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Weekend Forecast
for November 1-3, 2002

By Reagen Sulewski

Give me presents!

After an October of hit-and-miss projects, the holiday movie season begins in earnest this weekend. Whether the two blockbusters offered up for consumption will be any improvement is still up for debate; both could just as easily miss as some of October's duds. The leads of both wide-released films carry major question marks; some the lingering baggage of bombs, others, questions about their drawing power. However, we are now re-entering the period of the year where $25 million opening weekends are expected rather than a surprise. With both films serving a very different market, there's a fair chance that both could approach or surpass this mark.

There's been much hand-wringing about the placement of The Santa Clause 2, arriving on the first day of November, a full 55 days before Christmas. My reaction to that: Hey, Christmas is getting pretty close now! At least they're waiting until (just) after Halloween, more than a lot of department stores could manage. Holiday movies have always arrived early; the original Santa Clause debuted on November 11th, All I Want for Christmas on November 8th, I'll Be Home For Christmas on November 13th and Jingle All the Way on November 22nd. Sure, none of these are all-time classics, but there's no fundamental reason that people won't be "in the mood" for a Christmas picture for any reason other than they didn't want to see the movie in the first place. Even the legitimate classic A Christmas Story opened in early November in 1983. Even more questions surround its lead, Tim Allen, who's turned from crossover star to self-parody faster than almost anyone in recent memory. Sure, he had the Toy Story films, but does anyone still attribute their success to him anymore (to be fair, he's still quite good in them)? After the twin failures of Joe Somebody and Big Trouble, the idea of Tim Allen, Big Comedy Star seems funnier than his movies. Why should Santa Clause 2 be taken seriously, then? Well, look back at the box office of the first one, a $144 million haul in 1994, which translates to an eye-popping $200 million in today's dollars. Is the concept enough of a franchise to warrant those kind of dollars today? It's doubtful, but the idea can't be dismissed. It's strange that a sequel to a movie this successful took so long to appear; in fact, it nearly happened two years ago, and a teaser was even released promoting it. I sure hope nobody formed a line waiting for it. The ultimate appeal of this movie isn't that easy to judge; there's nothing that makes executives breathe easier than an established name, but 1994 was worlds away as far as Tim Allen is concerned. With a top ten TV show, he was one of the few crossover actors who did bring his audience with him. It's a few years since that show ended and even longer since it was at the top of the Nielsen ratings, so you have to wonder if he's kept his fan base. It may not matter, since there is little else out there that qualifies as family entertainment ("Hey kids, Jackass or The Ring?"). As the number one family choice for two weeks, it should justify its existence, starting this weekend with about $27 million.

It's kind of a toss-up at this point as to who is really the main attraction for I Spy. Owen Wilson is a star on the rise, combining a successful indie career with a breakthrough into big-budget Hollywood films. Eddie Murphy has $100 million-grossing films in three decades but has begun to mix bombs in with his hits on a much more frequent basis. Perhaps paramount among these was this August's The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which has staked its claim to Bomb of the Century just two short years in. Just when you thought he couldn't throw under Holy Man or Best Defense, he finds a new floor. With very few exceptions, it's always been boom-or-bust with Murphy; over $100 million or under $40 million (Bowfinger and Life being two rare counter-examples). Owen Wilson, meanwhile, has been growing into a real star instead of "that guy with the effed-up nose". Starting out with the Wes Anderson crew in Bottle Rocket, he took a number of small roles in blockbuster fare like Armageddon and The Haunting, mixing in impressive low-budget work on films like The Minus Man. His big break into the mainstream was 2000's Shanghai Noon, as Jackie Chan's co-star. Although it earned just a modest $56 million, Wilson was a major standout in the film. He then became one of the rare birds in Hollywood, the dry-wit scene-stealer. In both Meet the Parents and Zoolander, he went toe-to-toe with Ben Stiller and, quite frankly, won both times. He was ready for his first starring vehicle, which strangely required almost none of the skills Wilson had used to get it in the first place. If there's one thing Wilson shouldn't be it's probably an action star, but that's what he tried to be in Behind Enemy Lines. Surprisingly, he came out relatively unscathed, with the film opening to $20 million and earning $60 million. So now I Spy legitimately has two big names.

