Box Office Guru

Box Office Preview: "Snakes" Prepares For Takeoff

by | August 17, 2006 | Comments

This weekend Samuel L. Jackson looks to seize control of the muthaf*ckin’ box office with his new muthaf*ckin’ film "Snakes on a Plane" which invades theaters on a wave of internet buzz.

It should be a smooth trip to number one for the action thriller which will face competition from the teen comedies "Accepted" and "Material Girls" plus the expansion of the indie darling "Little Miss Sunshine." After two weeks in the top spot, Will Ferrell‘s hit comedy "Talladega Nights" will decelerate and lose pole position, but will have the distinction of crossing the celebrated $100M mark.

All eyes are on Sam Jackson this weekend as his much-blogged-about action vehicle "Snakes on a Plane" makes its way into theaters. The R-rated film presents an old fashioned good guy versus bad guy story with the former Mace Windu playing an FBI agent assigned to escort a key witness to a mob murder on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles. When the crime boss masterminds a plan to unleash poisonous snakes mid-flight, all hell breaks loose. New Line has no ambitions of winning Oscars here. "Snakes" is pure entertainment aimed at giving fans a thrill ride for two hours. No advance screenings are being held for the media which is usually a sign that the studio believes that the reviews will only trash the picture so why waste the time and money?

No R-rated film this year has broken the $30M mark on opening weekend. In fact, in the past two years, only a pair of R pics have opened north of that mark – last year’s duo of "Saw II" with $31.7M and "Wedding Crashers" with $33.9M. "Snakes" will be relying on an adult male audience for its ticket sales with older teens and twentysomethings being the driving force. Jackson may also be able to pull in African American audiences given his stature and the type of role he is playing. Typically, the Oscar-nominated actor does not have much box office muscle when anchoring a film solo. But the buzz and media coverage surrounding "Snakes" has almost made it into a franchise.

With so many on the internet buzzing about the movie since the beginning of the year, uploading their own trailers and "Snakes"-related videos, and pushing for more violence and profanity, the fans have gotten a sense of empowerment. They feel like they have been part of the filmmaking process and you can be sure that they will be out when the film opens to see the final product. And since everyone knows that the film will be cheesy and that there are no press screenings, expectations are not too high. Without all the hoopla, this film would only be seen as action movie number ten that Hollywood churns out for the summer season. New Line is taking the step of launching "Snakes" a day early on Thursday night with showtimes starting at 10pm.

August has been a great month for these types of action films for young males. Three years ago, the studio opened the R-rated horror flick "Freddy vs. Jason" to $36.4M while a year later, Fox found a $38.3M bow for its PG-13 sci-fi pic "Alien vs. Predator." Jackson’s film lacks a franchise following, although the hype has generated a sizable built-in audience of its own. "Snakes" will come and go quickly from theaters. A strong start should be followed by massive erosion, but with a reported budget of only $30M, it can’t lose money. Plus Jackson has done a commendable job hitting the trail and promoting his new flick. Attacking over 3,300 theaters, "Snakes on a Plane" could open with around $28M this weekend.

Universal is hoping that those too young for "Snakes," but who are still looking for some late-summer fun, will line up for its new comedy "Accepted." The PG-13 film stars Justin Long as a high school senior rejected by every college he applies to who then decides to make up his own fake university. The under-25 set is the target audience here with teens who can relate to the character’s nightmare making up the bulk of the crowd. Recent young-skewing hits like "Step Up" and "John Tucker Must Die" have proven that no-star vehicles with an interesting concept can lure in solid numbers on opening weekend. Those films debuted to $14.3M and $20.7M, respectively. Studios have done a poor job satisfying teenagers in recent weeks with their big ticket items which has only helped these low-cost pictures. "Accepted" will certainly have to face "Snakes" taking away older guys and "Step Up" in its second weekend stealing away the gals. But the concept is a good one and with so many young people getting ready to head back to campus, memories of rejection letters will come flying back. Marketing materials register some laughs too and appeal to both genders is there. Entering over 2,700 locations, "Accepted" could open with around $12M this weekend.

