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Weekend Forecast
for August 23-25 2002

By Reagen Sulewski

No, Monica, I swear I'm not on a date with Elizabeth Hurley right now.

While traditional dead spots in the movie release schedule continue to disappear, you can still tell it's late August by the buzzards circling the carcasses of the releases in the theaters. Despite some close calls, the number-one film of each weekend since the second week of February has been above $15 million. Barring an unexpected breakout from one of this weekend's new films or a similarly unlikely surge from xXx, that streak will end. Surely some studio out there had a sleeper capable of distinguishing itself? Opportunity is knocking, Hollywood; stop leaving us with these dead spots on the schedule!

Serving Sara has probably the best chance of success of the three new wide releases by benefit of the combination of the most recognizable names in the cast and the most advertising. In subject matter, Serving Sara appears to be similar to the bounty-hunter comedy Midnight Run. While Liz Hurley is certainly better looking than Charles Grodin, Matthew Perry is no Robert DeNiro. Filling out the rest of this B-grade cast are Cedric the Entertainer, Vincent Pastore (of Sopranos fame) and Bruce Campbell (don't hurt me Kim; it's not like he doesn't admit it. Matthew Perry is unfortunately never going to be a leading man in movies and studios would be well served to realize this and stop making him carry films on his own. It's no coincidence that his best success was in a movie where Bruce Willis did most of the heavy lifting.

His second-best box-office performance was Fools Rush In, which started with just $9.7 million and finished with a mere $29 million in 1997, or $36 million in 2002 dollars. His other two major roles, Almost Heroes and Three to Tango, are barely worth mentioning. Clearly he's not about to challenge Mel Gibson any time soon. Neither is Elizabeth Hurley about to grab Julia Roberts' box-office crown; while she gets a pass for her involvement in Austin Powers, there's the prominent failures of both EDtv and Bedazzled to account for ($22 million and $38 million, respectively). If there's a fundamental difference between the comedies I've named here and Serving Sara, I'm not seeing it. I suppose the supporting cast does have an appeal (including the rather obvious attempt to use Cedric's goofy dance from his Superbowl commercial in the advertising), but the slap-sticky trailers aren't inspiring confidence. In line with the rest of Perry's and Hurley's filmographies, expect $9 million to be about the peak for this film this weekend.

Andrew Niccol seems to be a 1950s science-fiction writer who's lost his way and found himself in Hollywood; S1mOne is the third film he's either written or directed or both and follows his theme of wonderfully-topical subjects involving the use of technology. Gattaca addressed the idea of genetic engineering at the same time that cloning became a real possibility; The Truman Show was a cautionary tale about voyeuristic entertainment (ironically, TV networks seem to have seen that movie and said, "Hey, great idea"). Now, S1mOne tackles the idea of the virtual actress. It's a brilliant conceit; Hollywood seems to make instant stars out of people all the time. Why not take it to its literal conclusion? Unfortunately, as great as Niccol's first two movies were, all signs point to him having botched this one. On the surface, it's a comedy about a troubled movie production, but comedies are supposed to have laughs, right? Al Pacino looks lost in his role as a producer who substitutes the title avatar (short for Simulation One) for the leading lady who's walked off the set (an under-promoted Winona Ryder). Adding to its woes is its insider nature. Audiences have never embraced films that are actually about Hollywood, preferring to pay no attention to the man behind the curtains. From Mad City to Wag the Dog, The Player to 15 Minutes, most moviegoers have decided simply to ignore the whole issue. There's nothing here to make me think this is a different situation, and S1mOne is about to find out the hard way that you can't really tell people what to like. A take of $5 to $6 million should serve as the hard lesson here.

Undisputed is the third major release of the weekend, although it starts at a smaller number of venues, indicating that Miramax is likely targeting it for an "urban" release pattern. Starring Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames, it appears to be inspired to some degree by Mike Tyson's stay in prison. Rhames plays a bad-boy champion boxer sent to prison, while Snipes is a prison champion who never got a shot in the outside world. Is this a film without a sympathetic character? Probably. Does it look intriguing anyway? Sure, mostly because the trailer does a pretty good job of presenting the side of both of the main characters. I've seen little to no promotion of this, but then I also live outside anywhere this is targeted at. Despite Snipes' name, I think this is going to struggle to reach the $5 million mark.

