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The Box Office Buster (Nov. 22-26)

by Erik Childress

There used to be something special about Thanksgiving weekend at the movies. Back in the day when I was just one of those young types who loved the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. School was out until Monday and it was our longest vacation since going back to the books and dirty looks in late August. And that Wednesday night ruled. Four years waiting for Back to the Future Part II and there it was. 1995 had a choice between new Scorsese and some new animation company named Pixar – plus the laserdisc releases of Crimson Tide and the kick-ass special edition of Tron. Amazing what the mind is capable of. One of those is just how difficult it is to measure audience’s anticipations. Tracking numbers can go suck one. Are they really looking forward to a Tenacious D movie or would they rather sit home on Thursday, digesting to the mellow scoring of Miami vs. Detroit and Tampa Bay vs. Dallas? (Seriously, who in the hell scheduled THOSE matchups?) Frankly, it’s a lot like the new openers this weekend. There is no Back to the Future. No Casino or Toy Story. And nothing that’s going to beat the 1-2 punch from this past weekend. Nothing that deserves to either.

This is not an uncommon occurrence of late though for only four times in the last ten years has a film opening during this 5-day follow-the-money stretch led the way (Star Trek: First Contact, Flubber, Toy Story 2 and The Haunted Mansion). That would make 9 out of 10 that a family-oriented (or at least “PG” rated film) dominated this period, even in holdover. A Bug’s Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, National Treasure and three Harry Potter films have been the toast of the box office. Only Fox’s Deck the Halls falls into this domain as a newbie this week. Sony and Paramount got solid opening mileage out of both Christmas with the Kranks ($30.8 million) and Yours, Mine and Ours ($24.3). Halls is certainly exploiting the Xmas theme, taking the hilarious sight gag from the Griswold’s Christmas Vacation and expanding it to feature length. Kranks was Krap indeed, but unless you’re Ben Affleck opening a movie before even the department stores have put up their decorations, something about that Christmas spirit just gets people into the theater. Halls arrives as yet another, technically, without screenings for the press (EDITOR'S NOTE 11/22/06: The majority of Chicago press was only informed about a late Tuesday evening screening) and it feels more like another Jingle All the Way than Elf, but it should be good enough for $19.1 million from Wednesday-to-Sunday.

As I said in an earlier column, Denzel Washington has one of the more impressive opening streaks for any star out there. Not counting the limited release of his directorial effort, Antwone Fisher, six of seven Denzel’s headliners since 2000 have opened to $20 million or better. (Out of Time started with $16.1.) That’s a better recent streak for openers than even Tom Hanks and Will Smith, although it was just earlier this year when Denzel hit a new high by helping start Spike Lee’s sensational, Inside Man, to a $28.9 million beginning in March. Working with Tony Scott on two previous occasions proved not to be slouches either. In 1995, the Crimson Tide rose to an $18.6 million start and finished with over $91. Two years ago their second collaboration, Man on Fire, opened to $22.7 million and ended with nearly $78. Until the abysmal Domino last year, Scott had three straight $20-plus openings, including two films which opened in the exact same spot that his latest with Denzel, Touchstone’s Déjà vu, is hitting theaters this week. Enemy of the State and Spy Game had similar star power (Will Smith, Robert Redford, Brad Pitt) and high-tech storylines. This year however, Scott’s film is not the only big boy action title out there. Casino Royale isn’t just lurking. People are talking. The critics have created a 94% fresh tomatometer out of it and its set to continue doing boffo business throughout the week. That’s going to cut into Deja’s grosses a little, but not enough to keep from having the greatest success amongst the newcomers this weekend. Look for about $25.7 million over the 5-day.

Well, it’s the PIIIIICK of Des-ti-NY, child! And it has the power to silence fans and critics alike. How far is the cult willing to follow their semi-fictional rock heroes, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, which misses even the subtlest of rock jokes by putting parenthesis around their extended title? Their last album was a hilarious mélange of hard rock parodies and the relationship between bandmates, Jack Black and Kyle Gass, and they’ve been promising this movie to their fans for longer than interest probably had to carry it. The fact that it arrives as such a generic concoction will provide a quick death after a lackluster opening. Black has had a decent run since Shallow Hal gave him an opportunity to take the lead. $22.5 million to start for that. Another $19.6 for School of Rock and the explosive $28.3 million start to Nacho Libre this summer probably has some believing that this will begin with a good chunk. None of those films were “R”-rated though, with Nacho appealing as much to kids and the Napoleon Dynamite crowd to help boost its totals. I foresee about $11.8 million over its first 5 days.

