Weekend Box Office

Box Office Preview: "Cars" Battles "Omen" at Theaters

by | June 8, 2006 | Comments

Racing into theaters across North America, the computer animated film Cars aims to take over pole position this weekend targeting family audiences. Those looking for a good scare can instead choose The Omen which already launched on Tuesday with some frightening results. The frame’s final new wide release is the Robert Altman comedy A Prairie Home Companion giving the weekend a wide assortment of titles for all audiences.

After a surprising top spot debut, the Vince VaughnJennifer Aniston comedy The Break-Up will surely fall from grace, but should still remain a formidable contender.

After a near-break-up of their own, Disney and Pixar are back together again in a committed relationship and have put their full parental support behind Cars which zooms into the marketplace on Friday with some red hot buzz. Directed by Pixar guru John Lasseter (Toy Story, Toy Story 2), the G-rated film tells the story of a cocky race car who gets lost in a small town on the way to the big championship and meets a colorful group of vehicles who teach him some morals. Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, and Larry the Cable Guy all lend their voices.

Recent Pixar films have been spaced out evenly using the Harry Potter year-and-a-half policy. In November 2001, Monsters, Inc. opened to $62.6M and was followed by Finding Nemo with $70.3M in May 2003 and The Incredibles with $70.5M in November 2004. The timing is just enough to make each film a new event of its own that generates excitement among fans of all ages. Disney’s marketing and cross-promotional efforts have been loud as usual and awareness is sky high. But Cars does have a longer running time than most toons clocking in at nearly two hours. Maybe all eight of the credited writers demanded that their bits make the final cut.

Disney has had only two number one hits so far this year, ruling the Dr. King and Presidents’ Day holiday weekends with Glory Road and Eight Below, respectively. This weekend, the third trophy should be in the bag as anticipation among boys and girls alike is high. Business from teens and adults should be solid as well since the Pixar brand name attracts millions of loyal followers of all types. Plus, NASCAR fans are sure to provide an additional push at the turnstiles. The only major competition will come from Over the Hedge which is now fading into its fourth weekend. It’s an open highway for Cars which races into over 3,800 theaters this weekend. A three-day tally of about $72M could result.

Three decades after the original terrorized movie fans, The Omen has been reborn with today’s stars and special effects in the Fox release which opened on Tuesday, 6/6/06. With horror fans now used to a steady string of remakes of fright classics, the novelty has worn thin. So, to make this one stand out, the studio plugged the R-rated film into the unorthodox Tuesday slot to take advantage of the Satan-style date which in turn became the focal point of the marketing campaign. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, and The Amityville Horror were all recent remakes that shot straight to number one. With The Omen, something new was needed to catch the attention of fans. Fox took a risk, tried something new, and won. The pic grossed a stellar $12.6M on Tuesday in its first day of release while playing in 2,660 locations.

The new Omen is hoping to attract the teens and young adults that typically power all of today’s horror hits, as well as older fans of the genre who are curious to see this new cover version. Critics have been mixed in their reviews complaining that it is too similar to the original and that there was no need to revisit this story. But money does rule Hollywood and horror films are very profitable so making newer versions of stories that worked in the past is just what studios are lining up to do. The marketing push has been commendable. Had Omen opened on a Friday, it would have been the umpteenth fright flick of the year. Instead, the date spooked people and caught the attention of the media that spread the hype.

Because this is a horror audience we are looking at, rapid erosion should follow the mid-week opening diluting down the weekend gross. Omen will burn through much of its audience in its first three days before the Friday-to-Sunday period arrives and it might even scare up more than half of its eventual domestic total in the first week. No other scary films are doing any serious biz so competition should not be much of a factor. Plus Omen is benefiting from Fox playing its trailer in front of the X-Men sequel which was seen by millions of sci-fi and horror fans over the past two weeks. For the three-day weekend period, The Omen might gross roughly $17M and over the six-day Tuesday-to-Sunday span, it could scare up around $36M.

In the weekend’s other unusual release pattern, Robert Altman’s latest film A Prairie Home Companion opens nationally on hundreds of screens instead of the typical arthouse platform release that the director’s films usually go out with. The legendary filmmaker’s latest ensemble cast brings together Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and teen queen Lindsay Lohan getting herself some indie cred. The PG-13 film about country music stars gathering for one final radio show performance has earned positive reviews and is being released by Picturehouse.

Altman films usually debut in New York and Los Angeles, build momentum through critical support, and slowly widen across the country. But Prairie is rocking its way into 725 theaters on opening day aiming to offer older adults a smart alternative to the super heroes and spies of summer. The film is sure to skew older than anything else out now which means it might also have legs if the target audience is pleased. Still, there is only so much of a built-in audience that the pic can tap into and the summer release means there will be no awards season to keep the buzz rolling along like with the helmer’s Gosford Park in early 2002. Prairie might struggle to find a broad audience this weekend given all the other high profile films targeting its audience. Adults may instead choose to take their kids to Cars, catch Jen and Vince in a shouting match, or get a weather forecast from Al Gore. An opening weekend gross of around $3M seems likely.

Universal’s The Break-Up spent just four days at the number one spot before being kicked to the curb by The Omen. Romantic comedies usually do not suffer large declines and the Aniston-Vaughn pairing has held up well during the week grossing $3.9M on Monday and $4M on Tuesday when it faced Damien. Also, the new crop of films this weekend should not steal away too much of its crowd of adult women. Still, Break-Up isn’t exactly generating a whole lot of love with audiences in the word-of-mouth department so a 45% drop could result. That would give the film about $22M for the frame and a solid $76M in ten days.

X-Men: The Last Stand has its cyclops eye on joining the $200M club this weekend. The Fox sequel suffered a stiff 67% freefall last weekend in its second frame, but should stabilize in its third fight. Wolverine and chums could see sales get sliced in half which would give the super hero pic around $17M for the weekend and a plump $203M in 17 days. That would shoot it past studio stablemate Ice Age: The Meltdown to reign as the top-grossing film of 2006.

Over the Hedge should take a bit of a beating this weekend as it no longer will be the only major digital toon in town. A 40% fall would give the Paramount release roughly $12M upping the cume to $132M. Sony could see a larger 45% drop for The Da Vinci Code and finish the frame with about $10M. That would put the total for the Tom Hanks starrer at $189M and counting.

LAST YEAR: Before Namibia, fans had to look to their local movie theater to find Brad and Angelina. The much-hyped action film Mr. & Mrs. Smith conquered the box office with a strong $50.3M in its debut frame. The Fox blockbuster enjoyed sturdy legs grossing $186.3M domestically and over $465M worldwide. A pair of former number ones followed with Madagascar taking second with $17.2M and Star Wars Episode III in third with $14.9M. Adam Sandler finished fourth with The Longest Yard which scored $13.9M. Opening in fifth place was the kid adventure The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl with $12.6M on its way to $39.2M for Miramax. Disappointing in their openings were the Paramount comedy remake The Honeymooners with $5.5M and the Lions Gate horror flick High Tension with $1.9M. Final grosses reached $12.8M and $3.7M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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