The Weekend Warrior: September 4 – 7

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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.

Predictions and Comparisons

1. Gamer (Lionsgate) – $16.4 million N/A

2. The Final Destination (New Line/WB) – $15.0 million -45%

3. All About Steve (20th Century Fox) – $12.8 million N/A

4. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal) – $12.3 million -36%

5. District 9 (Sony) – $8.0 million -22%

6. Halloween II (Dimension Films) – $7.7 million -53%

7. Julie & Julia (Sony) – $6.6 million -6%

8. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount) – $6.0 million -23%

9. Extract (Miramax) – $5.5 million N/A

10. The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB) – $4.8 million -32%

Weekend Overview

It’s Labor Day weekend once again, which either means it’s the last weekend of summer or the first weekend of fall, depending how you look at it, and there are three new movies in wide release, none of them opening in more than 2,500 theaters.

Lionsgate ends their summer (or starts their fall) the same way they ended spring, with a new movie from the filmmaking team of Neveldine and Taylor, this one being the sci-fi tinged action flick Gamer (Lionsgate), starring Gerard Butler. This is the kind of genre fare that generally does well on the weekend, but going up against so much male-friendly fare already in theaters, including last week’s two R-rated horror movies, might keep it doing closer to Crank or Babylon A.D. numbers than Transporter 2.

Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper, the stars of two of the biggest comedies of the summer, face off in the romantic comedy All About Steve (20th Century Fox), which will try to bring in the female fans of both actors despite it not being the movie that normally opens over Labor Day. It has quite a bit of competition for female moviegoers already, and it doesn’t look as interesting or funny as any of them, but it should still do significant business based on the two stars, even though the moderate theater count will probably keep it well under $20 million.

Either way, it might be a fairly close race between those two movies with last week’s #1 horror hit The Final Destination, which might have a fairly big drop on Friday, but should continue to do decently due to the novelty of being the only 3D movie currently in theaters.

Mike Judge returns with a new workplace comedy called Extract (Miramax) with an ensemble cast including Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig and more, but compared to the other two movies, it’s a tough sell, and it will probably be vying for the bottom end of the Top 10 with so many stronger movies already playing.

Last Labor Day, Vin Diesel returned in the long-delayed action sci-fi flick Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox), but it tanked with just $11.5 million over the four-day weekend, failing to oust Ben Stiller’s comedy Tropic Thunder, which topped the box office for the third week in a row with $14.6 million. Opening on Wednesday, the Don Cheadle political thriller Traitor (Overture) grossed $10 million over the four-day weekend in 2,000 theaters to take fifth place. The third spoof movie of the year, Disaster Movie (Lionsgate), failed to bring in much of an audience, opening with less than $7 million in 2,600 theaters for seventh place. And yet, it didn’t bomb nearly as bad as MGM’s College, which opened with just $2.6 million in over 2,000 theaters, and the Steve Coogan comedy Hamlet 2 (Focus Features) also tanked, making just $2.1 million in its first weekend in wide release after opening in select cities the week prior. The top 10 grossed $86 million over the four-day weekend.


THE BATTLE CRY

The summer is finally over–it seemed to go by really fast this year, didn’t it?–and now is as good a time as any to look back at the summer’s big winners and losers in terms of which studios scored and which studios just couldn’t get their movies off the ground despite positive expectations earlier in the summer. If you missed it, you can read the Weekend Warrior’s Summer Box Office Preview to see how we fared in our predictions; we mostly got the order right with a couple of notable exceptions and we greatly underestimated many of the top movies.

For a second summer in a row, or possibly even the third, Paramount was the big winner, having distributed the top movie of the summer with Michael Bay’s sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which at this writing is about a day away from hitting the $400 million mark, putting it in the Top 10 all-time domestic grosses right behind Spider-Man. Even before that anticipated sequel opened, Paramount successfully relaunched the Star Trek franchise with TV mogul J.J. Abrams, a well-reviewed and generally lauded movie that grossed more than $250 million, which is roughly 2 and a half times the total gross of the biggest previous “Star Trek” movie. Then they wrapped things up in August by successfully launching a franchise based on Hasbro’s other popular action figure line G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which has grossed more than $130 million and already has a sequel greenlit. That’s nearly $800 million domestically from just three movies.

