Box Office Guru Preview: District 9 Invades Over Crowded Frame

Also: Time Traveler's Wife, Bandslam, The Goods, Ponyo open this weekend.

by | August 13, 2009 | Comments

With summer almost out of gas, studios toss five more contenders into the ring in hopes of catching moviegoers that just haven’t had their share of multiplex entertainment yet. Having the best shot at reaching the top spot is the new science fiction alien pic District 9 which will skew male. Targeting adult women is the romantic drama The Time Traveler’s Wife while teen girls will be offered the high school comedy Bandslam. Young men looking for laughs get The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard and kids fed up with 3D toons get the old school animation saga Ponyo. Overall, the marketplace looks to match last year’s levels and could even surge higher.

Gaining momentum since its Comic Con screening in late July (could there have been a better place and time?), Sony’s sci-fi actioner District 9 invades cinemas on Friday taking aim at genre fans interested in a smart new story. The R-rated film takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa where aliens have been living for two decades in a slum monitored by humans. When a bureaucrat is assigned to relocate the alien population, the futures of both species are tested. No stars appear in this project so the studio is selling the pic on the name of producer Peter Jackson. That puts District 9 in the same position as last year’s monster hit Cloverfield which also had no known actors, a shaky handheld camera feel, and was marketed on the name of its producer J.J. Abrams.

District 9 has not generated as much buzz and its rating will keep out younger teens so an opening close to Cloverfield‘s $40.1M is not likely. However, this new alien story has been showered with glowing reviews from critics which will help to convince those undecided sci-fi fans. Plus the Comic-Con screening three weeks ago was a brilliant strategic move on the part of the studio since it was the perfect audience for this subject matter and it was close enough to the release date to make sure buzz had time to spread to all those genre fans who didn’t make the trip to San Diego. Pushing the Peter Jackson brand name adds extra insurance.

Wider mainstream appeal may allude D9. American moviegoers are not used to sitting through two hours of South African accents and there is no property with a built-in audience that the film is based upon. Sure, G.I. Joe seemed like a cheesy brand to make a film out of, but its PG-13 package of formulaic action appealed to millions and drove the opening to $54.7M. True sci-fi fans and those looking for some gory alien battles will make up the D9 crowd. Young men will lead the way while female interest is questionable. Landing in more than 2,900 theaters, District 9 could open to around $23M.

District 9

Warner Bros. inherited a handful of hits after absorbing New Line into its fold and the latest comes in the form of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Based on the best-selling novel, the PG-13 fantasy romance stars Rachel McAdams as a woman trying to create a life with her true love (Eric Bana) who suffers from a genetic disorder that forces him to skip uncontrollably through time to different eras in his life. McAdams won over many fans in 2004 with The Notebook, another New Line romantic drama based on a popular book released in the summer. It bowed to $13.5M with a $5,847 average and went on to have terrific legs grossing six times that amount with a $81M final cume. Debuts for other recent mature romances include $14.8M for Australia, $13.6M for The Lake House, and $13.4M for Nights in Rodanthe.

Bana has had a banner summer playing the villain in the hugely successful Star Trek, the jealous husband in the Adam Sandler comedy Funny People, and now shows up for the third time as a romantic lead, something he’s not known for. Fans of the novel will probably make it out, though weak reviews will make some hesitate. McAdams is back in a safe zone which is good. After Notebook and Wedding Crashers made her a big name, she spent three years barely having a presence in the industry as her few roles came in small pictures. Wife should play as a one-quadrant film as few outside of adult women will come out. Plus the second weekend of Julie & Julia will provide some direct competition. But romantic dramas have been few and far between this summer so a good turnout is likely. Landing in 2,988 theaters, The Time Traveler’s Wife could bow to about $16M.