The Weinstein Company’s presentation of Bobby is avoiding the Wednesday expansion altogether and instead hitting some 1600+ theaters on Thursday, the 23rd. No doubt to miss Nov. 22, much the way Oswald did entirely. If only the Project Greenlight films got such respect. Emilio Estevez’s passion project will end up being a day behind the other grosser, but adults will begin to show up as soon as their turkey is digested so they won’t throw up at the overcooked bit of earnesty that has everyone in it except Hervé Villechaize screaming “the plain, the plain.” Slap Aaron Spelling’s name above the title and it would be a more accurate bit of advertising than trying to half-heartedly sell a story about the late Bobby Kennedy. Baby boomers who don’t know any better will be sparked by memories and tell their friends what a wonderful film this is. Others may be intrigued at the only Altman-esque cast assembled that’s not knocking over a casino. The rest of us will see it for what it is – a film where if we just look to the cobbler all our problems will be solved. Give me the $8.4 million its gonna make from Thursday-to-Sunday and I promise to deliver you a more worthwhile film.

The big loser of the week however is destined to be WB’s The Fountain. Darren Aronofsky’s long-embattled sci-fi epic starring Hugh Jackman isn’t going to draw as much interest as the other four wide releases this week (and maybe not even as much as the expansion of For Your Consideration), but its certainly going to bewilder those who do come leading to the kind of word-of-mouth that got to Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris. It opened in the same period in 2002 to a $9.4 million 5-day and that was in about 1000 more theaters and all the press about George Clooney’s butt shot. Last year’s The Ice Harvest barely cleared five million bucks and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that The Fountain is going to average less than a million a day with about $4.6 million by Sunday. Which brings us to the returning champions.

WB’s Happy Feet came on strong last Saturday and Sunday to inch its way past Casino Royale. Bond is getting its licks in on the school days, but the holiday time belongs to the penguins. Five days and over $50 million will have the tap dancin’ bird flirting with the $100 million mark in its first 10 days. Certainly not a record breaker, but one which has to get its own licks in ASAP since Paramount has moved up Charlotte’s Web by a full weekend to Dec. 15. The race for a second $100 million is going to be a stretch for sure. Casino Royale is going to need probably about 4 or 5 extra days to hit nine figures, but it should be at $90 million on Sunday. Fox’s Borat will make it by this weekend, likely up to $105 million. Disney’s The Santa Clause 3 will be the only film in the trilogy not to break $100 million as it will have just about $61 in the sleigh with maybe one more week in the top ten ahead of it. Dreamworks’ Flushed Away took an unfortunate hit with the release of Happy Feet last week, but with $56 million on Sunday it will have passed the Wallace & Gromit feature as small achievements go while finishing just 7th on the list of animated releases this year. Barring a larger performance from The Fountain or the wild card of For Your Consideration squeezing its way in, Will Ferrell’s Stranger Than Fiction should round out the top ten, still shy of $30 million

Box Office Top Ten Predictions (Nov. 22-26)
1. Happy Feet - $51.1

2. Casino Royale - $42.6

3. Déjà vu - $25.7

4. Deck the Halls - $19.1

5. Borat - $13.2

6. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny - $11.8

7. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause - $8.5

8. Bobby - $8.4

9. Flushed Away - $6.6

10. Stranger Than Fiction - $5.0

11. The Fountain - $4.6

12. For Your Consideration - $3.9


(Stats through Nov. 20)
1. Charlotte’s Web ($205.8 million)
2. Happy Feet ($174.3 million) ($44.5 million to date)
3. Blood Diamond ($131.3 million)
4. Night at the Museum ($125.6 million)
5. The Pursuit of Happyness ($119.2 million)
6. Casino Royale ($103.8 million) ($44.6 million to date)
7. Dreamgirls ($90.7 million)
8. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause ($83.5 million) ($52.3 million to date)
9. The Holiday ($79.3 million)
10. We Are Marshall ($74.6 million)
11. Eragon ($65.9 million)
12. The Nativity Story ($60 million)
13. Déjà Vu ($58.2 million)
14. The Good Shepherd ($55.2 million)
15. Borat ($54.8 million) ($92.1 million to date)
16. Flushed Away ($48.7 million) ($49.0 million to date)
17. Rocky Balboa ($46.1 million)
18. Deck the Halls ($45.7 million)
19. Stranger than Fiction ($37.8 million) ($23.4 million to date)
20. Apocalypto ($36.7 million)
($30-$39 million)
The Good German
Bobby ($75,298 to date)
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny

($20-$29 million)
Black Christmas
A Good Year ($6.5 million to date)
Babel ($12.2 million to date)
The History Boys
Children of Men

($10-$19 million)
DOA: Dead or Alive (Taken out of the holiday season)
Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj
The Fountain
The Return ($7.0 million to date)
Unaccompanied Minors
Fast Food Nation ($456,063 to date)

($5-$10 million)
Let’s Go to Prison ($2.4 million to date)
Harsh Times ($3.1 million to date)
For Your Consideration ($406,585 to date)
Pan’s Labyrinth
Factory Girl
Breaking and Entering
Notes on a Scandal

($5 million or less)
Volver ($481,000 to date)
Copying Beethoven ($163,408 to date)
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus ($90,368 to date)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

(Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo)

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originally posted: 11/22/06 16:18:13
last updated: 11/23/06 01:04:23
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