Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Preview: "Departed" Arrives with a Bang

by | October 5, 2006 | Comments

Movie studios are offering something for every age group over the Columbus Day holiday weekend. Mature adults will go undercover with Martin Scorsese‘s cop thriller "The Departed," twentysomethings looking for a scare get the horror prequel "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," while teenagers have a chance to laugh with the new comedy "Employee of the Month."

Meanwhile, last weekend’s number one film – the animated comedy "Open Season" – will continue to play to young children during a frame when a large percentage of students will have no class on Monday. The top ten will try to crack the $100M mark for the first time in nearly two months thanks to the variety of good product.

Ranking dead last among Hollywood’s big six studios in year-to-date market share, Warner Bros. has a lot of catching up to do in the fourth quarter if it wants to prevent snapping its five-year streak of billion-dollar-plus box office years. So this weekend, it hands the ball off to Scorsese who delivers what critics are calling one of his best films ever with "The Departed." The R-rated picture stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen. Overflowing with starpower, the Boston-set film is an American remake of the award-winning Hong Kong blockbuster "Infernal Affairs" which finds an Irish cop going undercover into the underworld and a mob mole infiltrating the police department.

After rejecting a seemingly endless line of period dramas including "Hollywoodland," "The Black Dahlia," "Flyboys," and "All the King’s Men," adult audiences should be ready to throw its support behind a modern-day action thriller juiced up with major stars worth paying top dollar for. If the cast isn’t enough to seal the deal, glowing reviews from critics across the board should have a big impact on driving in traffic. In fact, reviews are among the best of any wide release hitting theaters this year. DiCaprio and Damon appeal to a wide age group so expect strong numbers from young adults. And Jack is that rare star who can flirt with age 70 but still be relevant to the iPod generation. With $100M blockbusters in each of the last four decades, the Oscar-winner is a perennial favorite and his films are
events.

Warner Bros. has backed "The Departed" with a solid marketing campaign which is effectively exciting ticket buyers. No R-rated film has hit the $30M mark on opening weekend in nearly a year so that could once again be the ceiling on this film’s short-term potential. Appeal to both men and women is substantial, although as is typical at this time of year, business from males may be affected by football and the baseball playoffs. But word-of-mouth is likely to be very positive so look for the pic to remain a contender for weeks to come. With a colossal amount of starpower, sensational reviews, and a Monday holiday helping Sunday night sales,
the Leo vs. Matt flick should be able to generate plenty of excitement with audiences this weekend. "The Departed" opens in 3,017 theaters on Friday and could gross about $27M over the frame.

Leo DiCaprio, ‘lending a hand’ in Martin Scorsese’s "The Departed."

Moviegoers that don’t get starstruck, but instead want some gore and violence in their weekend entertainment, can opt for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning." The prequel to the 2003 remake of the 1974 horror classic is an R-rated tale with Jordana Brewster ("The Fast and the Furious", "Annapolis") as its only star. Horror remakes usually do not rely on stars anyway, but on the brand name of a popular terrorfest. Budgets are relatively low with most of the money going towards production values rather than talent. Three years ago, the previous "Massacre" posted powerful numbers bowing to $28.1M in mid-October on its way to a brutal $80.1M. It opened the door to many other moneymaking remake hits like "Dawn of the Dead," "The Amityville Horror," and "The Omen" which each went on to gross over $50M.

"Beginning" will play to hardcore genre fans that are older teens and young adults. But look for some older horror aficionados to take a curious peek too. The marketplace is primed and ready for its arrival as there has not been a major horror hit since June’s "Omen" pic hit cinemas. Add in the fact that Halloween is around the corner prompting audience demand for the genre to rise and a large turnout should be expected. Excitement does not seem to be reaching the same height that this installment’s predecessor had, so an opening in the high 20s may not result. Plus Leo, Matt, and even bad boy Jack will be drawing away many twentysomethings this weekend. Buzzing through victims in over 2,800 theaters, "The Texas Chainsaw Massace: The Beginning" could scare up around $19M this weekend.

More teens in trouble in the latest "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" film.

The classic love triangle storyline is set in a Walmart-like super store in the new Lionsgate comedy "Employee of the Month." The PG-13 pic stars Dane Cook and Dax Shepard as co-workers competing for the attention of the hot new sales clerk, played by Jessica Simpson, who only dates those who win the coveted employee prize. The comedy should play to a teen and young adult audience and with the weekend’s other new films being R flicks, Month could score some points with the under-17 crowd. Teenage girls have especially been neglected this fall. Why would they care about 1940s murder mysteries, moronic stunt films, or Sean Penn as a flamboyant politician? Two hunky young dudes fighting over the former Daisy Duke could make for the most interesting film to grab their attention since "Step Up."

Still, "Employee of the Month" will have its work cut out for it. Many older teens and young adults will be drawn away by "Departed" and "Chainsaw" and Ashton Kutcher fans are still checking out "The Guardian." Starpower is not too high, but teenagers in need of a laugh will not have many other options. Opening in 2,579 theaters, "Employee of the Month" could debut with around $10M.

Dane Cook, in his first leading role in "Employee of the Month."

Sony’s animated comedy "Open Season" enjoyed a healthy start to its run last weekend and will face no new competition during the sophomore frame. Plus with the Columbus Day school holiday, the Martin Lawrence – Ashton Kutcher toon should remain a popular (and only) option for young children. A 30% drop would give "Season" about $16M over the weekend and a sturdy ten-day cume of $46M.

Buena Vista’s Coast Guard adventure "The Guardian" did moderately well in its debut last weekend, but adult audiences will be pulled away by the starpower of "The Departed" this weekend. The studio has been reporting strong exit polls so word-of-mouth could prevent a large falloff. A 40% decline would give "Guardian" about $11M for the weekend and $34M in ten days.

"Jackass: Number Two" will face some stiff competition from the weekend’s two new R-rated films so a 45% drop could be in order. That would leave the Paramount hit with $8M and an impressive 17-day total of $64M allowing the comedy sequel to surpass the gross of the 2002 original in under three weeks.

LAST YEAR: New films invaded the box office over the Columbus Day frame taking four of the top five slots. Leading the way was the acclaimed claymation pic "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" with a $16M debut. The DreamWorks film enjoyed good legs and ended up with $56.1M domestically plus the Oscar for Best Animated Film. Jodie Foster‘s two-time chart-topper "Flightplan" held up well in its third weekend grossing $10.8M for Buena Vista. Cameron Diaz opened her new comedy "In Her Shoes" in third place with $10M on its way to $32.9M for Fox. Universal followed with the sports betting film "Two For the Money" with a $8.7M bow and Sony opened its drama "The Gospel" in fifth with $7.5M. Final grosses reached $22.9M and $15.8M, respectively. Lions Gate saw its new comedy "Waiting" launch in seventh place with just $6M leading to a $16.1M final. Opening with strong results in limited release were the acclaimed dramas "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "The Squid and the Whale" which both earned rave reviews and kudos during awards season. Their domestic grosses reached $31.6M and $7.4M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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