Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Preview: Museum Open For Business Over Crowded Christmas Weekend

by | December 21, 2006 | Comments

Moviegoers will have plenty to choose from over the long Christmas holiday weekend as four new star-driven wide releases hit the marketplace adding to an already crowded marquee.

The Ben Stiller fantasy pic "Night at the Museum" leads the way as the frame’s only new comedy while the Matthew McConaughey football drama "We Are Marshall" offers an inspirational story based on true events. Meanwhile, a pair of Italian Stallions hop into the director’s chair as Sylvester Stallone‘s boxing drama "Rocky Balboa" and Robert De Niro‘s espionage thriller "The Good Shepherd" offer even more choices to holiday moviegoers. As is typical of this time of year, Christmas Eve will hurt the box office on Sunday as last-minute shopping and early theater closings will take their toll. But the Monday holiday will see a major recovery since Christmas Day brings forth a surge in traffic to the multiplexes.

Blasting into nearly 3,700 theaters including 72 Imax venues is the comedy "Night at the Museum" which finds Ben Stiller playing the new night watchman at New York’s Museum of Natural History where all the artifacts and statues come to life each night. Director Shawn Levy ("Cheaper by the Dozen," "The Pink Panther") leaves behind Steve Martin to work with a younger funnyman and more special effects. The PG-rated film is aiming for broad audiences hoping to bring in entire families looking for a fun time this holiday season. "Museum" also plans to score with teens and young adults as the only major comedy option for them. With "The Holiday" being the only other laugher in the top ten to register with that lucrative group, look for a solid response.

Stiller brings considerable starpower to the film but he also gets backup from comedians like Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais, and Dick Van Dyke. Plus with the prestigious ‘and’ credit already claimed by Williams, Owen Wilson takes a sizable supporting role but is so cool that he is nowhere to be found in the credits at all. Audiences want happy and funny films during the Christmas holidays and "Night at the Museum" should post muscular numbers thanks to its starpower, lack of comedy competition, mild rating, and formidable marketing and distribution push. Fox looks to close up the books on 2006 by taking over the number one spot this weekend. Attacking 3,688 locations, "Night at the Museum" could debut to about $34M over the four-day Friday-to-Monday holiday period.

Ben Stiller in "Night at the Museum."

Sylvester Stallone brings the eye of the tiger back to the multiplexes one last time in "Rocky Balboa" which got a jumpstart on the holiday weekend with its Wednesday launch. The MGM release brings the iconic boxer back to the screen in what is supposedly the end of the franchise with Stallone back in the saddle as writer and director. In this tale, Rocky is brought back into the ring when media hype prompts fans to wonder who the best boxer is of all time. The underdog story on screen mirrored the one within industry circles. How could a franchise that died 16 years ago with the poorly-received "Rocky V" find its way back into the hearts of today’s moviegoers. MGM and the "Judge Dredd" star moved forward. Today, they proudly claim one of the best reviewed films of the Christmas season and the Wednesday bow is being counted on to get die-hard fans out early so they can spread positive buzz at work and in school going into the lucrative yet overcrowded weekend period.

With so many other films in the marketplace, and plenty with PG or G ratings aimed at luring in full families, "Rocky Balboa" will have to take its time at the box office as many moviegoers may need some convincing before spending money on the followup to the Tommy Gunn flick. Older adults are the ones who remember the excitement of the franchise, but the studio is hoping they could bring their kids with them for an uplifting tale that makes you feel good inside. "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "We Are Marshall" will be direct competitors in the feel-good genre and the latter will steal away many sports fans too. "Balboa" will have to rely on nostalgia and good word-of-mouth to carry it through round after round. Already playing in 2,752 theaters and adding more locations on Friday, "Rocky Balboa" may gross about $16M over four days and around $21M over six days.

Stallone is back for one more round in "Rocky Balboa."

For football fans this holiday weekend, Warner Bros. trots out another pigskin drama with "We Are Marshall" starring Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, and David Strathairn. The PG-rated film tells the true story of the football program at Marshall University in West Virginia which had to be rebuilt from scratch after a plane crash killed most of the players and coaches. Hollywood seems to have an endless line-up of sports dramas these days and since most of them become commercial successes, it’s no wonder that they keep getting churned out. Just a few months ago, moviegoers powered the football flicks "Invincible" and "Gridiron Gang" to the number one spot with bows of $17M and $14.4M, respectively. "Marshall" should play to much of the same audience and with its underdog feel-good story, the time of year will help since people are in the mood for that type of emotion.

