Box Office Guru Preview: Black vs. Sandler in Comedy Showdown

Kung Fu Panda looks to Mess With the Zohan.

by | June 5, 2008 | Comments

Two big doses of comedy from a pair of Hollywood’s funniest men will hit the multiplexes across North America on Friday in a fierce battle for the number one spot. For family audiences there is the animated extravaganza Kung Fu Panda starring Jack Black while Adam Sandler counters with his latest laughfest aimed at young men, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. The new choices will offer some variety to a marketplace dominated by the female-skewing event pic Sex and the City and the old-school adventure tale Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With so many worthy choices, and four movies likely to top $20M, it looks to be a sizzling session at the box office as the top five films alone have the strength to beat the entire Top 20 from a year ago.

Jack Black leaps into theaters anchoring Kung Fu Panda playing a Chinese panda bear who trains to become a martial arts expert in order to save his village. The PG-rated toon features voices from a wide array of actors including Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Ian McShane, and Jackie Chan. The marketplace is certainly ready for a major family film right now. Since March’s Horton Hears a Who, there really hasn’t been anything major to excite this lucrative audience segment. Last month saw two high profile PG-rated pics, but the dark and violent The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian has attracted half of the crowd of its predecessor while Speed Racer was an all-out disaster. With summer vacations getting closer and closer, children of all ages are pumped for something fun and exciting to go and see.

In the DreamWorks stable, Kung Fu Panda should post one of the largest openings for a non-sequel animated entry. It even has the potential to set a new high. Currently, 2004’s Shark Tale and 2005’s Madagascar are tops with $47.6M and $47.2M, respectively. At today’s ticket prices those would be in the low $50M range. Panda has similar features like having a popular comedian in the lead. Dramatic actors add little to the box office strength of an animated film with their voices, even big A listers. But when comedians are at the center and are allowed to improvise and add their own sense of humor, moviegoers cheer. Panda also has the type of comedy that will be loved by adults as well as by kids. Good marks from critics won’t hurt either.

The marketing has been solid. The concept is familiar with a young talking animal going after his dreams while the Asian setting adds something new. Big business should be had with kids of single-digit age since recent family offerings have been too risqué for parents to buy tickets for. Plus direct competition is close to zero making for a perfect time to strike. Attacking over 3,600 theaters, Kung Fu Panda may eat up around $52M this weekend.

Jack Black as the voice of Po in Kung Fu Panda

For zany humor from characters that are more human ticket buyers have another choice this weekend as Adam Sandler returns with his latest escapade in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. The PG-13 film reunites the comedy superstar for the fourth time with director Dennis Dugan after Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, and last summer’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Zohan finds the former SNL star playing the title character, a first-rate commando in Israel’s armed forces who escapes to New York to pursue his true passion of hairstyling. Sandler hopes this will do for him what Coming to America did for Eddie Murphy two decades ago this very month.

No comedian has been more consistent at the box office this decade than Sandler who has scored $100M+ grossers over the last six consecutive years. Aside from Will Smith, no other Hollywood star can claim such a streak. Plus not since the Harold and Kumar sequel has there been a comedy aimed at young males. And after all the media attention that Carrie Bradshaw and pals have gotten in the past week, guys may be ready for some testosterone-fueled fun.

However, Sandler fans are not known to be all that into Israeli soldiers or hairdressers so subject matter could be a problem. Last July’s Chuck and Larry bowed at number one with $34.2M, but it was also the funnyman’s lowest opener for a broad comedy since 2000’s Little Nicky. Maybe the combination of a ridiculously long title and a not-so-macho storyline could prevent Sandler from reaching his usual $40M debut mark again this weekend. In addition, the comedian is straying from his natural voice for the first time since Nicky which doesn’t bode well either. Fans like it best when Adam plays Adam, just a regular American dude getting himself into comical situations. Infiltrating over 3,300 theaters, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan could debut with around $35M.

Sandler is The Zohan

Panda and Zohan kick off an unusually light June release schedule which will see fewer wide releases than normal. In fact across all four of the month’s weekends only two competitors enter wide release each session for a total of eight major players. Looking at the last several years there have always been 10 to 12 wide releases over the same time period. Studios are hoping that each film this June will have some extra breathing room to find its audience and not get stomped on a week later by a barrage of four pictures cramming into multiplexes at the same time.

In limited release, Picturehouse will platform its Oscar-nominated historical epic Mongol in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The subtitled story of the rise of Genghis Khan features a cast assembled from across Asia and is directed by the acclaimed Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov. Though it lost out to The Counterfeiters in the foreign language race this year, it still is being aggressively marketed to arthouse moviegoers and fans of world cinema. Mongol expands to major markets on June 20.

Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol

Last weekend, the 179 years of life experience of ParkerCattrallDavisNixon pulled an upset victory over the 190 years of FordSpielbergLucas as it was truly no country for old men. But the boys will try to beat out the girls this time around for the title of top holdover in what will certainly be a much closer race.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will face some competition for young men from Zohan while families will be tempted away by Paramount’s own Panda. But adult men will still be focused on the Communist-fighting whip man so a 45% drop could result leaving a $24M frame. That would propel the cume to a stunning $254M after 18 days.

Sex and the City shocked the industry with its stellar $56.8M bow last weekend. Also impressive were the sturdy grosses of $5.5M a piece on Monday and Tuesday this week. But the sizable 34% Friday-to-Saturday tumble showed how much demand was absorbed on that first day which was essentially an after-work girls-night-out for fans. Word-of-mouth has been good, but so much of the target audience has already been reached so a big drop is likely even though the new releases are not direct competitors. Panda however will take many thirtysomething and fortysomething mothers out of the picture. A 60% fall could occur giving the New Line-Warner Bros. flick roughly $23M – still a full-figured number. That would give Sex a fabulous $100M in just ten days.

Universal’s The Strangers was a surprise hit last weekend posting the best horror movie opening of 2008. But a fast fade is likely so sales could slump by 55% to about $9.5M. That would give the Rogue production a solid $37M in ten days. Iron Man is steadily closing in on that triple-century mark. The super hero smash should dip by 35% to around $9M boosting the cume to $290M.

LAST YEAR: The summer of threequels moved forward with Ocean’s Thirteen which bowed at number one with $36.1M for Warner Bros. on its way to $117.2M domestically and $311M worldwide. That put the bad boys behind the $363M of Twelve and the $444M of Eleven. Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End dropped to second after two weeks on top with $21.1M breaking the quarter-billion mark in just over 17 days. Universal’s Knocked Up, the first of two pregnancy comedy hits in 2007 to sail past $140M, followed with $19.6M in its sophomore frame. Sony’s animated penguin film Surf’s Up debuted in fourth with a respectable $17.6M leading to a $58.9M final. Rival toon Shrek the Third sat in fifth with $15.3M. The horror sequel Hostel Part II struggled in its opening weekend taking in $8.2M or less than half the bow of its predecessor a year earlier. Lionsgate reached $17.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

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