The Weekend Warrior: July 2 – 4

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.

If you aren’t doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things.

Predictions and Comparisons -
(The below are all three-day predictions. You can multiply the numbers by a ratio between 1.25 and 1.3 in order to find out how much it will make including Monday.)

(NON-UPDATE: Won’t be around to do a full update this week, but a quick update on the two wide openers. With $68.5 million grossed on its opening Wednesday–slightly less than we originally predicted–we still think Eclipse will end up roughly where we expected. While we don’t think the mostly negative, scathing actually, reviews of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender will kill it this weekend but we are lowering our projection for the weekend, because it’s not going to help matters.

1. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit) – $73.6 million N/A (up .4 million)

2. The Last Airbender (Paramount) – $33.8 million N/A (down 5 million)

3. Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar) – $32.4 million -46%

4. Grown Ups (Sony) – $21.0 million -48%

5. Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) – $10.8 million -45%

6. The Karate Kid (Sony) – $8.4 million -46%

7. The A-Team (20th Century Fox) – $3.1 million -50%

8. Get Him to the Greek (Universal) – $1.7 million -45%

9. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $1.5 million -48%

10. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney) – $1.4 million -51%

Weekend Overview

The big movie this July 4th weekend is another one of the most anticipated sequels of the summer, this one among a certain demographic of women, as Stephenie Meyer’s third book The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit Entertainment) comes to theaters on Wednesday with most of the cast returning and a few new players, as well as a new director in David Slade (30 Days of Night). The movie should do enormous business on opening day as the “Twi-hards” rush out to see it in force at midnight either in regular or IMAX theatres, and we could see it doing as much as $100 million in its first two days before the weekend. It probably will tail off a bit after that, given the holiday weekend where movies that aren’t four-quadrant don’t always do that well, but it should be well on its way to being the third $300 million movie of the year.

Hoping to bring in the younger audiences not so interested in vampire romance is M. Night Shyamalan’s first foray into PG fare, as well as his first adaptation with the live action version of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series The Last Airbender (Paramount). With the only known actor being Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel, the movie relies very much on the fans of the show and Shyamalan’s name, but the FX and action-packed trailers and commercials have done a good job selling it as a summer blockbuster. The only issue is that it will have trouble getting younger women away from the latest “Twilight” movie, so it might not open that huge on Thursday but it should rebound over the weekend as a second moviegoing choice for women and as a movie families with children can see together over the holiday weekend.

However the two movies do over the weekend, one should probably expect them each to make another 25 – 30% on Monday as many people take an extra day off of work.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the self-explanatory doc The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector (BBC Arena/VIXPIX Films), which you can read more about below.

Last year, the 4th of July fell on a Saturday but the Wednesday before, the animated threequel Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) opened with $13.9 million for 1st place, but by the weekend, it had dropped to second place just behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with $41.7 million. Transformers dropped 61% but retained first place with just over $42 million. Meanwhile, Michael Mann’s period crime thriller Public Enemies (Universal), starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, settled for third place with $25.2 million after making $15.2 million on Wednesday and Thursday, but it ultimately had difficulty even grossing $100 million in theaters. The top 10 grossed $152.6 million which should be easy to beat unless The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is so front-loaded to Wednesday, it has no business left for the weekend.

The last time the 4th of July fell on a Sunday was in 2004 when Spider-Man 2 opened on a Wednesday with $40 million, made another $23 million Thursday and set a new 4th of July opening weekend record with $88.2 million over the three-day and another $27 million on Monday, a great start to a run that didn’t meet the total gross of its predecessor.

Sorry, no “Battle Cry” this week as we’re engaged in other things.


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit Entertainment)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Dakota Fanning
Directed by David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night); Written by Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight, The Twilight Saga: New Moon)
Genre: Romance, Drama, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It All Begins… with a Choice”
Plot Summary: Having moved to Seattle, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) finds herself in danger as a number of killings point to the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) looking for revenge, but Bella’s more burdened by having to decide between vampire Edward (Rob Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and trying to prevent the war between the vampires and werewolves from being reignited.

(Sorry, did not have time to review this.)

Analysis:

It’s been roughly seventh months since The Twilight Saga: New Moon set a new November opening record with $142.8 million, and Summit Entertainment are already back with the third chapter in Stephenie Meyer’s supernatural romance involving vampires, werewolves and the women who can’t decide whether they love one or another. The movie went on to gross $296 million in the United States and an astounding $700 million worldwide, significantly more than the first movie, and there’s no sign that the franchise is dying down as the third movie bursts into theaters on Wednesday.

