The Weekend Warrior: July 17 – 19

Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

(UPDATE: A couple switched positions with a number of close races outside the Top 2. Based on the $58.4 million opening day, we’re increasing our weekend prediction for “Harry Potter” slightly although there’s a good chance it will be frontloaded with midnights playing such a large factor in that opening day, which fell just short of records previously set by The Dark KNight and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.)

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) – $92.2 million N/A (up 5.8 million)

2. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) – $15.2 million -45% (down .3 million)

3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $11.5 million -53% (down .1 million but up one place)

4. Brüno (Universal) – $11.0 million -61% (down .8 million and one place)

5. Public Enemies (Universal) – $7.3 million -48% (down .2 million)

6. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $6.8 million -35% (up. 3 million and one place)

7. The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) – $6.7 million -37% (same but down one place)

8. Up (Disney/Pixar Animation) – $2.6 million -45% (up .2 million and one spot)

9. I Love You, Beth Cooper (20th Century Fox) – $2.5 million -50% (same but down one spot)

10. My Sister’s Keeper (New Line/WB) – $2.4 million -43% (same)

Weekend Overview

This week, we finally get what might be the last of this summer’s franchise blockbusters as the sixth installment of J.K. Rowling’s adored series Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) is finally released after an eight-month delay so fans of the franchise will already be scooping up tickets to see it as early as possible while actual families with working parents will probably wait to see it until the weekend.

It’s opening on Wednesday in over 4,000 theaters, but only three of those theatres, one each in New York, L.A. and Chicago, will be showing it exclusively in IMAX 3D, while there will be other faux-IMAX screens that take advantage of the larger theaters and higher ticket prices that have helped so many blockbusters have big openings, but that shouldn’t hurt the anticipated film from doing more in its first five days than the previous installment. We’re thinking it will probably make roughly $160 million, putting it among the top 10 5-day grosses of all time, and it doesn’t have much competition for the top spot until the last weekend in July.

It will also be interesting to see how the arrival of “Potter,” a movie that has a very wide and varied fanbase, affects some of the returning movies, especially those that have been holding up well in recent weeks, as many of them will have to start giving up theaters. The bottom half of the Top 10 might also be interesting to watch as there should be a couple close races to try to hold onto the Top 10.
Also of note is that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen: The Director’s Cut with 21 minutes of new footage will open exclusively in a single theater in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Dallas on Friday for a limited run of one week before the DVD release on Tuesday, July 21. You can see where it’s playing on the Official Site.

UPDATE: The Kathryn Heigl-Gerard Butler rom-com The Ugly Truth (Sony) will also be sneak-previewing in 165 theaters tonight.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the excellent festival fave romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight) starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, which you can read about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of the biggest opening for a three-day weekend ever as Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.), starring Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger, set all sorts of records with its opening day of $67 million and first weekend of $158.4 million in 4,366 theaters, destroying the previous records set by Spider-Man 3 a year earlier. It would go onto top the box office for four weeks straight, ultimately amassing $533 million domestically (and over a billion globally) becoming the second-highest grossing movie domestically after James Cameron’s Titanic. If that wasn’t enough, the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (Universal), starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, opened in a solid second with $27.8 million in nearly 3,000 theaters, surpassing the previous year’s Hairspray as the top opening musical. (“High School Musical 3″ would break that record later in the year. Opening down in 7th place, the Fox animated movie Space Chimps opened with just $7.2 million in 2,511 theaters, averaging a weak $2,860 per site. Thanks to combination of The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia!, the Top 10 grossed a record-setting $250 million over the three-day weekend, an amount that this weekend probably won’t even be able to touch.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, David Bradley, Jessie Cave, Frank Dillane, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Helen McCrory, Natalia Tena, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Bonnie Wright
Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the BBC mini-series “State of Play” and the TV movie “Girl in the Café”); Written by Steven Kloves (1st four “Harry Potter” movies)
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG
Tagline: “Dark Secrets Revealed”
Plot Summary: In their sixth year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) are starting to experiencing the growing pains of relationships with the opposite sex as the Death Eaters loom ever closer to their mission of infiltrating the school. Meanwhile, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has brought retired Potions Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) back to the school, because he might have some clue on how to defeat his former star pupil who would go onto become Voldemort.