The battle for number one is a little more direct fight between xXx and Signs this weekend, as they're separated by less than $3 million in last weekend's totals. The incumbent, xXx, fell by more than 50% in its second bow, but there's good reason to believe that won't be repeated. The corresponding falls from Saturday-to-Saturday and Sunday-to-Sunday were "only" 43% and 46%, showing that much of the fall could be blamed on the massive first Friday it had. A tempering of that decline this weekend should lead to about $12.5 million for Vin Diesel and company. After falling over 50% itself in its second weekend, Signs slowed its decline to just 35% last weekend, sitting just under $20 million. A repeat of this performance would also put it at $12.5 million, making this weekend almost too close to call. With nothing else grabbing audience attentions, one of these films could really use this opportunity as a springboard to a long run of earnings. The winner this weekend is likely to continue at the top with at least one more extremely weak slate ahead.

Blue Crush put its stake down for late-summer success by starting with just under $15 million. With just a $25 million production budget, Crush is well on its way to validating producer Brian Grazer's faith in the project, although it's not the breakout hit that some predicted. Another $9 million or so would put it well on its way to about $65 million total, a great figure for a film with next-to-no star-power. However, for the real no-name success story of the summer, we once again look to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which shows no signs of slowing down. Expanding to over 1000 venues last weekend, it rose to its highest position yet, sixth, and took in nearly $6 million in its 18th week of release. Amazingly, its per-venue average is just $174 less now than its first weekend all the way back in April on just 108 screens. It's impossible to predict an end result right now with way it keeps improving, but it's safe to say that it's easily going to be the most profitable film percentage-wise of the year.

Ordinarily I wouldn't cover a film that is basically guaranteed to fall out of the top ten, but I still have a few comments to make regarding The Adventures of Pluto Nash. At just $2.18 million on 2,320 screens, Nash nearly set a record for futility in wide release. The only other film in the last 13 years to perform worse on 2,000 or more screens was the highly-unnecessary Major League 3, which earned $900 per venue as compared to Nash's $941. Expanding the range somewhat, we see that it joins the company of such time-honored flops as Wagons East!, Lawnmower Man 2 and perhaps the most ironically-titled movie ever, Unforgettable. With the price tag on Nash ranging upwards of $90 million and a final gross of perhaps just $5 million, it will take its place among the biggest flops of all time. Somewhere, Michael Cimino is breathing a sigh of satisfaction.

Finally, opening in limited release this weekend is the third entry in Robin Williams' unofficial psycho trilogy this year, One Hour Photo. A favorite at Sundance, Photo features Williams as a photography clerk that gets a little too personal with the families for whom he process film. Although it's being released by Fox Searchlight, if it does well in this audition, it will certainly see a lot more venues come its way. In fact, larger rollouts are already planned for next weekend and the weekend of September 13th. Plans like this don't always work out, and this thriller is still going to have to prove it can walk before Fox lets it run. They'll likely be looking for something in the neighborhood of a $30,000 per-venue average to make sure it can carry a wider appeal. Could this be the equivalent to last year's indie success of Memento?

Forecast: Weekend of August 23rd-25th, 2002
Rank
Film
Number of Sites
Change in Sites from Last
Estimated Gross ($)
1
xXx
3517
129
12.5
2
Signs
3453
109
12.5
3
Blue Crush
3015
13
9.4
4
Serving Sara
2154
New
9.1
5
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
3307
No Change
7.8
6
MyBig Fat Greek Wedding
1326
266
6.8
7
Sim0ne
1920
New
4.8
8
Undisputed
1102
New
4.7
9
Austin Powers in Goldmember
2805
-308
4.5
10
Blood Work
2203
-322
2.8


     


 
 

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