Tuesday, May 08, 2007

And now, a box office word from your infrequent SDD contributor, Jon...

The summer season has come upon once once again, and opened with what should end up being a prophetic bang. After all, five of the strongest franchises/brand names are touching down this summer (Spider-Man, Pirates, Shrek, Harry Potter and Pixar), along with some medium-to-semi-large size names (Fantastic Four, Bourne, Rush Hour), some hopeful breakout comedies (Knocked Up, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and The Simpsons.

So let's run them all down, shall we?

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Opening Weekend: $138 million ($164 million 4-day)
Final Domestic Total: $390 million

Damn you, back-to-back sequels, screwing up analysis on this film!

After all, the only other films to pull such a move (Back to the Future and The Matrix) had first sequels that were pretty badly received with "WTF?" endings that scared off the audience from returning to the second sequel, which would then disappoint six months later. With Pirates 3, however, the producers corrected two of these problems: Instead of waiting the incredibly short six months that those two franchises did, they expanded it to a year (Well, 10.5 months to be exact), and instead of screwing with the audience's heads, they gave us a simple-ish cliffhanger (They're off to save Jack with the back-from-the-dead Barbossa, but the evil pirate-hater has the heart of Davy Jones!). Whether or not audiences hated it is debatable, as critics were mixed, but audiences enjoyed it enough to make it only the third movie ever to gross over $1 billion worldwide and make it the fastest-selling DVD of all time.

Now, with Spider-Man 3 likely to freefall after this weekend, it shouldn't be too much of a problem by the time this comes out. I don't see Shrek the Third setting the world on fire like the first two (More on that in a bit), but it'll still be there to keep it from reaching the mass saturation that Spider-Man 3 reached this weekend in order to beat it.

Still, $165 million is hardly anything to sneeze at. However, the key to winning the summer lies in the lack of competition in the following weeks. Outside of Knocked Up, I see nothing in its second or third weekends breaking out, and I think the tentpoles in its fourth (Fantastic Four 2) and fifth (Evan Almighty) weekends are more likely to disappoint than break out. And of course, WOM (word of mouth for you box office illiterates) should be decent enough to let it survive (not in my house! -- ed.). Most series fall apart due to taking themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, but Pirates has always been so all over the map in that regard that the audiences shouldn't notice.

2. Spider-Man 3
Opening: $151 million (Just a hunch)
Total: $360 million

Yeah, yeah. It's already opened, but I might as well include it, no?

Anyway, a large opening was already expected, but the "bleh" WOM wasn't. Couple that with the most massive theater saturation ever (10,000+ screens, more than any other film before it) and competition in weeks 3 and 4, and it's gonna start freefalling before it can reach its far-better received predecessor.

3. Shrek the Third
Opening: $105 million
Total: $330 million

This film is leaving me conflicted. The first film in the franchise blew away all expectations in 2001 when it opened to $42 million (The second biggest opening for an animated film ever at the time) then proceeded to continue blowing expectations away by passing all other summer blockbusters that year and becoming the biggest movie of the summer and second-biggest animated film of all time.

The second film then one-upped its predecessor by clocking in the second-biggest opening of all time and becoming only the second film ever to open with over $100 million, proceeding to once again pass all other summer blockbusters, becoming the third-biggest film ... of all time.

So why can't I wrap my head around this blowing people away again? Not that there's anything disappointing about tripling your budget in the U.S. alone, but still.

First off, CGI animation isn't nearly as rare as it was three years ago. That year, you had three CGI films for the entire year (Shrek 2, The Incredibles and The Polar Express). But we've already had two this spring (TMNT and Meet the Robinsons) and will have two more this summer after Shrek (Surf's Up and Pixar's latest, Ratatouille). The niche there is gone.

Also, the series' mixture of kiddie fun and adult innuendos has been adapted by just about every animated film since. And honestly, the trailer just isn't that good.

But most of all, being in between the far more eventful Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 makes me think that audiences that don't want to see all three will find this one the easiest to catch up on when it comes out on DVD.

