Box Office Guru Preview: Sandler & Apatow to Score Funny Money

Also: Aliens in the Attic, The Collector try to find a niche.

by | July 30, 2009 | Comments

For the second straight Friday, Hollywood studios serve up a new release menu packed with an R-rated comedy, a family-friendly action pic, and a horror entry although the top film will be nothing like last weekend’s. The Adam Sandler comedy Funny People leads the way looking to give director Judd Apatow another hit with adult audiences. Pulling in less business will be the kidpic Aliens in the Attic and the fright flick The Collector. But for the fourth consecutive frame, the overall marketplace should lag behind last year’s scorching hot July results further eroding the year-to-year gain the industry has enjoyed for most of 2009.

Former real-life roommates Sandler and Apatow finally make a film together with the new comedy Funny People co-financed by Universal and Sony. The R-rated pairing of dream team players in the world of funny movies marks a departure for each so audience reactions could be all over the map. But starpower and curiosity will certainly sell it in the short term. In People, Sandler plays an A-list comic movie star who finds out he is dying and hires an aspiring younger writer, played by Apatow veteran Seth Rogen, to be his assistant as he tries to sort out his life.

The death angle gives Sandler some more serious subject matter to work with. He’s no stranger to drama but never has he played this serious of a role in such a mainstream film opening so wide. Leaving his safe PG-13 zone means many of his younger fans will be left out too. In fact, Sandler’s last R-rated comedy was 1996’s action-comedy Bulletproof with Damon Wayans so this is essentially new terrain here. Apatow also moves in a new direction with a lower laugh-per-minute ratio and an extended two-and-a-half-hour running time that will test the patience of many ticket buyers. The length will have an impact on word-of-mouth which in turn could curtail the long term outlook of the picture.

But Apatow is a top brand-name in Hollywood’s comedy world and Universal is putting the spotlight on his track record in order to give audiences that level of trust. His 2005 surprise hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin bowed to $21.4M on its way to $109.3M while his 2007 pic Knocked Up debuted with $30.7M with a $148.8M finish. Both were R-rated comedies with adult themes released by Universal in the summer. In addition to the Judd name, Funny People is also looking to rope in moviegoers with its all-star cast which includes not just Sandler and Rogen, but also Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, plus cameos from a wide assortment of entertainers and funny people.

In their reviews, critics have treated the film more like an Apatow project than a Sandler one so notices have been pretty good, except most are warning readers that it runs on way too long. Financial backers are hoping to avoid the worst case scenario – one where Apatow fans look down on the casting of Sandler, and Sandler fans find the film to be too serious. Worldwide, the studios have had a very tough job. How exactly do you sell an expensive Leukemia comedy? The first early trailer explained the whole story about Sandler’s character dying but the newer red-band one completely excised that material to make it look like a standard Apatow romantic comedy with some dirty jokes. Both feature plenty of shots that didn’t make the final cut. Opening in 3,008 theaters, Funny People may laugh up about $32M this weekend.

Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in Funny People

Fox targets bored kids with Aliens in the Attic, a new comedy about young teens who must battle extra-terrestrials living in their family’s vacation home. Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame provides most of the starpower here, but on the other end of the age spectrum Doris Roberts of Everybody Loves Raymond gets to flex her kung fu chops with a little help from wires and CG effects. The PG-rated film will face stiff competition from a variety of films including current chart champ G-Force and the blockbuster trio of Harry Potter, Ice Age, and Transformers sequels. The marketing push has not created a level of urgency and there is no 3D gimmick here to make it special. Plus the lizard-like aliens are no match for guinea pigs in the cuteness department. Opening in 3,106 playdates, Aliens in the Attic could debut to the tune of $14M this weekend.

Aliens in the Attic

A man robbing a house gets caught up in a kidnapping in the new terror pic The Collector from Freestyle Releasing. Opening moderately wide in about 1,500 locations, the R-rated film will play to horror fans with low standards. Competing fright flick Orphan just debuted last weekend so the target audience already has another option to play with. Plus, Collector has little to offer to excite moviegoers with no starpower and only a mildly intriguing plot. So it should come as no surprise that the marketing touts the writers of the last three Saw flicks in an attempt to appeal to that franchise’s large following. It’s a smart move, but will only go so far. An opening of roughly $5M could result.

The Collector

Last weekend, the 3D kidpic G-Force pulled off a surprise number one opening appealing to families with a strong $31.7M debut. Weekday sales from kids on summer vacation have been impressive as well with $4.2M on Monday and $4.8M on Tuesday. Aliens in the Attic will provide a bit of competition this weekend, but for the most part the guinea pig spies should be in good shape. A 35% decline would put G-Force at about $20M for the frame boosting the ten-day tally to an encouraging $69M.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opened in all remaining IMAX 2D and IMAX 3D theaters across North America on Wednesday so its third weekend drop won’t be as bad as it otherwise might. Still, a sizable fall is to be expected so a 45% decline would give the wizard flick about $16M for the session lifting the cume past the magical quarter-billion mark to $251M. The foreign total should flirt with the $500M level after this weekend making for a gargantuan global gross of nearly $750M in just under three weeks.

Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler scored a big hit with the adult date crowd with The Ugly Truth, but the pair will face intense direct competition from Adam Sandler who opens another R-rated comedy for mature audiences. Sony could see sales get sliced in half to about $14M which would leave Truth with roughly $55M in ten days.

LAST YEAR: For the third straight weekend, The Dark Knight ruled the charts with a sensational $42.7M boosting the 17-day tally to an eye-popping $393.8M for Warner Bros. Rival franchise actioner The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor bowed a week before the Beijing Olympics and landed in second place with $40.5M. The Brendan FraserJet Li pic went on to reach $102.5M domestically but showed incredible strength overseas with a $397M global tally. Rounding out the top five were Step Brothers with $16.5M, Mamma Mia! with $12.6M, and Fraser again with Journey to the Center of the Earth with $6.7M. Opening poorly in sixth was Kevin Costner‘s Swing Vote which bowed to just $6.2M on its way to only $16.3M for Buena Vista.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,

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