It's been fascinating, though, to watch the rapid deterioration of the ad campaign. After a slick initial trailer focusing on the clever espionage angle and Wilson's dry banter, someone in marketing evidently panicked, as you'd barely be able to tell it is a spy movie other than the title now. The conversation probably went something like, "We're paying Eddie 20 million and we're focusing on the guy with the crooked nose? Get some sex jokes in the commercials now!", and thus you have the recent spate of ads that look like an Evening at the Improv parody of Cyrano de Bergerac. Big mistake, guys. Clearly they didn't have confidence in using Wilson to sell the movie and have compensated by blitzing for about a month with mediocre-to-poor ads. Perhaps that's part of the problem there; they led off too soon with their ads and had to resort to the B material. The spy film could use a buddy comedy, though, and borrowing the TV identity of the Bill Cosby/Robert Culp show is probably the best way to go about it. The concept is solid enough that I predict that it will be able to survive its own ad campaign; on a massive 3,100 venues, this should be able to manage $21 million for the weekend.

Tied for the biggest story of last weekend were jackass: the movie and The Ring, although they likely head in two different directions this time out. jackass had half the pop-culture watchers declaring the end times with the rest wondering what the other half was going on about. With a stunning $22.7 million, it exceeded all expectations and fears, nearly earning back its production budget in one go. Technically the highest-grossing documentary of all time, it's almost certain to inspire a whole slew of copycats. I doubt any of them will be able to capture the lightning-in-a-bottle that jackass does (note to Johnny Knoxville: this is not a suggestion) as even it looks to be running out of steam already. Numbers have slumped through the week, with it nearly falling to second place, currently held by The Ring. After a modest opening weekend of about $15 million, most (including myself) expected it to run the course of a mildly leggy horror film. It had something else in mind, jumping to $18.5 million. Though the size of the increase in dollars is naturally related to the significant increase in the number of venues (by a third), the films did its own heavy lifting, dropping only 7% from its per-venue average, a Sixth Sense-like figure. I'm skeptical that it will continue on this path, but it would be equally shocking if it didn't continue on with a very strong run after a two-week performance like that. Adding a smaller number of screens this week (up to 2,808), it could stay on pace for a $16 million weekend. Incredibly, this would put it at about $60 million after three weekends.

Almost forgotten in this mess is the year's unquestioned champ for legs (well, so far), My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which, ho hum, plugged away at another sub-20% drop and another weekend in the top five, its tenth straight. To make it 11, it'll have to pass both Sweet Home Alabama (no problem, as Alabama sheds screens this weekend) and Ghost Ship (likely, but not assured). Assume a worst-case scenario of a 20% drop for Greek Wedding and $5 million for the weekend. This would mean that Ghost Ship would need to drop 57% from last weekend; not unheard of for a horror movie but symptomatic of an out-and-out collapse, which probably won't happen. A slightly better performance and it's very possible it could remain number five. The spanner in the works here is the latest expansion of Punch-Drunk Love, which nearly triples its screens to about 1,250. Its per-venue average as it approaches wide release is just OK; after a fantastic start of $70,000 per, it's dwindled to just $6,900 at approximately 500 venues. Decidedly non-populist fare, unlike Adam Sandler's other films, Punch-Drunk Love has run into the barrier between art-house fame and commercial success. This expansion should be good for between $5 and 6 million this frame but at this point, it's clear it's not going to be a huge hit like many of his other films.

Expanding significantly in limited release are Comedian, Bowling for Columbine and Frida. Columbine should once again be the highest earning of these, staying afloat above $1 million. Comedian could translate its adequate per-venue average to near the same, while Frida, on 47 venues, will hover between $750,000 and $900,000, which may be a good enough number to further the chances for Oscar nominations for its leads. There are a significant number of screens held up by films that will earn between $2 and $4 million this weekend, representing some of these films' last gasp at dollars before video; the coming blockbusters will leave many casualties in their wake.

Forecast: Weekend of November 1-3, 2002
Rank
Film
Number of Sites
Change in Sites from Last
Estimated Gross ($)
1
The Santa Clause 2
3,350
New
27.3
2
I Spy
3,182
New
20.8
3
The Ring
2,808
+174
15.9
4
jackass: the movie
2,530
+21
12.9
5
Ghost Ship
2,787
0
5.9
6
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
1,977
+10
5.6
7
Punch-Drunk Love
1,252
+771
5.3
8
Sweet Home Alabama
2,441
-741
4.1
9
Red Dragon
1,955
-931
2.7
10
Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie
1,604
-21
1.7

     


 
 

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