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The Box Office Buster (Dec. 8-10)

by Erik Childress

Apparently, no one was “aware” that Jesus had a movie coming out. Either that or folk just prefer their Jesus bloodied and battered. Maybe audiences were just savvy enough to know that they can see PG-rated treatments from their favorite book on network television. That hardcore whip n’ thorn action is where their local multiplex comes in. Speaking of Mel Gibson, he’s got a movie coming out this week; another in a practically dead language full of violent bloodletting and allegorical religious uprisings. We won’t be commenting about Gibson’s personal business, as I refuse to equate one with the other, but does anyone believe its going to have a shot at the box office? Read on.

Warner Bros. made an interesting strategic move in swapping their Dec. 15 opening for Edward Zwick’s Blood Diamond for a week earlier. (Since then, there has rarely been a film opening this month that hasn’t moved up their opening at least a couple of days.) But moving up the film is a significant bit of confidence. They must have really believed in Zwick’s “important” actioner, especially after his last film for the studio, The Last Samurai, grossed $111 million in 2003. That film had Tom Cruise. Blood Diamond has Leonardo DiCaprio, who is on a bit of a moviestar winning streak with three straight $100 million grossers (Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator & The Departed). This was a factor in my holiday movie preview where I predicted a monstrous $137 million total for the film, based not just on the trailer but the extra week of play it was getting before the Christmas rush and the uncertainty of Gibson’s epic. Casino Royale was already going to have three weeks under its belt and people would be ready for a new dose of action. That was overzealous on my part, as I was expecting more than just tepid storytelling and just enough bullets to satisfy a 143-minute running time. Also, I figured for more than 1800-some theaters to be playing a new DiCaprio film from the get-go. Each of Zwick’s last three films started on over 2000 screens. Denzel Washington was just coming into his box office draw and led Courage Under Fire and The Siege to $59 and $40 million respectively. The Last Samurai opened to $24.2 million on nearly 3000 screens. Blood Diamond is going to have to fight mixed reviews, a low screen count and two other adventure films picking for audiences. WB is probably hoping for no less than an $18 million weekend, but with a crowded weekend certain to divide audiences – a disappointing $13.4 million could be en route.

Speaking of those I’d like to whip and thorn, let’s finally get to….Nancy Meyers. This is precisely the type of article Meyers goes to great lengths in her new film, The Holiday, to cast as one of the great evils of the Hollywood industry. An unusual damnation considering that her three directorial efforts have had solid success at the box office and her last two, Something’s Gotta Give and What Women Want did a combined $307 million-plus, so let’s not pretend that you’re creating great art. I’d rather listen to Edward Norton go on about the horrors of the award season even though the guy hasn’t made a movie worth considering for awards (even in a perfect, non-bought, non-predictable Oscar world.) I’ll admit the only reason I began writing these articles was in an effort to keep up with the Joneses and perhaps infuse the traditional statistical analyses with a level of cynicism and appreciation that kept the focus on the films while spewing bile and dissatisfaction at what people were spending their money on. As a numbers guy (yes, I watch the Math Cop show) there’s something interesting in the horse race that is theatrical box office and I’ve been making predictions since grade school ever since I saw Premiere’s first Top 20 summer rankings piece. So, I’ll be damned if I’m going to listen to Nancy “Writing Crap for Three Decades” Meyers lecture anyone about paying attention to the very numbers that get published on Sunday which just happen to keep allowing her to lower the Bell Curve on romantic screenwriting with each successive effort. Your film is probably going to beat DiCaprio this weekend with about $14.3 million, so shut up. And I’m talking to you, your pen, pencil, sharpie, laptop, desktop, typewriter and inner monologue.

So now that I’m good and angry, let’s talk about Mel Gibson. Because his movies put me in a good mood. Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ may not have ended happily for their protagonists, but I still left struck with what a brilliant filmmaker Gibson really is; the kind of brilliant that it takes a little bit of crazy to create – and hasn’t that been a trait celebrated all the way back to John Ford through the Peckinpah and Fuller Sams? But its also the kind of crazy to follow up Aramaic with the dialect of the Mesoamerican. And Apocalypto doesn’t have the built-in fanbase of The Passion. This has to get by on pure street cred, the way people recognize potential greatness in a new Spielberg film or the way people used to flock to a Shyamalan flick. Is “Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto” going to be enough for fans to come out? I’m betting they will on opening weekend even as just a curiosity. We’ll see how long they last through the excessive violence and slow build-up to the climactic 45-minute chase scene, but the reviews will be the strongest amongst the newbies and with Happy Feet and Casino Royale dominating the 1-2 slots for three straight weeks, it is time indeed for a new beginning with a – wait for it - $18 million start for Apocalypto.

