Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Preview: Dragons and Webs Duke It Out at Theaters

by | December 14, 2006 | Comments

Hollywood studios try to inject some juice into the North American box office this weekend by unleashing three big new releases aimed at getting people back into the habit of going to the movies.

Boys will be courted with the fantasy adventure pic "Eragon," girls will get to play with "Charlotte’s Web," and adults looking for a feel-good story to counter their holiday shopping blues will have the father-and-son Smith team in "The Pursuit of Happyness."

The dragon tale "Eragon" attacks the cinemas on Friday giving fantasy audiences the entertainment they’ve been missing this holiday season. Fox’s PG-rated actioner will try to fill a void in a season without a "Potter," "Narnia," or "Hobbit." Don’t expect grosses to come close to the numbers posted by those megahits, but if "Eragon" can still reach a portion of that huge audience, the studio will be happy. Ordinarily, the effects-driven film would probably have a tough time at the box office but thanks to a severe lack of competition, Fox has a golden opportunity. The marketing push has been strong and young males have little else to be excited by. Gamers might also be interested in seeing this adventure on the big screen and leave behind their new hardware for a couple of hours. A built-in audience of readers of the book will help too. Landing in 3,020 theaters, "Eragon" could open with around $23M this weekend.

The latest fantasy novel turned fantasy epic: "Eragon."

The beloved children’s story "Charlotte’s Web" hits the multiplexes with Hollywood’s favorite young girl Dakota Fanning in the lead role. Paramount’s G-rated tale will aim for family audiences and is using the starpower of voice actors Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, and John Cleese to connect with parents. With "Happy Feet" being the only major family film to do well over the past few weeks, kids should be ready to move on to something new. Girls will probably outnumber the boys here especially with "Eragon" opening at the same time. But the brand is known and the rating is tame so parents will look at this as a safe bet for their younger ones. Good reviews will help too. With children going on their school holidays soon, look for long-term strength as many will wait until Christmas week to go and see it. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, "Charlotte’s Web" might take in about $21M this weekend.

"Charlotte’s Web," no longer in animated form.

Will Smith and his real-life son Jaden Smith hit the big screen together in Sony’s uplifting drama "The Pursuit of Happyness" which aims to give adult moviegoers something to see this weekend. Based on the true story of Chris Gardner, the PG-13 film tells the story of a man who hits hard times and becomes homeless and moonlights during the day in a stock broker training program hoping for a new lease on life. "Pursuit" has gotten Smith some notice for his acting performance (including a Golden Globe nomination) and the novelty of seeing father and son in a movie together will certainly help sell tickets. The man in black has some of the strongest pull among Hollywood stars at the box office with appeal that transcends all age, race, and gender lines. It’s no wonder that he is now pursuing his tenth $100M blockbuster.

Reviews have been mixed for the film overall even though Smith is hearing buzz about a possible Oscar nomination. Sony must have been hoping for better reactions from critics though. Instead, the studio will appeal directly to adult moviegoers and their desire to see an uplifting feel-good story anchored by a popular star at this time of year. Don’t expect "Pursuit" to reach the levels of the actor’s last film "Hitch" which bowed to $43.1M from 3,575 theaters for a $12,068 average. But if good word-of-mouth circulates, it could stay in the top ten throughout the holiday season and go on to be a winner. Appeal looks solid with both men and women plus a strong turnout from African Americans will help to boost the grosses. Opening in 2,852 theaters, "The Pursuit of Happyness" might debut with around $19M.

Will Smith and son, playing Chris Gardner and son, in "The Pursuit of Happyness."

Opening with special solo engagements in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco is the lavish musical "Dreamgirls" starring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson. Paramount and DreamWorks are putting on a special live roadshow performance with these engageemnts for ten days before the film expands across the country on December 25. In New York City, "Dreamgirls" opens exclusively at the giant Ziegfeld theater which has already sold out its five weekend performances. With a giant auditorium of 1,200 seats and ticket prices of $25, look for this one theater to contribute over $100,000 to the weekend gross. West Coast venues hope to contribute similar numbers. Though the gross will be inflated by the ticket price, sky high demand thanks to critics awards, Globe nods, and Oscar buzz has already led to Friday’s opening night shows in California to sell out as well.

"Dreamgirls," opening in limited locations.

Other new films entering the marketplace in limited release include Steven Soderbergh‘s World War II drama "The Good German" starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, and Tobey Maguire from Warner Bros. MGM counters with its Iraq War drama "Home of the Brave" starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Christina Ricci, and 50 Cent. The Weinstein Company platforms the Jude Law thriller "Breaking and Entering" from director Anthony Minghella in an Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles.

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson in "Home of the Brave."

Among holdovers, last weekend’s top film "Apocalypto" moves into its all-important second weekend which will indicate what type of staying power Mel Gibson‘s latest film has. Curiousity and media hype helped to bring out moviegoers on the first weekend, but will they keep coming? The Buena Vista release fared much better than expected on Sunday grossing $840,000 more than originally expected. The studio expected a Sunday drop of 38% but was pleased to see the bloody epic dip only 23%. This weekend’s three new offerings do not look to give too much of a direct threat to "Apocalypto" so a 35% drop may in order. That would give the Mayan adventure about $9M for the frame and $29M in ten days.

Warner Bros. will see some competition for its penguin blockbuster "Happy Feet," but its hit toon has been holding up quite well each week. A 35% fall would leave "Feet" with around $8.5M and allow it to flirt with the $150M mark. Sony’s "The Holiday" got off to a decent but not spectacular start with its $12.8M bow. The Cameron DiazKate Winslet starrer may slide 35% to roughly $8.5M pushing the total to $25M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: Leaping into the number one spot, although with less muscle than expected, Peter Jackson‘s "King Kong" opened with $50.1M over the weekend and $66.2M over its five-day debut. Universal’s mega-budgeted ape flick went on to gross a commendable $218.1M domestically and $549M worldwide which fell a bit short of the film’s lofty expectations given its budget and filmmaker. "Kong" knocked fellow effects-driven actioner "The Chronicles of Narnia" to second place with $31.8M dropping 51% in its sophomore frame. "Narnia" would eventually climb back into the top spot. Debuting in third was the romantic comedy "The Family Stone" starring Sarah Jessica Parker with $12.5M on its way to $60.1M for Fox. Warner Bros. rounded out the top five with "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" which grossed $6M and "Syriana" which collected $5.6M. No other films dared to open against "King Kong," however the critically acclaimed "Brokeback Mountain" expanded to just 69 theaters in its second weekend and jumped into the top ten with $2.5M for a scorching $36,355 average.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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