Box Office Guru Preview: Watchmen Targets Biggest Debut of 2009

No major competition for Zack Snyder's latest.

by | March 5, 2009 | Comments

All eyes will be on just one film as the super hero epic Watchmen infiltrates multiplexes as the frame’s only new wide release and aims to deliver the year’s largest opening. The R-rated actioner is adapted from the award-winning comic series and graphic novel from the mid-1980s and has been on a two-decade journey to make it to the big screen. A massive fan base built up over that time will be out in full force this weekend, but the big issue is reaching beyond that core group to fans of action and sci-fi who may not have read the original source material. Advance ticket sales have been brisk and the lack of competition will help keep all the focus on Nite Owl II and the gang.

Warner Bros. has done a terrific job marketing Watchmen and turning it into an event film that will attract those who love effects-driven movies. Director Zack Snyder‘s last film 300 was also a stylish R-rated action hit based on a graphic novel and released by Warners in early March. That pic set a new opening weekend record for this month with $70.9M and a $22,844 average in 2007. Although Watchmen would love to reach that same mark, it doesn’t need to. Last summer’s ultra-violent actioner Wanted carried an R and bowed to $50.9M from 3,175 theaters for a $16,040 average. Dr. Manhattan and company will debut wider and their average could very well fall somewhere in between.

Rorschach isn’t exactly a household name so don’t expect Batman or Spider-Man numbers on opening weekend. Instead, Watchmen will act more like the first Fantastic Four and X-Men films. Both had large built-in comic audiences but were not universally known properties. And the rating and 163-minute running time should not matter much. Most fans of the adult-themed comic series are old enough to buy tickets to R-rated films and the two largest openings of all-time came from films that were only about 10 minutes shorter.

Malin Ackerman and Billy Crudup in Watchmen

Watchmen bows in 124 Imax locations which will help boost the grosses thanks to higher-priced tickets. In Manhattan, the $16.50 tickets for most of this weekend’s Imax shows at AMC Lincoln Square have already sold out. In fact, that one screen alone could gross over $75,000 this weekend. Competition will be very light. Not only is no rival studio brave enough to go wide with any other film this weekend, but none of the existing holdovers looks likely to even reach double-digit millions. Watchmen should have no problem grossing more than the rest of the top ten combined.

Turnout from the non-geek crowd should be substantial, but for one week only. There really are no other action or sci-fi films to be excited about right now so audiences craving that type of entertainment, but not long-time fans of the source material, will still line up since this one has event movie status. In a more crowded period like early summer, the results would have been different making the March release date a good one. Invading 3,611 total theaters in North America including Imax venues, Watchmen could debut with around $64M this weekend.

Rorschach in the highly anticipated Watchmen

Following its two-week run at the top, Tyler Perry‘s latest hit Madea Goes to Jail will certainly fall out of the number one spot but should still remain in the top three. With only one new release – a superhero flick that will play to a different audience – the Lionsgate title should see a drop that is smaller than the 61% tumble suffered last weekend. Jail set new box office records for Perry’s biggest opening and largest overall gross, but also gave the filmmaker one of his highest second weekend drops ever. Look for a 50% decline this time which would lead to a weekend take of about $8M boosting the 17-day total to a solid $76M.

In its 17th weekend of release, Oscar champ Slumdog Millionaire may just reach a new high on the charts as it aims to climb one notch to the number two spot this weekend. The Danny Boyle-directed film has spent every weekday since Oscar night in the top two spots, but now it has a chance to win a silver medal over the all-important weekend period, though it won’t be easy. The Fox Searchlight title surged by a stunning 43% last weekend following its triumph at the Kodak Theatre, but gravity will finally kick in and deliver a decline this time. In fact, across its entire four-month run it has only witnessed drop-offs on three weekends. This time a 30% dip may occur. That would put Slumdog at $8.5M and lift the domestic cume to $127M putting it in the same neighborhood as former Best Picture rival The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Champagne is flowing at both the big and small divisions at Fox thanks to this year’s accomplishments at the box office. The parent studio’s action hit Taken is set for another solid frame and could drop by 30% as well to around $7M. The Liam Neeson thriller would see its sum climb to an amazing $117M. The combined tally for Slumdog and Taken is a week away from smashing the $250M mark.

Disney’s Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience debuted below even the lowest of expectations last weekend but will try to catch up with fans that may not have been able to make it out on the opening frame. Given the hysterical nature of so many of the group’s fans, much of the total audience may have showed up already meaning the studio will have to hope for repeat customers. There will be zero competition from new titles this weekend so the concert film does have another chance to connect with fans without any distractions. The decline should be smaller than the 67% tumble suffered by the Hannah Montana concert flick last year since that picture was more of an event film. It was originally planned as a one-week-only engagement so fans were forced to snap up tickets for that first weekend. It was later extended to an open-ended run. Jonas may depreciate by 50% to around $6M which would raise the ten-day cume to $20M.

LAST YEAR: Warner Bros. was on top with the prehistoric adventure film 10,000 B.C. which opened to $35.9M nearly tripling the gross of its nearest competitor. The ancient tale went on to finish with $94.8M domestically and an impressive $269M worldwide. Debuting in second place was Related News

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