Box Office Guru Preview: Hanks Returns to Save Vatican

No other wide releases to enter weekend fray.

by | May 14, 2009 | Comments

Only one new film ventures into wide release as Tom Hanks steps back into the role of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon for the conspiracy thriller Angels & Demons. A sequel to the 2006 smash The Da Vinci Code, Angels reunites Hanks with director Ron Howard for the fourth time. Both films were based on the best-selling novels of Dan Brown. In the new installment, Langdon is called to the Vatican to help stop a secret society from killing the top Cardinals of the Catholic Church following the death of the Pope.

Code was a global smash opening three years ago this weekend to a domestic haul of $77.1M despite being panned by major critics. The Sony smash went on to collect $217.5M in North America and an astounding $753M worldwide with a whopping 71% coming from overseas markets. Turning another Langdon book into a big-screen adventure was a no-brainer, even for Howard who had never done a sequel in his 27-year feature directing career. Code scored at the box office because of three main reasons – wildly popular source material, the starpower of Hanks and Howard, and controversy which helped make it a must-see picture.

Angels only has the first two to deal with. The PG-13 film has failed to generate the amount of controversy needed to reach the same box office heights. It was this buzz that prompted those who had never read the book to take interest in Code. Fans of the Demons book will surely line up for the new film, but crossing over to a broader audience will be harder since overall excitement is less this time. Casual moviegoers looking at the television spots will say to themselves “hmmm, looks exactly like the last one.” Working for Angels are better reviews, faster pacing, and the fact that there are no new openers to compete with. Plus after back-to-back sci-fi effects-driven actioners, many patrons will be in the mood for something a little different, but still exciting.

Tom Hanks in Angels and Demons

Sony is hoping to avoid the fate met by last year’s tentpole programmed into this same weekend slot. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian became the first film in eight years to open on the lucrative weekend before the Memorial Day holiday frame and fail to reach $200M. It even failed to hit $150M. Both Caspian and Angels are sequels to megahits that were driven by large Christian audiences. Many skipped out on the second helping of Narnia. Some will pass on Langdon’s return too.

Still if Hanks and pals can bring in two-thirds of the business of the first film, a worldwide tally of a half-billion still awaits. Opening in over 3,400 theaters, Angels & Demons could gross about $53M this weekend.

Tom Hanks and Ayelet Zurer

Audiences have been cheering Star Trek and the good will will help the sci-fi reboot avoid a Wolverine-style 69% collapse in the second weekend. Sturdy midweek grosses of $7.5M on Monday and $6.5M on Tuesday show that strong word-of-mouth is helping the Paramount release play beyond its upfront audience of hardcore fans of the franchise. Last year, Iron Man opened just like Star Trek with Thursday evening previews and enjoyed a 48% drop in its sophomore frame – a big win by today’s standards. Critics and moviegoers alike are giving their thumbs up to Trek just as they did with Iron Man a year ago and are now handling marketing themselves by recommending it to friends. A 50% decline could result for the NCC-1701 gang putting the J.J. Abrams pic at about $37M for the weekend and a robust $143M over ten days.

The mutant freefall should slow down this weekend as X-Men Origins: Wolverine will drop by a smaller percentage than last weekend’s huge slide. Still, audiences are not exactly endorsing the prequel in a big way so a decline of 55% could result. That would give the Fox tentpole about $12M in its third round boosting the 17-day total to $148M giving it only a slight edge over Star Trek despite an extra week in multiplexes.

The female-skewing counter-programming option Ghosts of Girlfriends Past held up nicely in its second frame with just a 33% dip. Adult women and couples will certainly be distracted by the Hanks-Howard reunion so although it is a different kind of film, Angels will still affect Ghosts. Look for a 35% drop to roughly $6.5M giving Warner Bros. a solid $39M in 17 days.

LAST YEAR: In a somewhat underwhelming debut, the fantasy sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian opened at number one with $55M for Disney on its way to a $141.6M domestic take and $420M global haul. The North American tally was less than half of the $291.7M cume of its 2005 predecessor The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The adventure tale was seen by many in the industry as likely to be one of the top summer performers but it ended up finishing the season as the ninth biggest hit. In its third weekend, Iron Man dropped by only 38% to $31.8M and smashed the $200M mark in just 17 days. Rounding out the top five were the comedy What Happens in Vegas with $13.9M, action flop Speed Racer with $8.1M, and the comedy Made of Honor with $4.7M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

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