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in The Time Traveler’s Wife

Summit is hoping that teen girls come out for its high school tale Bandslam starring High School Musical‘s Vanessa Hudgens and is taking no chances by attaching a new trailer for The Twilight Saga: New Moon which vampire fans will certainly want to see. The PG-rated pic about students in a battle of the bands contest is not likely to appeal to anyone outside of their teen years and females should outnumber the boys. There’s some good starpower here for the target demographic, but outsiders will not be buying any tickets. The current lack of content for young females will work in the film’s favor, but don’t expect a late summer Bring It On-type breakout hit here. Rocking into 2,000 sites, Bandslam might collect roughly $6M this weekend.

Gaelan Connell and Vanessa Hudgens in Bandslam

Jeremy Piven anchors the R-rated comedy The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard playing a fast-talking used car salesman hired to save a local dealership from bankruptcy. The Paramount release also stars Ving Rhames, James Brolin, and The Hangover‘s Ed Helms. Moviegoers have had their fair share of good and bad comedies this summer so there’s no real need for another one right now. There is a small opportunity for Goods to connect since there are no major comedies aimed at young adult men right now, especially with Funny People fading fast. But action titles G.I. Joe and District 9 will steal away $40-50M this weekend so the demo will not have too much extra to spare. Kudos to Piven for hitting the pavement selling his latest product aggressively, but it may not translate into too much more at the box office. Plus trailers and commercials don’t look too funny. Hitting over 1,500 locations, The Goods may take in about $5M this weekend.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

More than a year after legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki‘s Ponyo opened in his native Japan, American audiences finally get their first (legal) look at the filmmaker’s latest creation. His past films Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle were released by Buena Vista in limited play to strong averages thanks to loyal fans. This time, Pixar guru John Lasseter is on board as an executive producer for the English version trying to give Ponyo wider appeal along with voice actors Liam Neeson, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett. The distributor hopes the gamble works as it will invade 927 locations on Friday in a risky test of Miyazaki’s U.S. appeal. The G-rated film will pull in the director’s core crowd but kids and families should come too. A weekend bow of around $4M could result.


Five new soldiers march into the multiplexes, but Paramount’s pricey actioner G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra hopes to still have the most firepower and hold onto its number one spot this weekend. Effects-heavy tentpoles tend to attract the bulk of their business upfront so a large decline is likely. Plus audience buzz has just been average so no smaller-than-usual drop is likely. Joe has taken in some strong numbers midweek with $6.4M on Monday and $6M on Tuesday and looks to end its first full week with roughly $77M. A 55% fall could be in store this time giving the real American heroes about $24M over three days boosting the ten-day total to $101M.

Sony’s Julie & Julia is connecting with adult women and getting great word-of-mouth so its sophomore decline should not be too high. However, it will face direct competition from Eric and Rachel who hope to lure women away with their love story. A 40% fall could result giving the Meryl Streep pic about $12M for the frame lifting the sum to $42M after ten days.

Disney’s guinea pig hit G-Force will come within striking distance of the $100M mark this weekend. A 45% decline to $5.5M should occur pushing the total to $97M. Warner Bros. is likely to see a 45% drop for its top performer of the year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The wizard sequel would bank $5M, upping the cume to $287M, and will fly past Up a few days later to become the second biggest blockbuster of the year after the Transformers sequel.

LAST YEAR: The war comedy Tropic Thunder ended The Dark Knight‘s four-week reign at the top with a strong number one debut grossing $25.8M over the weekend and $36.8M across its Wednesday-to-Sunday launch. The Paramount hit would spend three weeks of its own atop the charts and go on to finish with a solid $110.5M. Batman and The Joker followed in second with $16.4M in their fifth battle boosting the cume to a stunning $471.1M. Warner Bros. also claimed the third spot with the $14.6M opening of the animated actioner Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Fox, the studio that released the six live-action Jedi flicks, debuted its horror entry Mirrors in fourth with $11.2M. Final totals reached $35.2M and $30.7M, respectively. The stoner comedy Pineapple Express followed in fifth with $9.8M tumbling 58% in its second weekend.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,