Hilary and Haylie Duff graduate from the world of breath mint commercials to feature films in "Material Girls" from director Martha Coolidge ("Real Genius," "The Prince and Me"). The PG-rated film finds the sisters playing heiresses to a cosmetics fortune who stumble upon bankruptcy. Anjelica Huston co-stars. The MGM release will play primarily to a female audience of teens and pre-teens. Males interested in buying tickets should number about three. "Material Girls" is not getting too big of a push and with "Step Up" doing so well with the same demographic, it will be an uphill battle attracting business. Once a potent asset, Hilary has lost much of her pull at the box office with recent clunkers like "Raise Your Voice" and "The Perfect Man" landing poor debuts of only $4M and $5.3M, respectively.. The Duffs may end up taking a lesson from the Olsen twins whose own film "New York Minute" opened a week after the bow of 2004’s surprise teen girl hit "Mean Girls" and ended up being squashed with a weak $6M debut from over 3,000 theaters. "Material Girls" will enter only 1,509 playdates and could settle for an opening of just $4M.

After three weeks of sparkling results in limited release, Fox Searchlight’s comedy sensation "Little Miss Sunshine" expands nationally into 694 locations from its current run in 153 sites. Last weekend, the R-rated dysfunctional family pic averaged a stunning $17,014 which is one of the best showings in recent years for a film playing in 100-200 locations. With strong reviews and positive word-of-mouth, "Sunshine" should jump into the top ten this weekend and could gross about $5M pushing its cume into double-digit millions.

Searchlight also debuts its next indie flick "Trust the Man" which opens in 37 theaters in selected cities on Friday. The R-rated dramedy stars Billy Crudup, David Duchovny, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, and Eva Mendes and tells the story of two New York couples going through relationship troubles. Moore’s real-life husband Bart Freundlich directs. "Trust the Man" has garnered mixed reviews from critics and will expand nationwide on September 8.

Also opening in limited release, but attracting more glowing praise from critics, is the dramatic thriller "The Illusionist." Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel star in the PG-13 film which finds a turn-of-the-century magician battling wits with a Vienna cop. Two weeks after the limited bow, Yari Film Group will expand "Illusionist" wide over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

A variable that could affect moviegoing behavior this weekend could be all the current stories in the news this week that have connections to major films in release. Tapes of 911 calls from victims of the World Trade Center disaster have been released after nearly five years. New terror plots aboard commercial planes have dominated the headlines lately, and a new arrest in the Jonbenet Ramsey case has brought attention back to little girls in beauty pageants. How this news coverage will affect the grosses for films like "Snakes on a Plane," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "World Trade Center" is anyone’s guess. But at a time of year when moviegoing typically slows down anyway, some potential ticket buyers may decide to look elsewhere for their weekend entertainment.

Will Ferrell’s "Talladega Nights" looks to race past the $100M mark by the end of its second full week in theaters. The Sony hit won’t win a third box office crown, but it should remain in the top five and drop 45% to about $12M. That would give the racing comedy $113M in 17 days making it the comedian’s second biggest hit ever, in a leading role, behind "Elf" which took in $173.4M.

Last weekend’s surprise smash "Step Up" is not afraid of "Snakes on a Plane" which is likely to tap into an older and more male audience. Instead, Buena Vista’s dance drama will see its competition come from "Accepted" and "Material Girls." Word-of-mouth for "Step Up" has been encouraging with the film averaging a solid B+ from over 5,500 users of Yahoo Movies. Still, teen pics tend to fall fast so a 50% decline would give the film around $10M for the weekend and a stellar ten-day total of $40M.

Paramount’s "World Trade Center" got off to a healthy start at the box office and is also generating positive buzz from moviegoers. Competition is not too fierce this weekend for adults looking for mature fare so a 35% drop would give the Oliver Stone movie roughly $12M and a cume of $46M after 12 days.

LAST YEAR: The surprise comedy hit "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" debuted at number one with a better-than-expected weekend opening of $21.4M. Universal’s R-rated smash displayed strong legs in the weeks ahead and ended up scoring $109.3M. Settling for second place in its first flight was the DreamWorks thriller "Red Eye" with a solid $16.2M on its way to $57.9M. Rounding out the top five were holdovers "Four Brothers" with $12.5M, "Wedding Crashers" with $8M and "The Skeleton Key" with $7.7M. The frame’s two other new releases were mostly ignored by moviegoers. Disney’s animated pic "Valiant" bowed to $5.9M for eighth place while Fox’s action drama "Supercross" crashed into 15th place with a dismal $1.3M opening weekend. Final tallies reached $19.5M and $3.1M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,