Review

Interview with David Yates

Analysis:

This is the sixth installment of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series we’ve covered in “The Weekend Warrior” so there’s probably not a lot that needs to be said or added that we haven’t already stated in past columns. Essentially, it’s been roughly eight and a half years since the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone debuted to become the biggest opening movie ever–that lasted about six months. Since then, it’s been one of the most successful franchises across the world with the five movies cumulating roughly $4.5 BILLION worldwide. As usual, the big question on most minds is how this installment will fare as it joins a very select group of franchises that successfully stuck around for six movies. Of course, there’s the “James Bond” movies and the “Batman” franchise hit that number last year, but otherwise, you’re mainly talking about horror franchises and “Police Academy” and few others.

“Half-Blood Prince” is the third “Potter” movie to open in the busy summer movie season and the second to open on a Wednesday, following the course of the fifth movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That opened on a similar Wednesday in the middle of July two years ago to gross $44 million in its opening day, setting a new Wednesday record (that was recently defeated by the “Transformers” sequel). It took a pretty drastic 58% plunge on Thursday and making another $77 million over the weekend, amassing $140 million in its first five days, ultimately going on to become the second most successful movie in the franchise.

The cast is mostly the same as the previous movies, once again showing the growth of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as the three school chums, and the adult teachers include the likes of Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and the rest. The main addition to the cast is veteran actor and Oscar nominee Jim Broadbent as a key character to the story and newcomer Jessie Cave, who plays Ron’s new love interest in the movie. There are also enhanced roles for Tom Felton and Bonnie Wright, who have been playing Harry’s arch-nemesis Draco Malfoy and Ron’s younger sister Ginny Weasley, respectively, since the first movie.

Some might find it surprising that the key to this installment doing better than the previous one, in that it’s far lighter and filled with more humor than the last few chapters, which have generally been darker. Looking at the movies that have been successful this summer (Star Trek, The Hangover, The Proposal), a lighter “Harry Potter” movie might be a good thing. It also deals a lot more with the romances between the characters which should be a big factor for women, who make up a large portion of the franchise’s audiences already.

The movie was originally supposed to come out last November and in an unpopular decision, Warner Bros. decided to move it back to the summer of ’09, which had a lot of the fans in an uproar, especially since the last chapter of Rowling’s epic had already been published, meaning they would have to wait longer for the latest movie adaptation. Who knows if the movie can make more money opening in the summer than the fall, but what that decision has done is that it’s created a lot more anticipation among the fans of both the books and the movies who’ve been waiting a long time for a new movie. Over the course of the eight years, the franchise probably has added more fans as kids got older and discovered the books or watched the movies on TV or DVD, which is generally a good thing when applying the “sequel factor” to the movie, which comes out after the longest gap between installments. One imagines that in the last two years, the fanbase has grown and generally anyone who’s seen the first five movies has little reason not to continue with the series, so you can expect to have all of them, plus those who’ve discovered the series since the last movie.

The rating issue with the “Harry Potter” movies is an interesting one because some assumed that the fourth and fifth movies receiving a PG-13 would affect their ability to make money. Nope, not the case at all, and yet, the sixth installment has returned to a PG rating. In theory, that means that parents can bring their younger kids although parts of the movie might still be too scary and it’s doubtful anyone under ten has been able to see all of the earlier movies. Reviews are generally going to be favorable although it’s a very different movie from previous ones which might throw some non-fan critics off.