There’s no denying that Meyer’s “Twilight Saga” currently has one of the most diehard and devout fanbases of female teens who have helped Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner become almost overnight sensations as they go completely nuts over anything related to “Twilight”… except the non-”Twilight” movies the actors have done, as seen by how poorly Pattinson’s recent drama Remember Me fared. That be as it may, tickets have been selling briskly over the past month with many of the midnight shows already sold out, and for many women, this has been the movie they’ve been waiting for all year. Apparently, the movie’s Facebook page has more “fans” than any of the other summer movies combined, which shows that the internet has been a big supporter for the books and movies since the first one two years ago.

Other than the main three actors, most of the cast have returned from the previous movies, and there isn’t that much to say except that the most significant change is the introduction of Bryce Dallas Howard in the role of Victoria, formerly played by Rachelle Lefevre. That’s a pretty major change for the third movie, but as we saw with Don Cheadle taking over for Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2, few real movie fans care about that sort of thing, and any backlash about Howard taking over the role has been fairly subdued compared to other controversies this summer.

As with the previous sequel, the movie is helmed by a newcomer, this time being British director David Slade, who has some experience with vampires, albeit the violent R-rated type, from his last movie 30 Days of Night, which didn’t do that much business. Similarly, his debut, the pedophile thriller Hard Candy starring Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page (pre-Juno) also found more of a cult audience. Slade’s debut on the franchise promises to have even more action than the last movie, which may be why it’s the first movie in the series that will be opening simultaneously in IMAX theaters. While that should certainly help the movie to open big, this is not a movie likely for its audience to care enough to pay the higher ticket prices to see the movie in a larger format.

It’s hard to say whether fans were happy with The Twilight Saga: New Moon compared to the first movie, as it did end up making more money, but you can’t really tell from places like the IMDb User Ratings, because they tend to be compromised by the haters. (Eclipse is currently at 3.3 out of 10 with 3,300 ratings, and it’s hard to believe that many people have seen the movie at this point.) So far, people who’ve seen the movie believe it to be the best of the franchise so far, one that focuses even more on the action than the first movie, though one wonders if that might have any affect on those who didn’t like the previous movie and they’ll see the third movie anyway. Thanks to the anticipation for the threequel, tickets for the midnight showings have mostly sold out and Summit has set up 3 a.m. screenings, something that only happens with big movies like the “Star Wars” franchise.

The best comparison for “Eclipse” may be the last two “Harry Potter” movies that opened mid-summer, both on a Wednesday. (Some may remember that Pattinson had a cameo in “Order of the Phoenix” having played Cedric Diggory in the previous movie.) It’s a valid comparison since those movies have a similarly diehard fanbase who would rush out to see the movie as soon as possible. The last “Potter” movie opened with $58 million on Wednesday, dropped 62% on Thursday then made $77.8 million over its three-day mid-July weekend, ultimately grossing just over $300 million. By comparison, “New Moon” set an opening day record with $72.7 million including midnights, but that was on a Friday, rather than opening on a Wednesday, and then it had an unheard of 41% drop for a Saturday. It ultimately ended up doing roughly half its weekend business in its first day and barely twice its opening weekend in total, showing that the fanbase are good for opening but not for any sort of sustained legs.

This is the first of the movies opening on Wednesday, and while most schools are out at this point, many women still will be working on Wednesday and Thursday and may not be able to see the movie until the weekend. Opening over 4th of July weekend may limit the movie’s opening weekend potential for a few reasons, not just because so many fans will rush out to see it on Wednesday night, but also because depending on what day the 4th of July lands on has a great effect on box office potential. The last time it happened was in 2004 when Spider-Man 2 opened on Wednesday with $40.4 million, dropped 41% on Thursday, then picked up business on Friday and Saturday before dropping 35% on Sunday. It set the current 4th of July record with $88.1 million, but it seems weak compared to the original movie’s record-setting opening of $114.8 million and its total gross of $403 million. Still, it’s a good comparison, although “Eclipse” is so heavily weighted towards women who are more likely to go away on vacation over the long weekend or spend time with family. Because “Eclipse” is more like the type of movie you’d go see with your girlfriends, we may see some of the same sort of holiday front-loading we saw with Sex and the City 2 over Memorial Day weekend.

That be as it may, the anticipation for the movie among the fans is palpable and they’re likely to bring enough business in midnights and on Wednesday through Friday that we’ll probably see a few more records broken before the weekend is up. Still, we think the 4th of July weekend record set by Spider-Man 2 of $88 million should still stand.