Warner Bros. did pretty well for themselves, although all the work they put into trying to relaunch a franchise with Terminator Salvation failed to achieve the same success as Paramount’s reboot of Star Trek with it stalling out at $125 million. It certainly would have been a harder pill to swallow if not for the huge breakout hit they had with Todd Phillips’ comedy The Hangover a few weeks later. Not a single person on earth could possibly have foreseen that a comedy starring a cast of mostly third and fourth stringers could find such a huge audience both opening weekend (nearly $45 million) and in total ($270 million), as it glided past Wedding Crashers and Beverly Hills Cop to become the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. (As well as the third highest-grossing R-rated movie.) With a production budget of $35 million, it also would be one of the summer’s most profitable movies. Even if The Hangover didn’t become such a surprise hit, Warners probably had little reason for concern, having moved Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the summer last fall, and the long wait did help build enough excitement that the sixth installment matched the gross of previous outings, falling just short of $300 million to be the second biggest movie of the summer and the second highest grossing movie in the franchise after the first.

Disney had another great summer, culminating with the announcement yesterday that they bought Marvel Entertainment–a deal that should pan out to a lot of interesting projects in the future. Their biggest success of the summer was the latest from Pixar, Up, their first foray into 3D, which was the third highest grossing movie of the summer with nearly $290 million, their second highest gross after the Oscar-winning Finding Nemo in 2003. Disney’s Touchstone Pictures can also boast about having produced the highest opening and grossing movie in the career of Sandra Bullock with the romantic comedy The Proposal which opened with $34 million and grossed $160 million, making it the third biggest comedy of the summer. Most recently, they had another family hit with Jerry Bruckheimer’s G-Force which has grossed over $100 million, also helped by 3D screenings.

20th Century Fox kicked off the summer with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that opened with $85 million and grossed $179 million total (below our projection), but it was followed by back-to-back family hits with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs both which also grossed more than $175 million. (Both of them were helped by screenings in premium formats such as IMAX and 3D.) That’s $525 million between three movies, which is not bad at all.

For the most part, Sony was having a really bad summer as Ron Howard and Tom Hanks’ Angels & Demons grossed a disappointing $133 million despite the success of The Da Vinci Code, and then neither the comedy Year One or the thriller remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 did very well despite big name starpower in both movies and veteran directors at the helm. Then they had a pair of back-to-back chick flick hits with The Ugly Truth ($86 million) and Julie & Julia ($70 million so far), followed by the surprise breakout hit of the summer, District 9, which just cracked $90 million, nearly 3 times its production budget.

Unfortunately, that just leaves Universal, who just couldn’t get a break this summer, not one. Land of the Lost bombed, making less than $50 million, followed by Bruno and Funny People, the anticipated follow-ups to comedy hits from Sacha Baron Cohen and Judd Apatow, respectively, both which made only slightly more despite the success of their predecessors. In fact, Universal’s biggest movie of the summer, Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, which paired the stars of two of the biggest franchise, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, couldn’t even bring in $100 million. Earlier in the summer we noted how daring Universal was being with their line-up, but sadly, it didn’t pay off in the way The Hangover did for Warner Bros.

Things are already coming together for some of what should be next summer’s biggest movies including Iron Man 2 and Shrek Forever After, again both distributed by Paramount, plus there’ll be a sequel to Sex and the City and the third chapter of “The Twilight Saga,” and Universal has the opportunity for a better summer with Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro reuniting for Little Fockers. Next year, it’s Disney taking most of the chances with a few new potential franchises with Bruckheimer, but they also have Toy Story 3, which should be an enormous hit. We think that one of the movies above will follow “Transformers” into the $400 million club, and we’ll let you spend the next eight months trying to figure out which one.

Next week, I’ll talk about some of the movies that I liked in particular, both the ones that received wide releases and some of the smaller films, and then after that, we’re officially into the gall and the Weekend Warrior might be taking a few weeks off while he’s covering the Toronto Film Festival (or we’ll have a shorter stripped-down column for a couple weeks if nothing else).


