100 million mark on its way to $150 million. It falls to fourth place and should make just under $9 million. Following that, another leggy film will be tested against the fierce competition; Holes dropped just 25% in its second weekend of release but finds itself right in the path with its pre-teen boy audience who will have already moved on to the next shiny thing. Even though it won't perform quite to that level, it won't be a disaster, sticking around the $8 million mark.

At this point we reach the realm of the cast offs, with nothing else looking to earn more than $5 million. Malibu's Most Wanted, beyond all sense, taste and prayers will still stick in sixth place, though that should only be good for $4 million or so. The rest of the returning films will do well to earn enough to push the rest of the weekend's earnings to half of X-Men's total, making this one of the more one-sided weekends in history.

Forecast: Weekend of May 2-4, 2003
Number of Sites
Change in Sites from Last
Estimated Gross ($)
X2: X-Men United
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
Anger Management
Malibu's Most Wanted
Bulletproof Monk
Phone Booth
What a Girl Wants