Reviews have not been too good, but that should not matter much. "We Are Marshall" is meant for sports fans and those who love stories about overcoming adversity, regardless of how predictable they may be. Sales from the heartland should be solid and with the tame rating, entire families can come out together. Plus McConaughey is a reliable draw at the box office and is believable as a quirky football coach. Still, competition will be strong and coming from all directions so a blowout will not be possible. Opening in 2,606 theaters, "We Are Marshall" could score about $14M over the Friday-to-Monday frame.

They are Marshall.

Countering the parade of PG flicks is the R-rated CIA thriller "The Good Shepherd" directed by Robert De Niro. The Universal release stars Matt Damon as Edward Wilson, a loyal government agent who helped to create the agency during the Cold War. Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, John Turturro, and De Niro also star. "Shepherd" boasts solid starpower which could help the film have broad appeal. The subject matter appeals to the 30+ crowd, but Damon and Jolie should help to pull in twentysomethings. Teens and ethnic audiences will have minimal interest. Critics have been mixed on the film which could impact the overall turnout.

The last few months have not been kind to star-driven period dramas aimed at adult audiences. Pictures like "Hollywoodland," "All the King’s Men," and "Bobby" have all struggled to find paying audiences with none reaching the $15M mark in total sales. "Shepherd’s" cast is what will allow it to rise above those failures. But the fight for the attention and time of mature adults will be fierce and a running time of nearly three hours will allow for one less showtime per day on every screen further cutting into its commercial potential. Infiltrating 2,217 locations, "The Good Shepherd" might capture around $13M over four days.

Matt Damon and Alec Baldwin in "The Good Shepherd."

With the calendar year coming to a close, things continue to get crowded in the specialty arena this weekend. Clint Eastwood‘s award-winning war drama "Letters From Iwo Jima" debuted on Wednesday in limited release ahead of a January expansion similar to what Warner Bros. did two years ago with the director’s "Million Dollar Baby" which went on to reign at the Oscars. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts star in the period romance "The Painted Veil" from Warner Independent which also platformed on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles. Thursday brings the limited launches of Miramax’s "Venus" starring Golden Globe nominee Peter O’Toole and the Chinese period drama "Curse of the Golden Flower" from Sony Classics which stars Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat.

Zhang Yimou’s "Curse of the Golden Flower."

Last weekend, Will Smith scored a number one hit with "The Pursuit of Happyness" which continues to please audiences. Overall moviegoing should increase over the holiday weekend, but more choices for adult audiences will give Sony some competition. "Pursuit’s" four-day take could drop 25% from its three-day debut gross giving the film about $20M and a cume of $58M after 11 days.

As a sci-fi actioner, Fox’s "Eragon" is likely to see one of the largest drops in the top ten. The dragon adventure might fall by 35% to around $15M over the four-day session leaving the studio with $46M.

Kidpics score big points over Christmas so "Charlotte’s Web" might see many of those fans who skipped out last weekend actually show up this time. The Paramount release’s four-day tally may slip 10% from its three-day bow and bring in roughly $10M. That would give the family film a total of $27M after 11 days.

LAST YEAR: With Christmas falling on a Sunday, the observed holiday on Monday gave the box office an expanded four-day holiday frame allowing the mega holdovers to repeat atop the charts. "King Kong" spent its second weekend at number one and grossed $33.3M over four days and was closely followed by "The Chronicles of Narnia" with $31.7M in its third adventure. The combined haul for the pair soared to $285M with much more still to come. Newcomers rounded out the top five with Jim Carrey defeating Steve Martin in the battle of the comedies. Sony’s "Fun With Dick and Jane" opened in third with $21.5M over four days while Fox’s sequel "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" settled for fourth with $15.3M. Final tallies reached $110.3M and $82.6M, respectively. Sony also claimed fifth with "Memoirs of a Geisha" which expanded nationally and took in $10.2M over the long weekend. Also opening were Fox Searchlight’s Johnny Knoxville comedy "The Ringer" with $7.7M over four days, the Jennifer Aniston pic "Rumor Has It" with $7.5M in two days for Warner Bros., and Universal’s "Munich" with $6M in four days. The films went on to reach $35.4M, $43M, and $47.4M respectively. The debuting horror pic "Wolf Creek" opened outside the top ten with $4.9M in two days on its way to $16.2M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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