Box Office Guru Preview: Underworld Battles Oscar All-Stars

Inkheart also opens this weekend; Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon expanding.

by | January 22, 2009

Only two new releases hit the North American box office, but in the wake of Academy Award nominations, a handful of contenders take the opportunity to expand nationwide hoping Oscar nods can translate into extra cash. Sony unleashes its franchise thriller Underworld: Rise of the Lycans while Warner Bros. counters with Brendan Fraser‘s fantasy actioner Inkheart. Meanwhile, films like Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Dark Knight, and Revolutionary Road all add theaters making for a crowded marquee.

Werewolves get their turn to wreak havoc on the box office with the arrival of the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. The R-rated pic follows Kate Beckinsale‘s two vampire flicks which grossed a combined $114M domestically. The actress does not star in Lycans which features Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, and Rhona Mitra. Since this third helping lacks the muscle of its predecessors, don’t expect the opening weekend to reach the heights of 2003’s Underworld or the 2006 sequel Underworld: Evolution which debuted to $21.8M and $26.9M, respectively.

Some fans of the franchise may look at this as a straight-to-DVD followup that got lucky enough to win a trip to the multiplexes. Those folks will sit this one out. But moviegoers up for some action, violence, and beastly fun will come out and give this a try. The brand has been a strong one so some pull is still there. My Bloody Valentine 3D will provide some competition, but Lycans will carve out its own crowd before large declines set in next week. Attacking over 2,800 theaters, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans could collect about $18M this weekend.


Rhona Mitra and Bill Nighy in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Following up on his pair of $100M+ grossers from last summer, Brendan Fraser returns to cinemas with yet another effects-filled actioner with >Inkheart. The New Line production is being released by Warner Bros. and carries a family-friendly PG rating which will help it to attract kids. Fraser plays a man who can bring characters from fables to life so the studio has tried hard to make it differ from Adam Sandler‘s recent Bedtime Stories by focusing more on starpower and the fantasy visuals instead of plot. Fantasy pics aimed at kids have had their ups and downs at the box office this time of year. Paramount bowed its The Spiderwick Chronicles to $19M a year ago while Disney’s Bridge to Terabithia debuted to $22.6M two years ago in February.

Inkheart has a bigger star with a good track record in this field. However, the film’s look blends in with so many other adventure flicks and fans just had a double dose of the guy in Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor so another one so soon may not be in so much demand. Having already grossed over $17M overseas from openings in Germany, the United Kingdom, and a handful of other territories, the film now hits the red hot North American box office where just about every pic has been met with a solid debut. Landing in 2,655 theaters, Inkheart may take in roughly $12M this weekend.


Brendan Fraser and co. in Inkheart

With ten Oscar nominations, Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire will expand nationally on Friday going from 582 to about 1,300 locations. The Danny Boyle film’s averages have stayed strong during its entire run and now the added exposure from the Academy will open the door to a wider audience interested in seeing what the buzz is all about. A three-day take in the vicinity of $8M may result pushing Slumdog to $60M.


Slumdog Millionaire

Paramount Vantage will expand its Leonardo DiCaprioKate Winslet marital drama Revolutionary Road on Friday from limited release to 1,058 theaters nationwide. So far it has performed well in limited release holding its own week after week with averages of $10,427 from 171 last weekend and $10,558 from 135 the frame before. Those are solid, but not spectacular numbers. Revolutionary Road hasn’t generated the kind of must-see buzz one would expect from a reteaming of the stars of the top-grossing blockbuster of all-time. The fact that it’s not an uplifting feel-good film – what moviegoers are really in the mood for – could be playing a part. Plus with no picture or lead acting nods from the Academy, the road ahead won’t be as bright as it could have been.

Still, its three Oscar nominations and Golden Globe win for Winslet are weapons in the marketing campaign so Vantage will be able to squeeze some mileage out of them. The pic will skew female but could reach a broad range of adults so this weekend’s new releases, and even last week’s openers, should not steal away much of its audience. The one it should worry about is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which could get rejuvenated thanks to its 13 Oscar nods and similar demographic reach. For this weekend, a take of about $5M could result for Revolutionary Road which won’t necessarily guarantee an invite into the top ten.


Revolutionary Road

Ron Howard‘s political drama Frost/Nixon, which did score a nod for the top prize from the Academy, also widens to about 800 runs this weekend. But unlike Road, this film has been steadily eroding away at the box office and posted a mediocre $4,375 average last weekend from 153 sites. Universal is hoping that the five Oscar nominations will reignite interest and open up a new chapter to the run now that it’s a bonafide contender in a real awards race. The studio wisely bought plenty of television ads during the Inauguration on Tuesday to keep it on the radar with those interested in the subject matter. With no huge stars, Frost/Nixon truly needed Oscar’s love in order to pull in paying customers so the next four weeks will be the most lucrative part of the theatrical run. A weekend gross of roughly $4M could result.


Frost/Nixon

After hauling in a jaw-dropping $531M domestically and $997M worldwide, The Dark Knight will get one last mission this weekend with its re-release on Friday in about 250 locations including 143 IMAX sites. The eight Academy nods could fuel interest and lead many to see it again, plus those who were sold out of the IMAX run last summer get a chance to see the large-format version with crowds not likely to be as big. Of course millions now own the mega-smash on DVD so potential is limited, but the Gotham City faithful will seize this opportunity to see it on the big screen one last time. A gross of about $1M may result.


The Dark Knight

Last weekend, funnyman Kevin James did what buddy Adam Sandler twice failed to do last year – score a number one box office hit. The Sony hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop doesn’t have much direct competition this weekend so the PG-rated pic will attempt to spend another week on top. A 40% drop may occur giving the security guard comedy about $19M for the frame and a robust $62M in ten days.

Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino only dipped by 26% last weekend over the Friday-to-Sunday session. Despite a total snub from the Oscars, it should be another strong hold this time. Expanding Academy Award nominees will provide competition here and there, but still a relatively low 20% slide to around $17M may result. That would lift the total for Torino to a superb $98M.

Lycans should cut into sales of My Bloody Valentine 3D which is set to drop sharply like most films of the genre. But the Lionsgate offering is more liked by audiences than most horror entries so a total collapse may not happen. Look for a 50% fall to around $10.5M which would boost the cume to $38M.

Fox Searchlight’s Notorious is another film likely to have pulled in the bulk of its audience on opening weekend so it too could see sales get chopped in half. That would give Biggie Smalls about $10M for a $36M sum after 10 days. The kidpic Hotel for Dogs could hold up better so a 35% decline would give Paramount roughly $11M this weekend and push the ten-day tally to $36M.

LAST YEAR: With seven different films grossing $10-20M each, theaters were busy with plenty of business. The spoof comedy Meet the Spartans was king though opening to $18.5M for Fox on its way to $38.2M. Close behind was Lionsgate’s bloody actioner Rambo with $18.2M finding its way to $42.8M. Fox’s wedding comedy 27 Dresses fell a spot to third with $13.4M while the monster flick Cloverfield tumbled 68% from first to fourth with $12.7M. The Paramount thriller scored the second biggest opening in history ($40.1M) for a film that didn’t reach $100M following only Scary Movie 4 ($40.2M). Debuting in fifth was Diane Lane‘s crime pic Untraceable with $11.4M for Sony leading to a $28.7M final.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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