WB’s Unaccompanied Minors arrives with the pedigree of one of the most quality-associated TV writer/directors out there. Paul Feig, responsible in part for episodes of Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Arrested Development and the U.S. version of The Office, also directed the little-seen 2003 fable, I Am David, featuring a pre-Jesus’d Jim Caviezel. Unless he thought he could get away with a Home Alone-wannabe knocking down a new Rocky film (as back in the holiday period of 1990), I don’t know why we wanted part of a film one colleague has told me is the worst film of the year. Maybe for adults. Kids might lap it up a bit before regretting they didn’t go back to see Happy Feet or save their allowance money for the forthcoming wonderful adaptation of Charlotte’s Web. $7 million worth of wasted allowance and lost Christmas presents from mom and dad would be sad indeed.

Despite what Bill O’-what-a-douchebag Reilly says about Happy Feet being a piece of anti-Bush propaganda, the penguins continued to lead the way happily appeasing audiences after speculation that some of the material may be too “dark” for the kiddies. It will be taking a dip with the newbies this weekend, but will still have over $135 million to its credit in the wake of another superior piece of family entertainment I think I’ve already mentioned, but is worth repeating (Charlotte’s Web). Casino Royale has been your leader Monday-Thursday but continues to take a backseat to the other tuxedos during family time Friday-Sunday. I don’t hear Bond complaining as he approaches $130 million probably by next Monday on its way to being the second most successful Bond film in history after Die Another Day. Denzel Washington and Tony Scott’s Déjà vu continues to chug along and will have close to $53 million by Sunday. New Line’s The Nativity Story probably could have used some more slaughter and will ironically suffer without it. It’s collection plate will only have about $14 million in it on the Lord’s day. Fox’s Deck the Halls will be passing $30 million in its final Top 10 weekend, making way for next week’s Eragon (which looks to be going the way of the no-screening route). Last and certainly close to least, we can finally wave goodbye to the Santa Clause series as part three will finish its Top 10 run with about $77 million

Box Office Top Ten Predictions (Dec. 8-10)
1. Apocalypto - $18.0

2. The Holiday - $14.3

3. Blood Diamond - $13.4

4. Happy Feet - $9.7

5. Casino Royale - $8.3

6. Unaccompanied Minors - $7.0

7. Deja Vu - $5.7

8. The Nativity Story - $4.7

9. Deck the Halls - $4.0

10. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause - $2.8


NEXT WEEK'S WIDE OPENERS


HOLIDAY BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS (Nov. 1)
(Stats through Nov. 26)
1. Charlotte’s Web ($205.8 million)
2. Happy Feet ($174.3 million) ($121.5 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) ($115.8 million to date)
7. Dreamgirls ($90.7 million)
8. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause ($83.5 million) ($73.0 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) ($7.8 million to date)
13. Déjà Vu ($58.2 million) ($44.0 million to date)
14. The Good Shepherd ($55.2 million)
15. Borat ($54.8 million) ($116.2 million to date)
16. Flushed Away ($48.7 million) ($60.0 million to date)
17. Rocky Balboa ($46.1 million)
18. Deck the Halls ($45.7 million) ($25.0 million to date)
19. Stranger than Fiction ($37.8 million) ($36.9 million to date)
20. Apocalypto ($36.7 million)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
($30-$39 million)
The Good German
Bobby ($9.2 million to date)
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny ($7.4 million to date)

($20-$29 million)
Black Christmas
A Good Year ($7.3 million to date)
Babel ($16.7 million to date)
The History Boys ($264,558 to date)
Children of Men

($10-$19 million)
DOA: Dead or Alive (Taken out of the holiday season)
Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj ($2.3 million to date)
The Fountain ($8.2 million to date)
The Return ($7.7 million to date)
Unaccompanied Minors
Fast Food Nation ($905,718 to date)

($5-$10 million)
Turistas ($3.5 million to date)
Let’s Go to Prison ($4.5 million to date)
Harsh Times ($3.3 million to date)
For Your Consideration ($4.2 million to date)
Venus
Pan’s Labyrinth
Factory Girl
Breaking and Entering
Notes on a Scandal

($5 million or less)
Volver ($1.8 million to date)
Copying Beethoven ($256,803 to date)
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus ($188,697 to date)
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer



(Data courtesy of Box Office Mojo)


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2028
originally posted: 12/06/06 04:54:02
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