Either that, or it'll open to $175 million and finish with $720 million. Maybe I just underestimate the love for butt-scratching jokes. (My Spider-Man 3 audience sure loved that baby throwing up! Libby holds them in glowering contempt. -- ed.)

4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Opening: $130 million
Total: $300 million

Last year I was thinking the seventh and final Harry Potter book certainly wouldn't be released in July 2007, since the fifth and not-quite-final Harry Potter movie was being released at the same time and the two would eat at each other. Instead, once they made the move to have both released within eight days of each other, I realized it was probably the smartest possible move they could have made.

It's quite simple, really: By releasing the biggest publishing event of modern times right after a blockbuster adaptation of a previous installment, you're guaranteed to have the media's eye on you all month, turning July into "Harry Potter Month."

The release of OotP will almost certainly get every Potterhead hyped up just a week before the final book, especially if it's as good as the trailer promises (I don't think I've seen a better trailer for any summer blockbuster than the final trailer for this), WOM should be positive.

Granted, Book 7 will cause the film to have possibly the biggest drop for any mega-opener, but the opening should be enough to carry it just past $300 million.

5. Transformers
Opening: $61 million ($100 million 5-day)
Total: $230 million

First off, the '80s appear to be in again, so nostalgia is on its side. Second, it's got the invasion-disaster aspect that helped Independence Day and War of the Worlds (Before bad WOM kicked in) over the same holiday. Third, they're marketing the film big-time on MySpace, allowing users to sort their pictures or something (I don't get the MySpace either. Those fool kids today! -- ed.).

But most of all, it's about robots. Giant-ass robots. Giant-ass robots FIGHTING EACH OTHER IN METROPOLISES. If that doesn't inspire every boy both big and small to race out to the theaters, what will?

6. Ratatouille
Opening: $63 million
Total: $220 million

It probably would have been smarter for Pixar to wait until November to release this, seeing as this summer is already crowded to the brim with so many event movies this could end to suffocating. It comes late enough into Shrek's run to not have to worry about that, but Transformers steals little boys in Ratatouille's second weekend and Harry Potter taking a dual-medium attack in weeks three and four at the cinema and the bookstores. Finally, The Simpsons movie opens in week five. Seems kinda crowded, no?

Still, being Pixar, it's guaranteed to pull in families and non-families alike at least in its opening weekend, though that'll probably make it the studio's most frontloaded movie ever, and competition will also make it the least-attended Pixar. But still, $220 million? Very good.

7. The Bourne Ultimatum
Opening: $65 million
Total: $203 million

Bourne seems to have become the thinking man's movie franchise. Back in 2002 it surprised by matching the gross of The Sum of All Fears, the other spy movie from an already established franchise. It went on to become the biggest rental of 2003, and the sequel increased on the original by nearly 45%, and perhaps even more surprisingly matched the original's WOM (With the exception of those that despise the shaky-cam).

Marketing hasn't been heavy yet, but since the franchise skews older than most, that isn't too necessary at the moment. Also, being the second-to-last major blockbuster of the summer should keep it's legs good (More on that in a moment). Assuming, of course, that it's good.

8. Rush Hour 3
Opening: $47 million
Total: $155 million

The biggest thing going for this film is that it's the last surefire blockbuster of the summer. After this all you have are films that are either being dumped by the studios or films the studios hopes can be a late-summer sleeper hit, 40-Year-Old Virgin-style. This almost always benefits the last blockbuster in line - hell, even XXX (does anyone even remember this film? -- ed.) went on to more than triple its opening weekend purely because the only other choices were Signs and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Still, this is coming at least two years too late to have any hopes of reaching the highs Rush Hour 2 reached. (That was another film that benefited from being one of the last blockbusters of the summer season.) Jackie Chan is no longer nearly as cool as he once was, and Tucker has been MIA since RH2. Again though, the lack of competition will help it in the long term.

9. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Opening: $56 million
Total: $140 million

The first film opened two years ago to magnificent numbers, largely due to being a rare glint of sunshine in a summer full of gloomy, dark blockbusters (Star Wars Episode III, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds). Alas, the legs were not quite as sunny, leading to a still-good finish at $156 million, enough to put a sequel on the fast track.

Again, this film could go either way. The teaser was a great attention-grabber, using the Devil Wears Prada method of taking one scene to sample to the audience (in this case, a chase between the mysterious Silver Surfer and the Human Torch). Still, there are many more event movies vying for the attention of moviegoers this summer than there were in 2005, and I'm not sure FF4-2 (What a redundant title) will be able to stand out. Well, it should stand out enough to match the original's opening but not much else.

10. Knocked Up
Opening: $25 million
Total: $130 million

When I first saw the trailer for this, I didn't think it would have enough jokes to pull in an audience as large as The 40-Year-Old Virgin did. However, in recent weeks, there has been insanely positive word coming from advance screenings, and tracking is already at $33 million with almost a month to go.

So, I've decided that this will indeed be THE comedy of the summer, even though the It Summer Comedy usually doesn't come until at least July (There's Something About Mary, American Pie, Wedding Crashers, etc.).

And some other films of note:

The Simpsons Movie
Opening: $52 million
Total: $115 million

This has potential to either tap into nostalgia big-time and be a smash ($150+ million) or have people shrug it off and fizzle out ($75 million or even less). I'll stick to the middle at the moment.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Opening: $32 million
Total: $105 million

Place him in a broad, mainstream comedy and Adam Sandler is one of the most consistent draws in Hollywood. (Take him out of a mainstream comedy, and you have Spanglish and Reign Over Me.) Chuck and Larry is a broad, mainstream comedy, but outside of the usual Gay Panic jokes and a scantily clad Jessica Biel, is the appeal there as much as Click or Anger Management? I'm not feeling it, but then again I didn't feel it for Click, so ...

Evan Almighty
Opening: $25 million
Total: $85 million

I want this film to succeed, if only for the sake of Steve Carell's movie career. But I worry that the stories of running way over-budget and the label of "Most expensive comedy ever" at $175 million (damn those animals and water effects!) are going to hang over the film. And do audiences know it's supposed to be a family comedy?

Live Free or Die Hard
Opening: $26 million ($40 million 5-day)
Total: $80 million

Rocky Balboa's decent B.O. run this Christmas showed people won't always laugh off a fading star's return to the franchise that made them. However, I think a rumored PG-13 rating will do more harm in the long-term than good.

Surf's Up
Opening: $18 million
Total: $70 million

The trailer for this appears to be reaching for a cute-ish mockumentary-style, which sounds kinda cool in conception but may not be that interesting in execution. Also, it comes out directly in between the other two, far-more-eventful CGI films of the summer, so it'll probably end up getting lost in the shuffle.

Ocean's 13
Opening: $23 million
Total: $65 million

The second one was pretty wretchedly received, and while Todd thinks this can overcome noted bad WOM, I'm not sure that many people were interested in a second, let alone a third. And in summer? (I'm not excited, but Libby insists we see it because we so rarely get to see so many pretty people in one place! -- ed.)

Opening: $16 million
Total: $60 million

This is a film whose hype perplexes me. The trailer wasn't awful (and surprisingly kept the "John Travolta in drag!" jokes to a minimum), but does it really have THAT much appeal? The only musicals to truly break out this decade have both been aided by Oscar hype (Dreamgirls and Chicago), something Hairspray has none of. Or maybe I just underestimate the appeal of John Travolta-in-drag.

1 comment:

Todd VanDerWerff said...

I would predict the critical hits of the summer (wide release), but it seems pretty obvious to me that it will be Knocked Up, Ratatouille and Bourne, then a bunch of stuff that gets around 60% on the Tomatometer.

Maybe The Simpsons, if they really did recapture the seasons 3-7 glory.