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Weekend Forecast for
May 30-June 1, 2003

By Reagen Sulewski

I said, 'Hi Gill!' (you have to yell, he's hard of herring)...

A truly historic May at the box office comes to a close this weekend, ending arguably the strongest month that theaters have ever seen. Already the first month to feature three films with opening weekends above $50 million, it goes for a fourth with Finding Nemo. It's not the only game in town, but it's easily going to swim away with the box office title in the post-Memorial Day period.

In its association with Disney Pixar Studios has done something that many would have thought impossible; it has surpassed its parent in recognition and quality of product. With just four feature length films over the past eight years, they have established a consistency that is the envy of Old Faithful.

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The grosses of Pixar's films have steadily increased in lockstep with their reputation, and in the process they have created a new genre, the computer animated film, nearly choking out traditional cel animation. Other companies besides Pixar have jumped into the market, most successfully DreamWorks with the monster smash Shrek.

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Even here, though, we can see where the reputation of Pixar comes into play, as its $42 million opening weekend in May of 2001 pales in comparison to the $63 million that Monsters, Inc. pulled in one November weekend that same year.

Their formula, if you could call it that, seems exceedingly simple and fundamental: make an exciting film with heart that adults and children can both enjoy on different levels. Their attention to detail is also world-renowned, as each of their movies has felt fully populated and fresh, despite the sometimes-distancing look of computer animation. These qualities have kept Pixar in the top-tier, away from the middling success of Ice Age (a bit too kiddie) and the outright flop of Final Fantasy (far too adult).

Finding Nemo is their latest feature and continues Pixar's anthropomorphizing theme, this time in the Pacific Ocean and highlighting its creatures. After his son is captured for an aquarium, Marlin the clown fish (voice of Albert Brooks) is joined by Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) in a hunt for a dentist's office in Australia. One thing evident in Pixar's choice of "location" this time is the absolutely gorgeous visuals; not only have they seemed to have taken their animation technology up a notch but they've also picked perhaps the most colorful environment on Earth to showcase. Trailers and commercials have been a feast for the eyes.

Something not so much in evidence yet are the jokes. This isn't so unusual, though, if one remembers the previous few Pixar films. None of them have truly had non-stop humor in the advertising, which makes sense, given the situational nature of the comedy present. A joke that takes two minutes to set up isn't going to play well in 30 seconds. What's more, the pressure is really off them; since after four consecutive home runs, they don't have to do much selling at all. They're free to rest on their history, at least until they screw up.

Toy Story was a highly marketable film because of its all-star cast, with the most prominent members being of course Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Finding Nemo doesn't have anyone quite that strong in its cast, though it's at least comparable to the voices behind A Bug's Life, which had David Foley and Julia Louis Dreyfuss as its headliners. Finding Nemo is likely to continue the Pixar trend for steadily increasing opening weekend groses. I predict a $69 million opening weekend, which would not only give May four $50 million openers, it would also give it a shot at three $70 million openers. Final gross will be interesting to watch, as it is the first Pixar film to debut in the summer, typically a bonanza period for family films, and a time that Shrek used to great success in 2001.

The Italian Job, the latest in Hollywood's steady diet of remakes and sequels, arrives as the second banana for new releases, which is somewhat appropriate as its second banana cast in this caper film comes off a bit like Ocean's 11-Lite. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Edward "Paramount's Bitch" Norton make up the majority of the draw, with a number of character actors like Seth Green, Jason Statham and Mos Def adding to the background.

The remake status of this film is a bit sketchy as it only partially takes place in Italy and has added a revenge plot. There's also the question of whether enough of the film's young demographic will really remember the 1969 Michael Caine film from which it takes its name. Recycling can be an admirable trait but I question if it was really necessary here. In any case, it does play nicely to the upward trend of these kinds of ensemble films in international locations. Last year's The Bourne Identity was a surprise hit and perhaps becomes the closest analog to this film, with Matt Damon being a bigger star than anyone in this film but collectively making up two or three of its stars. Bourne opened to $27 million and finished with about $121 million at about the same time of the year; while Italian Job could approach that opening number, its final total will depend entirely on the good will of word-of-mouth. After a non-stop blitz of advertising including sneaks last weekend, The Italian Job should open with $25 million.

