Weekend Box Office

Box Office Preview: Will People Show Up for "Da Vinci Code"?

by | May 18, 2006 | Comments

Will North American moviegoers pay heed this weekend to negative reviews coming out of Cannes? That is the question on the minds of Sony brass, and industry watchers in general, on the eve of the much-anticipated global launch of "The Da Vinci Code." The mega-hyped conspiracy thriller will not be the only new entry hitting theaters, though. DreamWorks goes after the family audience with its latest computer animated comedy "Over the Hedge" which debuts ultrawide while Lionsgate offers a more subdued opening for its new horror film "See No Evil." After a weaker-than-expected start to the summer movie season, Hollywood is hoping for its highest-grossing weekend of the year to help kick things into gear.

Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard reteam over a decade after "Apollo 13" for the controversial new film "The Da Vinci Code," the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling novel by Dan Brown. The PG-13 film assembles a top-notch cast from both France and the United Kingdom including Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno, and Ian McKellen. An unprecedented global roll-out into a reported 11,000-plus screens overseas will ensure that the film generates one of the largest worldwide opening weekend grosses in history, no matter who is denouncing it. Much has been written about the subject matter of the book and the opposition that it sparked from Christian leaders around the world. Now, the issue shifts to the effects these feelings will have on the box office performance.

Sony’s marketing team has been carefully planning every step of the campaign leaving nothing to chance. Its decision to withhold the standard early screenings for members of the press can be attributed to one of two reasons. Either they knew reviews would be bad so show it at the last moment, or they wanted to heighten anticipation and funnel it all right into the opening weekend. Or maybe it was a combination of the two. Regardless, the first wave of reviews hit this week following the screenings at the Cannes Film Festival and the majority of critics have been disappointed with some completely trashing the Mona Lisa pic. This should certainly have an impact on the grosses since as an adult-skewing film, "Code"’s customers are likely to listen to what reviewers have to say. Fans of the book and those caught up in the hoopla may not be affected much, but those on the fringes who have had a bit of curiosity may now wait until word-of-mouth kicks in. For so many big films in the past, critics and ordinary movie fans have been on two completely different pages.

The starpower of Hanks is the anchor for "Da Vinci" and fellow Oscar winner Howard provides an added level of prestige to the picture. But the opposition to the film’s subject matter will play an important part of the opening weekend. Many religious groups have been urging people not to see the film. Some will stay away, but the media hype is only making others more curious to see what the fuss is all about. With the big premiere in France, there has been endless press coverage putting the spotlight on the film so awareness is very high. To Sony’s credit, the hype that it created has been better managed than what Paramount experienced with "Mission: Impossible III" a couple of weeks ago. Americans don’t seem to be sick of Hanks the way they were with Cruise who became overexposed.

Competition will be somewhat of a factor as "MI3" and "Poseidon," while both performing below expectations, will still be pulling in mature adult audiences this weekend and will combine for about $25M or so in ticket sales. "Da Vinci" does not have clear sailing. However, its audience is well-defined, energized, and looking at this as an event picture. Sony is hoping to tap into the curiosity factor and pull in those who have read the book in addition to those who have not who are more drawn in by the starpower and hype. Whether teens care to show up in large numbers this weekend, or wait a week and get their McKellen fix when he dons his Magneto helmet, could determine how high "Da Vinci" goes. Solving its mystery in 3,735 theaters in North America on Friday, "The Da Vinci Code" might open in the area of $60M this weekend.

Crashing into theaters with zero controversy is the DreamWorks animated adventure "Over the Hedge" which will play to a family audience. The PG-rated film tells the story of a group of animals from the wilderness who cross into a foreign land — the backyards of suburbia. Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, William Shatner, Wanda Sykes, and Nick Nolte all lend their voices to the colorful pack of characters. The studio has been a driving force in the world of computer animation and has had hits outside of its "Shrek" franchise with 2004’s "Shark Tale" and last May’s "Madagascar" which both opened to three-day tallies of close to $48M a piece.

Both ogre pics bowed on the weekend before the long Memorial Day frame so they can generate two blockbuster weekends to get things going. Last year, with "Star Wars Episode III" claiming the coveted spot already, the studio launched "Madagascar" during the holiday frame. This time, DreamWorks has reclaimed its favorite spot on the calendar and with parents not likely to want to take their young ones to see religious conspiracies, sinking ships, or gun-wielding spies, "Over the Hedge" will have smooth sailing with its target audience.

