Box Office Guru Preview: Five New Films Fight For Holiday Cheer

Studios should be happy heading into Christmas.

by | December 20, 2007 | Comments

Moviegoers are in for a feast as studios will unleash a wide menu of new options on Friday trying to reach holiday patrons on the weekend before Santa comes to town. Disney leads the way with its adventure sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets which is getting the widest launch by far of the five new films. The Nicolas Cage actioner will face off against other star-driven movies like Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp‘s Sweeney Todd. Comedy comes in the form of Walk Hard while romance pops up in P.S. I Love You. With so many choices, there should be something for everyone allowing the overall box office to remain healthy. Plus with Christmas Eve falling on a Monday, Sunday sales will be stronger than usual giving the weekend numbers an added boost.

Nicolas Cage hit a career high in 2004 with National Treasure which bowed to $35.1M on its way to $173M, his highest gross ever. Now Disney and superproducer Jerry Bruckheimer reteam for the PG-rated sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets which aims to target the same broad audience that made the first such a big hit. The rating and the studio’s name help to attract families and younger kids while Cage and the action element bring in teens and young adults. Competition from I Am Legend‘s second weekend will cut into some of the action business, but history has shown that two high-profile action movies can indeed survive at the same time. Secrets delivers the entertainment that the target audience is looking for and the marketing push has been strong. The built-in fan base knows what it’s getting so expect a big opening. Reviews will be mostly irrelevant. Invading over 3,500 theaters, National Treasure: Book of Secrets might take in about $44M this weekend.

Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger in National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Capping off a landmark year that saw his films Knocked Up and Superbad gross a combined $270M, Judd Apatow ends 2007 by waving his producing and writing wands around Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Like the two previous hits, this Sony title carries the R rating thanks to envelope-pushing humor that audiences crave. John C. Reilly headlines the pic as a rock star who lives an up and down life. Normally a Reilly-led film would fail miserably at the box office since he has no track record of anchoring successful films. However, it is the Apatow name that provides the starpower here and so older teens and young adults should come out in solid numbers. There are no other comedies for that demographic right now plus a trim running time of 96 minutes will ensure plenty of showtimes.
Positive reviews will help too. Some may find the film through word-of-mouth so a prolonged run looks to be in order. Opening in over 2,500 theaters, Walk Hard may gross around $15M this weekend.

John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer in Walk Hard

Universal will find out this weekend what means more at the box office, starpower or subject matter. The studio opens Charlie Wilson’s War, a new comedy-drama starring Oscar winners Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman about a covert U.S. operation that supplied weapons and training to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. The topic is just about the last thing audiences want to pay to see on the big screen right now as evidenced by the horrendous grosses for other politically-themed dramas dealing with the Middle East.

To find success, the studio is using two tactics. It is pushing the comedy element to show ticket buyers that they will not be in for a serious lecture, and it is promoting the A-list stars heavily. Hanks and Roberts have sold billions of dollars worth of tickets worldwide and this is their first pairing. The R-rated film will appeal mostly to older adults which means there will still be plenty of potential over the next two weeks. The final gross will not rely entirely on the opening weekend results. With Roberts delivering a very flattering line about the Golden Globes in the film, it was no surprise that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association returned the favor by honoring War with five Globe nods including Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. Those nominations have become a key element in the marketing. Reviews have been strong too. Launching in roughly 2,500 theaters, Charlie Wilson’s War could collect about $14M over the weekend.

Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War

Setting a new record for most throats sliced open in a Hollywood musical, Paramount and DreamWorks give a moderate national roll-out to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Directed by Tim Burton, the R-rated film stars Johnny Depp in the title role along with new mom Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Sacha Baron Cohen. Musicals are often tough sells at the box office but Depp-Burton concoctions almost always score big bucks. Like most song-and-dance pics, Sweeney Todd should skew slightly more female but appeal seems broader across many age groups.

Although Paramount is marketing the revenge flick like a 3,000-theater bow, it is only going into about 1,000 locations this weekend. That should lead to sold out
shows and a very high average. Plus with so many other films releasing at the same time, getting second and third screens within multiplexes will be difficult. The gruesome pic should bring out hard-core fans first and then reach a more mainstream crowd after Christmas when seeing blood and gore will not be as bad of a thing. Positive reviews and four Globe nominations will also help to convince audiences, but the starpower of Depp and Burton is the film’s biggest asset. Look for a debut of around $10M this weekend followed by good legs in the coming weeks.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd

Following his career-making turn in one of the year’s most memorable hits 300, Gerard Butler turns to the world of flimsy grosses in the romantic drama P.S. I Love You starring opposite two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank. The weekend’s only new PG-13 film will play to an adult female audience which may be a bit tough to reach this weekend. Holiday activities will provide a distraction as will Tom, Julia, and Johnny who will steal away much of the potential of P.S. Negative reviews will only help keep ticket buyers away. Overall excitement is not too high and starpower is certainly low. Most fans who bought tickets for the Spartan actioner will be elsewhere this weekend. P.S. I Love You opens in about 2,200 locations and could gross about $5M this weekend.

Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You

Will Smith has dominated the box office since last Friday’s explosive launch for his sci-fi thriller I Am Legend. However, the sophomore frame is likely to see a steep fall for a number of reasons. Competition will be a big factor with the freshman class stealing away different audience segments. The Batman factor will also be gone since fans of the Caped Crusader either have already seen the trailer for The Dark Knight with Legend last week, or are watching it online whenever they want. Plus sci-fi films typically attract the bulk of the business upfront leading to a large sophomore drop. A 60% tumble for I Am Legend could result giving the Warner Bros. pic about $31M for the weekend and $133M after ten days.

Alvin and the Chipmunks is in a much better position since all kids will be out of school for the rest of the year. Business this week, all next week, and the session before New Year’s will be sizzling. National Treasure will take away some ticket sales, but with so many R-rated films filling up screens, parents will keep looking at the Chipmunks as the only game in town for small children. Alvin and the Chipmunks could decline by 40% and collect around $27M over the weekend pushing the ten-day total to a sensational $80M.

LAST YEAR: Ben Stiller and Robin Williams rocked the box office with the action comedy Night at the Museum which debuted powerfully in first place with $42.2M over the four-day holiday frame with Christmas Day falling on a Monday. Fox found itself with a megahit as the effects-driven pic topped the charts for
three straight weeks, ended up with a mammoth $250.9M domestically, and even conquered overseas multiplexes with an eye-popping $574M worldwide haul. Will Smith‘s uplifting drama The Pursuit of Happyness dropped a spot to second with a strong $22.6M over four days. Opening with muscle in third was Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky Balboa with $17M over the four-day weekend and a potent $26.7M across its six-day debut period. The MGM release became a solid hit for the franchise earning great reviews plus an impressive $70.3M. Universal followed with its new CIA thriller The Good Shepherd starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and Robert De Niro which launched with $14.1M on its way to $59.9M. The kidpic Charlotte’s Web ranked fifth with $9.6M in its sophomore session. Opening in eighth place with mild results was the football drama We Are Marshall with $8.6M over four days for Warner Bros. The Matthew McConaughey flick ended up scoring $43.5M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,