One big hindrance that the sixth installment faced by moving to the summer is that Warner Bros. wasn’t able to get as many of the coveted IMAX screens as they would have liked compared to back last November. Like the last installment, there are a number of scenes in the movie shot in IMAX 3D but to see those scenes, you’ll have to live in New York, L.A. or Chicago and be one of the people who already ordered advance tickets ’cause they’ll probably be sold out by Wednesday. The question is whether fans of the “Potter” series will want to see the 3D footage enough to go see it again when it becomes available in their areas. Certainly, few fans will want to see the movie just to get the IMAX experience. This might help the movie have better legs than normal, as those who enjoy the movie might wait until the end of the month and see the movie again.

The Wednesday release is also a tough one because the anticipation is likely to frontload the business to its opening day and take away from the movie having the type of $100 million weekend the fourth installment had. Instead, it’s likely to follow the course of the fifth movie with most days being slightly increased due to higher ticket prices and the higher demand with Wednesday being the busiest and Saturday the second busiest day. There are a lot of family movies opening in the weeks to come (Disney’s G-Force, Aliens in the Attic and Bandslam), but only the former looks strong enough to do any business, and chances are that the latest “Potter” will steamroll over most of those as it remains #1 for at least two weeks then getting a boost in Week 3 as it adds more IMAX 3D screens. Being the summer’s last chance at having another $300 million movie, “Half-Blood Prince” will also be shooting to break the previous top gross for the franchise that the first movie has held onto for many years.

Why I Should See It: The quality of the “Harry Potter” movies continue to be consistently above most other blockbuster franchises.
Why Not: This is a slower movie that doesn’t have nearly as much of the epic magic and fantasy of previous installments.
Projections: $50 to 52 million on Wednesday, another $22 to 25 million on Thursday then another $84 to 87 million over the three-day weekend (roughly $160 to 165 million in its first five days) on its way to roughly $310 to 320 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

(500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Rachel Boston, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz
Directed by Marc Webb (debut); Written by Scott Neustadter, Michael Weber (The Pink Panther 2, believe it or not)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “This is not a love story; this is a story about love”
Plot Summary: When Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) first meets Summer Bishl (Zooey Deschanel), he falls hopelessly in love with her and over the course of the next few months, they fall in love and find romance together but then things start fall apart when she dumps him, and he spends time after that trying to get her back.

Interview with Marc Webb

My Sundance Wrap-Up

Marc Webb’s debut was head and shoulders my favorite movie of this year’s Sundance Film Festival—in fact, its screening there deservedly received a standing ovation–and it certainly stood up to second viewing in a more realistic critical environment. In this revolutionary look at the evolution and dissolution of a romance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom Hansen, a writer at a greeting card company, who immediately falls for his boss’ assistant Summer Bishl, played by Zooey Deschanel. Not that anyone should be surprised of his interest in her, because she’s spent most of her life having guys fall for her because she’s just so unique and different from other women. Told using a variety of clever styles that often includes a narrator giving the play by play, the film explores the highs and lows in a relationship that was bound to never work out. It’s based on what is without a doubt the best screenplay of the year–Away We Go is a close second–and the clever techniques music video director Marc Webb uses to keep his feature film debut so captivating makes it very easy to fall in love with everything about it.

I’ve been a fan of Levitt for some time now, but he’s been starring in so many dramas since his time on “3rd Rock from the Sun,” that it’s nice to see him finally given a chance to cut loose with some comedy, delivering the charm you’d expect from a leading man, so much so that you can’t even fault him for a second when he breaks out into a musical dancer number after his first night spent with Summer. Deschanel isn’t breaking too much new ground from the type of enigmatic impossible-to-pin-down girlfriend she’s played in so many previous films, both indies and studio fare, but she’s so well-matched with Levitt. They’re such an incredibly adorable couple, you really want things to work out between them even if the non-linear technique used to jump back and forth between different dates in their 500 day relationship quickly gives away the fact things won’t work out.

