Box Office Guru Preview: Step Brothers and X-Files Hope For the Best

Dark Knight should retain top spot.

by | July 24, 2008 | Comments

Batman faces two new villains each trying to grab some share of business in a marketplace dominated by The Dark Knight. Will Ferrell is back with his latest comedy Step Brothers from Sony while Fox counters with the thriller The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The Joker will sit back and laugh as he makes his two victims compete for the runnerup spot. Knight should face a steep decline, but will have no problem ruling the North American box office once again as more records are bracing to be smashed into bits.

The first in a trio of R-rated late-summer comedies hits theaters on Friday with Step Brothers. Ferrell and John C. Reilly reteam two years after their Talladega Nights became a $148M blockbuster and this time play slackers pushing 40 who must move in together when their single parents marry. Adam McKay, who directed Ferrell in the summer hits Talladega and Anchorman, helmed while comedy guru Judd Apatow produced. The marketplace certainly needs a star-driven comedy right now so the positioning for Step Brothers will help. Audiences have been bombarded with superhero and action films over the past month so some variety is needed.

But the R rating will hurt it especially with all the younger teens out of school and looking for a laugh. Sure past Apatow films like Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin all worked, but they were much funnier films and had more buzz. Ferrell hit number one but still underperformed in February with the R-rated Semi-Pro which bowed to just $15.1M. Step Brothers should fly a bit higher thanks to a slightly funnier trailer, lack of comedy competition, and the busier July playtime. The Dark Knight of course will be a factor pulling away many potential customers, but the pseudo-siblings should snuggle into a second place debut. Step Brothers will have to find its audience fast since rival R-rated comedies Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder both moved their releases up by two days from Friday to Wednesday bows on August 6 and 13, respectively. Launching in around 2,800 locations, Step Brothers may gross about $21M this weekend.


John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell are Step Brothers.

Fox is giving an unusually quiet launch to The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the second big-screen adventure adapted from the successful sci-fi television series that ran for nine seasons. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return as FBI agents Mulder and Scully while series creator Chris Carter takes over the director’s chair from Rob Bowman who helmed 1998’s The X-Files: Fight the Future. The PG-13 film involves the disappearance of a federal agent which prompts the two to return to the Bureau for a new investigation involving a psychic ex-priest played by Billy Connolly.

Believe plays out like a mildly entertaining extra-long episode of the show with a story that barely includes any actual science fiction and that’s no way to energize old fans or even gain new ones. This is a TV property that has faded over the years and is no longer very relevant. Expect numbers closer to Speed Racer‘s rather than like Sex and the City‘s in this summer’s TV-to-movies game. In the years since the Fox program signed off, the Batman franchise was reborn and stars like the Wills (Smith and Ferrell) have been providing new entertainment every year. All will be factors at the box office this weekend with the male-skewing X-Files audience.

The previous film bowed to $30.1M which would amount to $45M at today’s prices. Many of those fans have tuned out and moved on with their lives. There’s no doubt that The Dark Knight‘s second weekend will steal over $60M, maybe even more than $70M, away from the same folks that Fox is targeting for its action offering. Plus Believe has not had the big push that the studio gave the franchise a decade ago. Reviews are not very warm either. Awareness and excitement outside of the sci-fi fan base is not very high at all. A year ago this very weekend it scored a gigantic opening for the movie version of its other Sunday night Fox Network show The Simpsons. Lightning will not strike twice. Opening in 3,185 theaters, The X-Files: I Want to Believe could bow to around $19M.


Mulder and Scully are back in X-Files: I Want to Believe.

All industry eyes will be on The Dark Knight as it tries to blast through the triple-century mark in a mere ten days. Given the colossal hit’s muscular midweek numbers, this record feat could indeed happen. But how high can it fly in the end? And will it get closer to Titanic than any other blockbuster before? Only moviegoers can determine that, but don’t expect a 70% drop like Hulk and Hellboy II suffered. In just five days, The Dark Knight has grossed about as much as its 2005 predecessor Batman Begins grossed during its entire five-month run.

The Warner Bros. smash hauled in a mammoth $24.5M in sales on Monday and followed that up with a stellar $20.9M on Tuesday. That puts Knight on course to generate an eye-popping $235-240M in its first full week of release obliterating the old record of $196M set by another July juggernaut of a sequel – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. With so much demand absorbed on the first weekend, especially from those round-the-clock showtimes that many exhibitors programmed last Friday morning, a steep sophomore decline is sure to occur. Even Chest which was well liked by audiences fell by 54% on the second voyage to $62.3M as it faced a pair of new releases that each bowed to $21-22M. Spider-Man 3 tumbled by 62% after its record-breaking opening even though none of the openers against it reached double-digit millions.

Word-of-mouth for Heath Ledger‘s final complete performance has been electric and there is still a big audience out there to reach, not to mention the fans who are lining up for seconds and thirds, plus those who are finally getting their hands on Imax tickets. The X-Files has plenty of audience overlap, but Batman isn’t worried in the least. It’s clear which film offers more entertainment for the dollar. Competition from new releases should not be too intense so The Dark Knight may witness a 55% drop this weekend to about $70M. That would allow the ten-day cume to skyrocket to $308M which could allow the Caped Crusader to fly past Iron Man in an astonishingly quick eleven days to become the highest grossing blockbuster of 2008 with so much cash still ahead of it.

Universal countered Batman with its musical Mamma Mia! and scored a big hit with adult women. The Meryl Streep starrer should not face too much competition for its core audience this weekend from debuting pics so a 40% drop to about $16.5M could occur. That would leave the ABBA songfest with roughly $58M after ten days with a good shot at joining the $100M club just like past musicals Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Hairspray.

Will Smith is no longer America’s favorite superhero, but he can smile because Hollywood’s most bankable star will score his fifth career $200M blockbuster this weekend. Hancock should slip by 50% to about $7M for a cume to date of $204M for Sony. Brendan Fraser‘s adventure flick Journey to the Center of the Earth is playing well to younger kids so a good hold is likely. Look for a 35% dip to $8M and a cume of $57M.

LAST YEAR: Generating the biggest opening for a non-ogre toon, Fox’s The Simpsons Movie exploded to a stunning $74M grossing as much as the next five movies combined – a hard task in July. The global blockbuster went on to take in $183.1M domestically and a stellar $527M worldwide. Dropping to second was Adam Sandler’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry with $19.1M followed by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with $17.7M and Hairspray with $15.9M. Opening in fifth was the romantic comedy No Reservations which bowed to $11.7M for Warner Bros. on its way to $43.1M. Debuting poorly much lower on the chart was Sony’s Lindsay Lohan flop I Know Who Killed Me with $3.5M and the MGM comedy Who’s Your Caddy with $2.8M. Final tallies reached just $7.5M and $5.7M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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