Gamer (Lionsgate)
Starring Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Alison Lohman, Amber Valletta, Logan Lerman, Kyra Sedgwick, Ludacris, John Leguizamo, Zoe Bell, Terry Crews
Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, Crank 2: High Voltage)
Genre: Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Rated R
Tagline: “In the near future, you don’t play to live… you’ll live to play.”
Plot Summary: In the near future, criminals are being used as the players in a popular but deadly first-person shooter game called “Slayers” run by billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). Kable (Gerard Butler) is the game’s superstar who is guided to victory every week by his controller Simon, but the modern-day gladiator is sick of being forced to fight against his will and he decides to take back his identity.

Review

Analysis:

For whatever reason, genre and action movies tend to do well over Labor Day weekend, as summer turns into fall, which might be why Lionsgate grabbed this weekend for the third movie from action innovators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who came onto the scene in 2006 with Crank, starring Jason Statham, and have been very busy since then. Earlier this year, their sequel Crank 2: High Voltage failed to match the success of its predecessor for whatever reason, but they’re unique form of filmmaking has certainly gotten Hollywood’s attention, which is why they wrote the script for the WB Western Jonah Hex, which comes out next summer.

Gamer taps into the current popularity of video games by creating a futuristic world where first-person shooter games use real people to fight them, and more than anything, it’s the first straight action vehicle for Gerard Butler, the Scottish actor who first gained attention here as the star of Zack Snyder’s blockbuster 300. Since then, he’s mainly been cast in romantic comedies like P.S. I Love You and the battle of the sexes comedy The Ugly Truth. These have helped build upon the female audience who liked seeing the rugged Scotsman sans shirt in 300 but did little for the younger male fanbase that made up a large part of the movie’s audience. Gamer is a great vehicle for Butler because it creates a character that plays upon his strengths and gives potential for a franchise character ala Vin Diesel’s Riddick. Also among the featured cast for Gamer is Michael C. Hall, the star of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and Showtime’s “Dexter,” the latter show having really taken off in the last couple years–Hall was just nominated for an Emmy the second year running–as well as rapper Ludacris, actresses Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”), Alison Lohman (Drag Me to Hell) and Amber Valletta, Logan Lerman, who co-starred in the Western remake 3:10 to Yuma, and many others, although the commercials are focusing mainly on Butler, Hall and Ludacris, knowing that they’d be the most likely to bring in people.

It’s an interesting idea to tap into the current popularity of video games although video game movies generally haven’t done very well, even movies that are actually based on popular games like Doom. The movie’s success relies entirely on it bringing in the younger guys it’s hoping will be interested in it, because it has very little chance at bringing in women or older males. Unfortunately, those younger guys are just as likely to stay home playing video games all weekend, which might hurt its chances at breaking out; the amount of other movies geared towards that audience won’t help either.

Lionsgate have not had a very good year, which might be why they’ve mostly taken the summer off as they gear up for the next “Saw” movie in October. This is their first movie since Neveldine and Taylor’s sequel Crank 2: High Voltage, which performed poorly back in April, and one has to wonder whether Gamer has been marketed much better towards the audience they need to find. They certainly need to have this movie fare better than the similarly high concept action-thriller The Condemned, which was a vehicle for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Opening the movie over Labor Day weekend should certainly help it, both because it’s the type of fare that tends to do well on the weekend, but also because it will get a nice bump from the holiday on Monday. Fox had a hit over the Labor Day weekend four years ago when Jason Statham returned in The Transporter 2, something that probably convinced Lionsgate to release Neveldine and Taylor’s first movie Crank on the weekend. It grossed roughly $10 million and convinced Lionsgate to remain in the Jason Statham business with a number of movies that followed, including The Transporter 3.

While Gamer might not be setting any records this weekend, it stands a good chance at being #1, as it just barely squeaks past The Final Destination, but like most Labor Day hits, it’s probably not going to do much in terms of having legs, as most people interested will seeing it opening weekend.

Why I Should See It: Neveldine and Taylor always have really wild ideas in their action movies.
Why Not: This feels like a cross of a lot of different sci-fi action movies. Can Gerard Butler take this beyond Schwarzenegger/Statham territory?
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend and roughly $30 million total.