But all will not be easy at the box office. For one thing, audiences have been bombarded by animated films with cute animals over the past six months. "Chicken Little," "Hoodwinked," "Doogal," "Curious George," "The Wild," and of course the mammothly successful "Ice Age" sequel have been hitting up families with options and not all lived happily ever after. Also, "Hedge" lacks a major comic voice as an anchor to the picture. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Ray Romano, and even Will Smith have been instrumental in drawing crowds to their toons. In "Hedge," Carell steals the show with his zany antics, but the supporting role does not allow the whole marketing campaign to be built around it. Plus, the tame storyline is good for young children, but is not hip enough to lure in large numbers of teens which is what you need to really see the grosses swell.

Like with all of its big animated films, DreamWorks has backed "Over the Hedge" with a ton of marketing dollars to make it into a must-see for families. The lack of direct competition in the marketplace will be a crucial factor and with vacation time coming up, parents should be out looking for things to do with their kids over the next two weeks. And with some groups encouraging those who can’t resist "Da Vinci" to buy tickets for "Hedge" before walking into the Hanks pic’s auditorium, there could be some bonus bucks to pick up too. Busting into over 3,800 theaters, "Over the Hedge" might capture around $38M this weekend.

Pro wrestler Kane jumps from the squared circle to the big screen in the new horror film "See No Evil" opening in moderate national release this Friday. The R-rated film hopes to draw in the millions of fans of World Wrestling Entertainment with the type of pic most enjoy watching. In "Evil," Kane (or Glen Jacobs as his driver’s license says) plays a psycho killer who terrorizes a group of teen punks. Sure, not the most original idea for the genre. But distributor Lionsgate has a solid track record marketing successful fright flicks with plenty of gore. Older teens and young adults will make up the primary audience and a male skew is likely. "Da Vinci" will be cutting into all audiences so competition will be tough even though there are no formidable horror titles out there now.

The marketplace has endured a long line of horror flicks this year and many recent ones have not worked out well indicating fans could be getting picky. Since the plot has nothing new to offer, "Evil" must sell itself on the untested starpower of Kane as there are no other commercial hooks here. Hardcore wrestling fans might make it out, but the real audience should find this one on DVD around back-to-school season. Opening in over 1,000 theaters, "See No Evil" might debut to around $4M.

The arrival of "The Da Vinci Code" should make the marketplace’s two leading films nervous. Both "Mission: Impossible III" and "Poseidon" are playing to adult audiences looking for action and thrills and with the media spotlight fully pointed at Hanks and his buddies this week, direct competition will be intense. "MI3" has become the first film to top the charts over the first two weekends of May since 2003’s "X2: X-Men United." With Da Vinci attacking, Tom Cruise can retire to his stay-at-home dad duties now as his latest spy sequel looks to tumble by 45% to about $13.5M. That would give Paramount $106M in 17 days for their expensive summer entry.

The chance to see a mighty ocean liner capsize just wasn’t enough to lure in many movie fans last weekend for "Poseidon." Word-of-mouth is nothing more than average and the Ron Howard thriller will hit the sinking ship flick where it hurts this weekend. A 50% drop would leave the disaster film with roughly $11M for the frame and a disappointing $39M in ten days for the $160M Warner Bros. release.

LAST YEAR: George Lucas unleashed his final Jedi flick with "Star Wars Episode III" which dominated the box office debuting to a colossal $108.4M over three days and a towering $158.4M over the Thursday-to-Sunday opening period. Fox scored the second largest Friday-to-Sunday bow in history trailing the $114.8M of 2002’s "Spider-Man" which launched on a Friday. "Episode III" went on to gross $380.3M domestically and $849M worldwide becoming the top-grossing film of the year in North America and the second biggest global hit of 2005 after the last "Harry Potter" pic. Afraid of the Force, all other studios took a vacation by not opening anything against the Darth Vader film. Second place went to the chick flick comedy hit "Monster-in-Law" which grossed $14.4M in its second weekend while third place was taken by the Will Ferrell comedy "Kicking and Screaming" with $10.7M. Future Oscar champ "Crash" enjoyed the lowest decline in the top ten slipping 21% to $5.5M and the Jet Li actioner "Unleashed" rounded out the top five with $4.1M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, BoxOfficeGuru.com

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