Long Distance Box Office: A Memorial Day to Remember

Last time we did one of these Long Distance Box Offices, we looked at some of the big blockbusters of the summer and this probably won’t be our last Long Distance Box Office about summer movies, but we wanted to take a closer look at one particular weekend this summer that will probably be discussed a lot over the next couple of weeks and probably for the rest of the summer, and that’s Memorial Day weekend.

Anyone who has regularly been reading this column already knows what an important weekend Memorial Day represents for the box office, because so many people are off work or out of school on Monday, representing the last big holiday weekend before summer break. It’s a prime summer spot for studio’s tentpole and franchise movies, because so many people use the weekend to go to the movies either to catch up on movies they’ve missed or to see something new.

Every year, at least one or two big movies have opened big over the holiday weekend and there have only been a couple of Memorial Day weekends in recent memory where nothing opened that big. One recent Memorial Day weekend where things didn’t do as well as expected was the 2010 pairing of Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2, neither which was able to best the second weekend of the weaker DreamWorks Animation release Shrek Forever After.

This year that just won’t be the case because we have two big sequels to movies that each opened over $80 million as well as a new family animated adventure hoping to follow other Memorial Day animated hits. The big feud for the top spot will come between two primarily male-driven sequels, Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III. This may sound familiar to those who remember when The Hangover Part II took on Kung Fu Panda 2 two years back and absolutely trounced it. Things might be a little bit different this time since The Hangover Part III is taking on a PG-13 movie that’s going to be just as or even more appealing to guys of all ages.

The “Fast and Furious” franchise has become one of Universal Pictures’ most reliable tentpole series although at one point in 2006, it looked like it was heading straight to DVD with the third movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. That movie was significant for a number of reasons, not just because it’s the only movie in the series to gross less than $100 million domestic, but it also brought director Justin Lin to the series, who wisely added a cameo of original The Fast and the Furious star Vin Diesel that got fans excited for more.

More excitement came in the form of Fast & Furious, opening in the unconventional date of April 3, 2009, reuniting Vin Diesel with Paul Walker with Lin at the helm. When that movie opened with nearly $71 million, Universal knew that they had something good they had to keep going, and the follow-up, 2011′s Fast Five was even better, gaining some of the best reviews of the series as it brought on Dwayne Johnson as a marshal trying to take down the street racers as they planned a major heist in Rio, as well as bringing back even more characters from the series. The fans loved that movie and its cliffhanger tease ending and its $86 million opening set a new record opening for Universal Pictures as it went on to gross $629 million worldwide.

That brings us to Fast & Furious 6, which will follow the popular and successful fifth movie with a similar format of the group pulling heists in different parts of the world, and wisely, Universal jumped on the Memorial Day weekend when many sequels have done huge business.

Case in point: the biggest four-day opening for the weekend is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End with $139 million, followed by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with $127 million. X-Men: The Last Stand is the third biggest with $122 million and that brings us to The Hangover Part II, which opened with $103 million in its first four days in 2011.

We have more to say about Fast & Furious 6, but this seems like a good time to talk about its main competition, which is the third movie in Todd Phillips’ unlikely R-rated comedy blockbuster franchise The Hangover Part III, which brings back the cast of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha and Ken Jeong, taking them to Mexico as well as bringing them back to Las Vegas where their whole adventure started. Unlike Fast Five, it doesn’t seem like Phillips is trying to reinvent the wheel which may be the three-quel’s biggest problem since many people felt that the previous sequel didn’t do enough to change things up from the first movie, other than moving the story to Thailand.

Critics hated The Hangover Part II even more, and though it did way better opening weekend than the first movie–$86 million in three days compared to the original’s $45 million… and that’s after a Thursday opening of $32 million, too!–it ended up grossing roughly $20 million less domestically. The Hangover Part III is opening on Friday which could help bolster its weekend although it’s also opening with stronger competition than Kung Fu Panda 2, which grossed $47.7 million that same Memorial Day weekend. The Hangover Part III should still have a strong opening with at least $20 million on Friday and then how it fares over the three-day weekend will be determined by whether Phillips and his cast deliver a stronger movie this time around.

We fully expect Fast & Furious 6 to win that first Friday though with at least as much as the predecessor did, and a $35 million plus opening day could easily put it over the $100 million mark for the four-day weekend and we think it could bring in as much as $110 million by Monday.

The question is whether one of the two movies “blinks” and the studio moves one of them to Thursday in hopes of having one day by itself without the stiff competition. If Fast & Furious 6 moves earlier, it could cut into its weekend chances against The Hangover Part III. If the latter moves earlier, it can make $20 million or more on its own and then have a good excuse for taking second or even third place over the weekend. Without a move, we think Phillips’ latest comedy will probably be hurt by the competition and the weaker second movie and probably will end up closer to $70 million over the four-day weekend. It’s not often where two movies can bring in nearly $200 million on their own even over a four-day weekend, so one has to expect that moviegoers who want to see both will spread their moviegoing over the weekend.

Either way, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the latest animated movie from 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Films, Epic, a forest-based action-adventure, featuring the voices of Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Beyoncé Knowles and Christoph Waltz. I recently saw a preview of the movie and while it looks fun, I’m dubious that it will have much appeal to anyone older than 13 or 14 years old, although it could help that there aren’t other movies that might appeal to women – they’ll probably go with “The Hangover” over the street racing movie. Because there’s no school on Monday, a kids’ movie could do well, and it can be helped by being the first family-friendly movie since DreamWorks Animations’ The Croods released two months earlier. Still, we don’t see this doing as well as DWA’s Memorial Day offerings, and it will probably open in fourth place with less than $40 million over the four days.

There are other movies opening this weekend that might bring in business like Richard Linklater’s long-awaited Before Midnight opening in New York and Los Angeles–we’ll be shocked if that averages less than $50,000 over the four days–as well as the IMAX-only family release Penguins 3D, but this weekend will be all about the two big sequels and the second weekend of Star Trek Into Darkness, which may drop to third place and still make more than $40 million over the four days. I know… crazy, huh?

We’ll definitely be reexamining this weekend closer to release, but right now it looks like Fast & Furious 6 is the movie to beat over Memorial Day.

Next time, we’re going to be looking closer at another movie releasing over the summer – we have a couple of ideas which one, but we’re going to leave it as a surprise for now.


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