COMPARISONS


All About Steve (20th Century Fox)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Thomas Haden Church, Bradley Cooper, Ken Jeong, DJ Qualls, Katy Mixon, Howard Hesseman
Directed by Phil Traill (directorial debut); Written by Kim Barker (License to Wed)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: After kooky crossword puzzle enthusiast Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is set up on a blind date with CNN cameraman named Steve (Bradley Cooper), and though he blows her off, she believes him to be her true love so and follows him to his next news story in hopes of convincing him that they’re true loves, only to then become a part of the news herself.

Analysis:

As this week’s female counterprogramming to Gamer, we get Sandra Bullock’s second romantic comedy of the year, this one teaming her with Bradley Cooper, the star of Todd Phillips’ blockbuster hit comedy The Hangover, which has grossed over $260 million since opening in early June. The funny thing is that originally, this was going to be released in March as counterprogramming to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and the move to late summer seemed like it was being dumped and that 20th Century Fox gave up on it. In fact, they may have finally lucked out, because now both Bullock and Cooper have a big recent hit under their belt which might sway some women to go see their “new movie” together.

Certainly, capitalizing on the good will that both Bullock and Cooper have attained from the popularity of their summer comedies is very much going for the movie, but both of them have a number of previous hit comedies and chick flicks under their belt. Since we already analyzed both stars for their previous movies, we won’t repeat ourselves, but this movie is right up their alley, which would make the movie a no-brainer in terms of opening well if not for a couple factors.

Firstly, this seems like a strange role for Bullock. Though her female fans tend to like her playing klutzy, kooky and eccentric characters, infallible women more like them, this character seems to be a bit dopey even for her. Then again, this is being advertised as “from the producers of Miss Congeniality,” a favorite of Bullock’s fans, so maybe they’ll check it out based on that. The stalker premise is also kind of a strange one that might not be as immediate as either of the stars’ previous comedies, but it’s in the same battle of the sexes vein as this summer’s other relatively popular chick flick comedy The Ugly Truth.

Opening a rom-com on Labor Day is fairly untested waters, and there must be a reason for that. There are already a lot of female-friendly movies doing very well in theaters, including Julie & Julia and The Time Traveler’s Wife, both which could bring in some of the women who’ve missed them over the holiday weekend. 20th Century Fox could certainly use a hit, especially after releasing a number of comedy bombs, and certainly this is their best chance at a comedy that does better, which makes it odd that they would give the movie only a moderate release into roughly 2,100 theaters, which certainly might limit the movie from doing as well as any of this summer’s other big chick flicks. Even so, if the movie’s even remotely entertaining, it will play well over the next month as women have very little else to see for some time.

Why I Should See It: There’s a reason why Bullock and Cooper’s recent summer comedies have fared so well–people like them–so it should be interesting to see them together.
Why Not: Fox must not have been feeling very good about the movie to not have kept it in March.
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and roughly $35 to 40 million total.

COMPARISONS


Extract (Miramax)
Starring Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, Clifton Collins Jr., T.J. Miller, Beth Grant, Gene Simmons
Written and directed by Mike Judge (Office Space, Idiocracy, Beavis and Butthead Do America)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Working for the Man Sucks. Being the Man Blows.”
Plot Summary: Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman) is the put-upon owner of the Reynolds Extract company, where he has to deal with incompetent and insubordinate factory workers who don’t make his life easy. Sexually frustrated due to his wife Suzie’s (Kristen Wiig) lack of interest, Joel makes plans to rectify the situation, but an accident at the plant threatens to make Joel’s life even more miserable until he meets the new temp Cindy (Mila Kunis).

Review

Analysis:

Offered as a comedy alternate mainly for guys and ladies who aren’t into Sandra Bullock’s schtick is the new comedy from Mike Judge, the famed creator of “Beavis and Butthead,” who has built quite a comedy rep for himself, mostly among a cult-sized audience of fans who continue to hope Judge’s films will find as much success as his early animated MTV hit show “Beavis and Butthead.” After kicking of his second series, “King of the Hill” on Fox–ending soon after its 13th season on television–Judge made the foray into live action comedy by directing Office Space in 1999. Starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston, the movie tanked in theaters but found an enormous audience on DVD, mainly among the white collar workers the movie is about. Even so, in 2006, Judge wrote and directed Idiocracy, an eerie look at a possible future where everyone in the country is stupid, but Fox dumped the movie with little fanfare and it also bombed, again to find its audience on DVD. So this is Judge’s third chance for his non-animated humor to find an audience, and this time, he’s back to dealing with the working class, this time with factory workers and the troubles experienced my management.

