Box Office Guru Preview: Vin Diesel Leads Final Charge of Summer

Babylon A.D., Disaster Movie, College and Traitor compete for Box Office.

by | August 28, 2008 | Comments

A better-than-expected summer box office comes to a close over the four-day Labor Day holiday frame with the release of four new films plus the national expansion of a fifth title. Pushing and shoving their way into the multiplexes are Vin Diesel‘s action entry Babylon A.D., the spoof comedy Disaster Movie, Don Cheadle‘s spy thriller Traitor, and the raunchy comedy College. Going nationwide after a mediocre limited bow last week is the indie comedy Hamlet 2. The final weekend of summer usually finds moviegoers playing catch-up and flocking to big hits they just haven’t had time to see yet. Some of the more popular holdover pics should continue to see solid numbers including heavyweight champ The Dark Knight which will crash through the $500M barrier this weekend.

It seems like every four years we get the Summer Olympics, a presidential election, and … a Vin Diesel action movie? It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The rugged hero’s last action vehicle let loose on the American public was The Chronicles of Riddick which attacked theaters in June 2004 before the Athens Games and John Kerry’s Boston convention. The star of The Pacifier returns to familiar territory with the sci-fi flick Babylon A.D. which will target Diesel’s usual core audience of young males. The commercially-friendly PG-13 rating will allow the pic to reach young teen boys at a time when the main action offerings Death Race and Tropic Thunder carry R ratings.

By no means is Babylon a strong option though. Even its director Mathieu Kassovitz (Gothika) wants nothing to do with the final product. The marketing push has been ramped up in the last week so awareness is increasing and television spots are highlighting the special effects which are not all too impressive, but good enough for this time of year when standards are at a 52-week low. The combination of a brand name star returning to his bread and butter genre with a rating that will allow all of the target audience in should make for what could be a number one debut. Although Fox has had by far the worst summer of any major studio, it can at least end the season breathing a sigh of relief salvaging its first and only summer weekend at number one. Babylon A.D. launches very wide in over 3,200 theaters on Friday and could generate around $17M over the four-day weekend.

Gerard Depardieu and Vin Diesel in Babylon A.D.

Hollywood loves 14-year-olds. Make a comedy spoofing current pop culture hits and they’re guaranteed to bike their way to the local multiplex. Lionsgate’s Disaster Movie will be targeting these young teens with the latest PG-13 concoction of the successful spoof genre. The target audience probably won’t even mind that fun is being poked not at disaster films, but at this summer’s bigger hits like Indiana Jones, The Incredible Hulk, and Sex and the City. Look for sales to come from the same moviegoers that drove March’s Superhero Movie to a $9.5M bow and January’s Meet the Spartans to a $18.5M debut. Disaster will have a few competitors to deal with also aiming for teens so the pie will be split. Attacking 2,642 locations, Disaster Movie might take in about $12M over four days.

Disaster Movie

Overture makes an aggressive bid for adult audiences with its espionage thriller Traitor starring Don Cheadle as a spy accused of switching sides. The PG-13 film will play mostly to older moviegoers and is trying to sell itself with a Bourne Ultimatum feel. Cashing in at the box office will be tough since Cheadle, as well-respected as he is, is not really a major draw when anchoring a film. Co-stars Guy Pierce and Jeff Daniels don’t add much bang either. Plus the subject matter is very deep for the end of summer when ticket buyers are not looking to do much thinking. Reviews have been mixed with good marks for the lead’s performance, but harsh words for everything else. However, most films in the top ten this weekend will play to the under-30 crowd so an opportunity could present itself. Already playing in 2,054 theaters after an early Wednesday launch, Traitor could capture around $8M over four days and $10M across six days.

Don Cheadle and Jeff Daniels in Traitor

Yet another comedy tries to squeeze into the marketplace just ahead of students returning to classes. MGM’s R-rated College is a raunchy tale of three high school seniors caught up in pledging fun at a local university. Older teens and young adults will be the primary audience here with zero interest coming from the over-25 set. R-rated comedies with little to no starpower that are aimed at this crowd usually struggle at the box office unless there is some sort of wild buzz spreading. That’s not the case here. Overall excitement is low and there are no elements here to truly draw in a paying crowd. A brief theatrical run will set it up for a DVD release where kids on their holiday breaks will catch it on their lazy days off. Opening in about 2,000 locations, College could gross about $6M over the Friday-to-Monday period.

Following its underwhelming premiere in limited release, the Focus comedy Hamlet 2 expanded nationwide on Wednesday hoping word-of-mouth will help sell it to young adults. The film’s Sundance buzz is wearing out fast and a market already crowded with R-rated comedies is making it tough for the Steve Coogan laugher to stand out. Its $4,271 average from 103 sites last weekend was not even good enough for the Top 20 and it makes for a tough jumping off point into this holiday frame. The four new titles will make it even harder to compete. Now rocking in 1,530 playdates, Hamlet 2 may bank roughly $5M over the long weekend putting the cume at $6M.

Catherine Keener and Steve Coogan in Hamlet 2

After two weeks on top, the war comedy Tropic Thunder is likely to lose its hold atop the charts. The Ben Stiller action pic showed strength in its sophomore frame sliding by just 37% and this weekend it should still collect respectable grosses. Its four-day figure may drop by 15% from last weekend’s three-day take. That would give Paramount around $14M and a 20-day tally of $86M.

With more comedies hitting the multiplexes, a substantial decline for The House Bunny is likely to occur. Following its strong debut, the Sony release’s four-day figure could fall 30% to about $10M and push the 11-day cume to $30M. Universal’s Jason Statham actioner Death Race will also fall sharply in its second round thanks to the arrival of Vin Diesel. Look for a 40% drop to $7.5M pushing the total to $25M after 11 days.

The Dark Knight may actually see its grosses rise this weekend. People who never got around to seeing it, plus those just aching to see it again, will line up in strong numbers over the final summer weekend. Late summer’s top blockbusters often see their four-day Labor Day weekend grosses inch up over the previous frame. Last year, The Bourne Ultimatum increased by 7% while the previous year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest climbed 24%. The Caped Crusader could rise by 15% and capture around $12M across the Friday-to-Monday span for its seventh session in the top five. That would allow The Dark Knight to shatter the $500M mark on Sunday after just 45 days of release and finish the holiday frame at $505M.

LAST YEAR: Rob Zombie‘s new take on the horror classic Halloween set a new Labor Day opening weekend record by scaring up a sturdy $30.6M over four days leading the overall marketplace to its highest gross ever for the summer-ending holiday frame. The MGM release went on to finish with an impressive $58.3M. The teen comedy Superbad dropped to second with $15.9M in its third lap. Focus bowed the ping pong comedy Balls of Fury in third with $14.1M and $17.1M across its five-day opening frame. A $32.9M final would result. Rounding out the top five were The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3 with $13.4M and $10.8M, respectively. Fox’s action entry Death Sentence bowed in eighth with just $5.3M on its way to a weak $9.5M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,