Box Office Guru Preview: Moviegoers to Feel the Payne

Also, W., Secret Life of Bees, Sex Drive opening this weekend.

by | October 16, 2008 | Comments

A video game, a novel, and even the current commander-in-chief all get the big-screen treatment as Hollywood banks on known brands to make multiplex cash registers ring in hopes of a fourth consecutive up weekend compared to last year. Mark Wahlberg leads the way in the actioner Max Payne, Josh Brolin steps into the role of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone‘s W, and Queen Latifah heads up the drama The Secret Lives of Bees. Each film targets a different audience so there should be breathing room in the marketplace. Also debuting is the teen comedy Sex Drive which is not expected to be much of a contender.

Following seven consecutive sub-$12M openings, Fox finally will have a hit on its hands with the stylish thriller Max Payne which finds Wahlberg stepping into the role of the title character of the popular video game. The PG-13 film should be the studio’s first number one hit since March’s Horton Hears a Who and will appeal to teens and young adults thanks to a slick marketing campaign that is generating interest with the target audience. Reviews will be irrelevant. Wahlberg draws respectable numbers in action movies so as an anchor, he has the goods. A stylishly exciting look, a popular star in the lead, a commercially-friendly rating, and a built-in audience already familiar with the brand all join forces for what should be a solid top spot bow. Attacking 3,200 locations, look for Max Payne to debut with around $20M.

Mark Wahlberg in Max Payne

With three months left in his eight-year stay in the White House, President Bush stars (sort of) in a major wide release for the second time thanks to director Oliver Stone who takes a friendlier approach than Michael Moore did. The narrative feature W stars Josh Brolin as Dubya and chronicles the ups and downs of his adult life. The PG-13 film also stars Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, and Thandie Newton. Early reviews have been very strong, although the film critics community is not known for having many fans of Number 43 in the first place. Stone is known as a filmmaker who likes to present history through his own viewpoint so Republicans may write off the film without even researching how fair and balanced the pic really is. Blue-staters are more likely to take interest. Lionsgate should score points with politically-minded adults thanks to its purchase of a :30 spot on CNN during the first commercial break after Wednesday’s night final presidential debate. Aside from putting a big W pin on Obama’s lapel, you’re not going to find a much better way to reach the target audience here. Thanks to the unique idea of making a fictional film on an unpopular sitting president, curiosity should help boost business. Of course there are many that are just plain turned off by films that deal with serious politics and those will never be sold on this. Opening in 2,030 theaters, W might debut with roughly $10M this weekend.

Josh Brolin in W.

Queen Latifah, the other former rapper with a new film this weekend, leads an all-star cast that brings book to screen in The Secret Lives of Bees. The PG-13 film also stars Dakota Fanning, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, and Grammy winner Alicia Keys in the story of a 14-year-old girl escaping her past in 1964 South Carolina. Bees will skew heavily female and African American audiences will make up a large portion of the turnout as well. Though based on a best-selling novel, it is not expected to reach Tyler Perry territory at the box office. With Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) directing and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith producing, the film has some behind-the-scenes starpower as well. Competition for the Fox Searchlight release will not be fierce since the marketplace has almost nothing at the moment for black women and most films aimed at adult females are aging. Latifah’s guest role on Saturday Night Live’s recent Sarah Palin-Joe Biden debate skit should help since the film’s advertising has been attached to the online videos of the popular sketch. But mixed reviews will prompt some fans to take a pass. With the fewest theaters among the new releases, The Secret Life of Bees will enter about 1,400 locations on Friday and could collect around $7M.

Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah in The Secret Life of Bees

Prepping a theatrical run just to raise its eventual home video profile, the R-rated comedy Sex Drive arrives telling the tried and true tale of a young man on a quest to lose his virginity. James Marsden and Seth Green join a group of mostly no-name actors which means that the target audience of older teens and young adults will find little reason to shell out top dollar to see this in theaters right away. Competition will be a major factor since Max Payne, Quarantine, and Eagle Eye are all offering more for the money to the same age group. Opening in about 2,400 locations, Summit’s Sex Drive should score a limp $4M debut.

Sex Drive

After two weeks on top, Beverly Hills Chihuahua will have to give up the number one spot to Mr. Payne. But another weekend with no competition for the family audience will mean that a strong hold could put it in the runnerup spot. A 35% fall to about $11.5M could result giving Disney a robust $69M to date and a likely invitation to the $100M club.

Quarantine opened better than expected last weekend but will fall hard like most fright films do. No new terrorfests hit theaters on Friday, but Marky Mark does plan to steal away plenty of young adults. Look for a drop of 55% to about $6.5M putting Sony’s ten-day total at $24.5M.

Warner Bros. saw an underwhelming turnout for its Middle East political thriller Body of Lies which debuted to less than $13M. A 45% decline to around $7M should occur raising the cume for the expensive Ridley Scott vehicle to a weak $25M after ten days. Rival actioner Eagle Eye, which takes place in America and has proven to be far more popular, could drop by 40% to roughly $6.5M and lift Paramount’s total to a stellar $80M.

LAST YEAR: Sony’s vampires-in-Alaska thriller 30 Days of Night claimed the number one spot opening to $16M on its way to $39.6M. The Tyler Perry flick Why Did I Get Married? held up well in its second frame dipping 43% to $12.2M for Lionsgate. Two more holdovers followed – Disney’s The Game Plan with $8.2M and the Warner Bros. drama Michael Clayton with $6.7M. A pair of new releases followed. The sports spoof The Comebacks bowed to $5.6M while the Casey Affleck thriller Gone Baby Gone opened to $5.5M. Final grosses reached $13.3M for the Fox comedy and $20.3M for Ben Affleck‘s directorial debut. Also launching was Disney’s 3D release of The Nightmare Before Christmas with $5.3M and a potent $9,451 average, and the Reese Witherspoon flop Rendition with just $4.1M for New Line. Final tallies reached $14.5M and $9.7M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

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