Much of the first half of the film deals with watching their relationship ship blossom, but also showing the clear warning signs that things couldn’t possibly work out due to his idealistic view of romance that doesn’t quite gel with her own desire to not be tied down to a quote-unquote boyfriend. After a while, we’re spending more time watching Tom simultaneously try to get over Summer while also trying to win her back, and the film gets darker and darker as we get deeper into Tom’s funk. The thing is that every single guy has met a woman like Summer, and there’s so much about every aspect of this relationship with which humans of either gender should easily be able to relate. It might seem overly cynical at times, but it’s also far more truthful and realistic about relationships than any other movie of its type. It also never gets dull as Webb finds interesting ways of telling the story that keeps it entertaining, including that dance number as well as a brief foray into documentary and French cinema.

A lot of the latter comes in the form of the satellite characters circulating around the relationship. Tom’s far-too-wise little sister Rachel (Chloe Grace Moretz) offers Tom far better relationship advice than either of his two dopey friends (Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Grubler), all of them keeping the film light even when the tears start flowing, though wisely, the focus always remains firmly on the duo.

It’s not often a “romantic comedy”—for lack of a more appropriate term—really delivers on the two prime ingredients promised by that often overly-formulaic genre, which is why it’s refreshing for a movie, essentially about a failed romance, to take such a candid approach to love and relationships. Whether or not you’ve ever been in love with someone who broke your heart to this level or intensity, every aspect of (500) Days of Summer hits every emotional nail in the head so perfectly, whether you’ve had that one romance you’ll never forget or not, you’ll not be able to walk away from this movie at least not somewhat more enlightened than when you walked in.

(500) Days of Summer opens in 27 theaters in select cities on Friday and you can see the entire release schedule and even buy tickets on the official site.

Honorable Mention:

Somers Town (Film Movement)
Starring Thomas Turgoose, Piotr Jagiello, Ireneusz Czop, Perry Benson, Kate Dickie
Directed by Shane Meadows (This is England, Dead Man’s Shoes); Written by Paul Fraser
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Plot Summary: Two young kids from different backgrounds—Tomo, a tough talking Brit, and Marek, a shy Polish immigrant—form a friendship amidst one of London’s tougher areas.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York City.

Also in Limited Release:

A Woman in Berlin (Strand Releasing) – Max Färberböck’s German drama about the former journalist and photographer (played by Nina Hoss from the recent Jerychow) who published an anonymous diary documenting the 1945 invasion of Berlin by the Russians that included women being raped (including herself). It was a controversial book that was immediately banned in 1953 but then rediscovered and released in 2003. It opens on Friday at the Angelika Film Center in New York.

Death in Love (Screen Media Films) – Boaz (Remember the Titans) Yakin’s drama stars Josh Lucas and Lukas Haas as two brothers trying to get out of the shadow of their family’s dark past of their Holocaust survivor mother (Jacqueline Bisset) having had an affair with a Nazi doctor while held in the concentration camps. It opens in New York on Friday.

Homecoming (Paper Street Films) – Morgan J. Freeman (not the actor) directs this thriller starring Mischa Barton (from “The O.C.”) as the former girlfriend of a small town star athlete (Matt Long) who wants to get rid of his pretty new girlfriend Elizabeth (Prom Night‘s Jessica Stroup), whom he’s brought home with him for Christmas break. It opens in select theaters.

Off Jackson Avenue (Multivissionaire Pictures) – John-Luke Montias’ New York based crime drama about various people involved in the city’s underworld including a Mexican woman trapped as a sex slave, a Japanese hit man and a car thief (played by Montias himself) opens in New York City.


Next week, three movies try to topple the Mighty Potter with Katherine Heigl facing Gerard Butler in the romcom The Ugly Truth (Sony), producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings us the family action-comedy G-Force (Disney) while Joel Silver produces the creepy kid horror thriller Orphan (Warner Bros.)

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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