The last few years have seen something of a renaissance for low-budget horror films with young, hip casts. The Final Destination films are probably the best examples of this type of genre but the trend has also resulted in films like Darkness Falls and Jeepers Creepers. This week's example is Wrong Turn, which like Darkness Falls has a Buffy alumnus. Instead of Emma Caufield, Wrong Turn's lead eye candy is Eliza Dushku. Jeremy "Creepy Jesus" Sisto is thrown in for good measure, but neither has really proven themselves as a lead before, nor is it really crucial in horror. The plot plays a bit like a more mainstream version of House of 1000 Corpses, with cannibalistic hillbillies being the terror here. While the low budget for films like this make for almost guaranteed profits eventually, they can have a huge downside initially. Wrong Turn looks to be one of those movies, as with a very generic hook and no impressive advertising there is nothing to really distinguish it from the pack. It will be able to make $7 million this frame, but should see a quicker death than the first people to have sex in the movie.

Bruce Almighty exceeded nearly everyone's expectations by earning nearly $86 million over the Memorial Day weekend and $68 million in three days. This gave it the second highest Memorial Day weekend total ever and the 11th highest three-day total. Never underestimate the power of a killer concept. It's going to be difficult for it to sustain such high figures in the second weekend but as a comedy it will have a bit of a cushion. Not just a comedy but a very well received one, it quickly positioned itself as one of the top films of the summer with this monstrous opening weekend. It should see about $44 million more, putting it either near or very close to an impressive $150 million after two weekends.

The Matrix: Reloaded saw a quite steep drop from its record-breaking $91 million start over the holiday long weekend, as even with that extra day, it dropped to half of that. Is this dissatisfaction or simply satiated demand? When you start a film on as many theaters and screens as this one, there certainly is an element of the latter involved as few were turned away. Dreams of top ten all-time box office are smashed but the longevity record that was always biggest in The Matrix's sights, the R-rated record of Beverly Hills Cop, is still certain to be surpassed. Another $21 million should add to the coffers here, pushing it past the $234 million of BHC's total gross. A final total of $275 million still looks to be within reason, and if that number seems disappointing, then I suggest you take a look at the Warner executives doing the backstroke in piles of money and get some perspective.

Milestone weekend continues, with X2 making a charge at $200 million. If it doesn't happen this weekend, then it absolutely will be there by mid-week. Such a figure would make a third X-Men film an almost certain reality. With Bryan Singer expressing a bit of fatigue with the project, a very lucrative franchise could be back on the market for directors. Just back the hell away, Schumacher. The last thing we need is Wolverine with a nipple costume.

2003 has been a year of rewritten and scratched out record books. Several films hope to find their spots there starting this weekend, if only temporarily. Meanwhile, we're all left agog at week after week of numbers thought unfathomable even two years ago. Stay tuned for more amazing weeks to come.

Forecast: Weekend of May 30th-June 1st, 2003
Rank
Film
Number of Sites
Change in Sites from Last
Estimated Gross ($)
1
Finding Nemo
3,374
New
68.8
2
Bruce Almighty
3,490
+7
44.4
3
The Italian Job
2,633
New
25.1
4
The Matrix: Reloaded
3,453
-150
20.5
5
Daddy Day Care
3,128
-344
9.4
6
X2: X-Men United
2,533
-534
7.4
7
Wrong Turn
1,615
New
6.9
8
The In-Laws
2,652
0
4.8
9
Down With Love
1,300
-818
2.3
10
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
1,330
-788
2.2

     


 
 

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