Judge has assembled an impressive comedy ensemble centered around Jason Bateman, former child star and star of the popular cult sitcom “Arrested Development” who has been appearing in a variety of different movies over the past few years. As hard as it is to believe, Extract is actually his first movie in a starring role after playing support for Will Smith in Hancock and in movies like Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, so it will be interesting to see if more people come out to see this movie than went to see him when he was cast opposite Zach Braf in The Ex, a huge comedy bomb. Bateman’s bartender buddy Dean is played by Ben Affleck, another supporting role that reunites the duo after they had a small scene together in Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces a couple years back. Bateman’s wife is played by Kristen Wiig, the “SNL” star who has been appearing in a lot of movies over the past few months, most recently in Greg Mottola’s Adventureland and the love interest is played by Mila Kunis, the star of “That ’70s Show” who had a big break when she co-starred in Jason Segel and Nick Stoller’s comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall last year. The cast is rounded out with many character actor stringers including J.K. Simmons, Clifton Collins Jr. and David Koechner.

Miramax has done as good a job as they possibly can with the marketing of this one, offering a steady stream of clips and teasers, as well as having a presence at this year’s Comic-Con (it seemed slightly out of place), and unlike the other two movies, it’s one of the few movies that can bring in men and women equally. That said, there are too many things working against this, the first one being that the title, while it makes sense in the context of the movie, does very little to sell the movie. They’re using a similar approach as some of Judd Apatow’s movies in terms of the posters, just putting various characters on them with a catchy logline, but the title kind of kills it, since no one will know what the movie is about from it. With the new Sandra Bullock bringing in many women and younger guys looking at Gamer, there’s a chance Judge’s latest might follow in the footsteps of Office Space, doing moderate theatrical business than finding most of its audience in the second-run markets such as DVD and cable.

Why I Should See It: Mike Judge has consistently been one of the funniest producers of social comedy there is.
Why Not: Is it possible that Judge missed the crest of the R-rated comedy wave?
Projections: $5 to 7 million over the four-day weekend and roughly $15 million total.

COMPARISONS


In Limited Release:
Unfortunately, we didn’t feel strongly enough any of the movies we’ve seen opening this weekend to consider any of them “The Chosen One.”

American Casino (Argot Pictures) – Leslie and Andrew Cockburn take a look at the economic crisis that has forced millions of Americans out of their homes when the economy crashed, analyzing how it happened and how it affected various individuals in Baltimore. It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York.

Mini-Review:

Amreeka (National Geographic Cinema Ventures) – First-time filmmaker Cherien Dabis’ Sundance favorite about a single Palestinian mother and her teenage son who move to a small town in Illinois, where she gets a job at White Castle. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Unmade Beds (IFC Films) – Alexis dos Santos quirky indie dramedy a couple of foreigners who join a group of London squatters for a series of parties and adventures. Starring Fernadno Tielve from The Devil’s Backbone and Deborah Francis from L’Enfant, it opens at the IFC Center on Wednesday.

Carriers (Paramount Vantage) – Alex and David Pastor’s thriller starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Pine, Piper Perabo and Christopher Meloni as four friends trying to escape a dangerous viral epidemic.

Tickling Leo (Barn Door Pictures) – Eli Wallach stars in Jeremy Davidson’s drama as the survivor of the controversial Hungarian “Kasztner Train,” now living in the Catskills and suffering from dementia, but getting on the train came at a cost, something that his grandson Zak and his girlfriend Delpina learn when they visit him. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and on Long Island at the Malverne Cinema 4. It moves through New York and Jersey over September, then opens in Florida in late October.


Next week, the month of September continues with four new movies including the latest from Atlanta’s most famous playwright, Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Lionsgate), Shane Acker’s animated fantasy film 9 (Focus Features), opening on Wednesday 9/9/09, plus two horror movies: the slasher remake Sorority Row (Summit) and the graphic novel-based thriller Whiteout (Warner Bros.), starring Kate Beckinsale.

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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