Why I Should See It: David Slade is a great upcoming director and if anyone can save the “Twilight” franchise for those who hate its take on vampires/werewolves, he’s the man!
Why Not: Didn’t I think the same thing about Chris Weitz? I think I did.
Projections: $72 to 75 million on Wednesday including midnights (setting a new record for a Wednesday opening), roughly $23 to $24 million on Thursday, then another $71 to 74 million over the three day weekend, another $15 million on Monday and close to $300 million total, give or take.

COMPARISONS


The Last Airbender (Paramount)
Starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Jessica Jade Andres, Aasif Mandvi, Shaun Toub, Cliff Curtis, Keong Sim
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village, Signs, The Happening, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water)
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Adventure
Rated PG
Tagline: “Four nations, one destiny.”
Plot Summary: In a world made up of elemental tribes, the Fire Nation has launched a war against the other nations and mostly defeated them, and the only hope is a mythic hero known as the Avatar, who can control all four elements. That new Avatar is Aang (Noah Ringer), a young boy who teams with a Waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jordan Rathbone) to find his true potential and put an end to the Fire Nation’s destruction.

Interview with M. Night Shyamalan

Interview with Dev Patel

(Sorry, did not have time to review this.)

Analysis:

It’s been over 10 years since M. Night Shyamalan exploded onto the scene with The Sixth Sense–yes, we know he made movies before that, no need to comment–and it’s been a long time since he had a big summer hit in 2002 with Signs starring Mel Gibson. In the time since then he’s jumped around between studios and genres, trying daring things that didn’t necessarily work like The Lady in the Water and more mainstream fare that opened well but didn’t really have the same impact with moviegoers as his earlier films. It’s been a long time since one of Shyamalan’s movies guaranteed a $50 million opening, so for the first time in his career, the director decided to try something completely different doing his first adaptation, his first action movie and the first FX-driven fantasy film, this one based on the popular and complex Nickelodeon anime cartoon, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Although the Shyamalan name may not be as strong as it used to be, The Last Airbender certainly will be relying on it to sell the movie, because there are only two actors in the movie who are fairly known to mainstream Western audiences. Dev Patel made his movie debut in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire but that was a few years ago, and it’ll be interesting to see whether not striking while the iron was hot will help or hurt his career. Another key role is played by Jackson Rathbone, who has appeared in the three “Twilight” movies (Including this week’s third chapter) as Jasper, and that could help interest younger women in the movie. The only other known name is Aasif Mandvi who is a popular correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” though he’s playing a serious bad guy role this time. Otherwise, the movie relies on newcomers Noah Ringer in the title role and Nicola Peltz as the waterbender who goes on his journey with him. The lack of name stars might be somewhat vexing, except that wasn’t Shyamalan the first director to hire Haley Joel Osment (where did he go?) for The Sixth Sense and Abigail Breslin for Signs? There’s been a lot of chatter online, especially among the fans about the decision to cast non-Asian actors in those three key roles, but obviously, Shyamalan has a plan which involved casting the right personalities for his vision of how the cartoon might translate to the real world.

There are only a few producers in Hollywood whose names are powerful enough to sell people on their movies, and while Frank Marshall may not be quite up there with Jerry Bruckheimer or Joel Silver, there’s no denying the quality of his summer entertainment over the years from Raiders of the Lost Ark to the “Jurassic Park” movies to War of the Worlds. Not that Marshall’s name is being used a lot to sell the movie but for a director who was once referred to as “The Next Spielberg,” it’s ironic that Shyamalan is finally working with Spielberg’s producer.

Fantasy-adventure can be a hard sell and it’s been a long time since a huge PG fantasy hit like The Chronicles of Narnia, and even that sequel to that movie didn’t fare too well despite a summer release. The recent failure of Jerry Bruckheimer’s Prince of Persia is a good example of how a fantasy movie based on an existing property that generally looks great in commercials and has a name star like Jake Gyllenhaal can do disappointing business at the box office, particularly in the United States.

The question is who is really going to want to see this movie other than fans of the cartoon? (Or rather the millions of fans of the cartoon who aren’t whining about the casting choices.) It’s going to have problems getting women over 13 away from the latest “Twilight” chapter, that’s for sure, and few older women will have much interest. There’s a certain crossover audience of young women who enjoy anime who may have to make a decision about which to see, but are likely to see both on opening weekend. As far as the guys, this one should be a first choice among younger boys, but may be viewed with some skepticism among older teens and guys could be skeptical from being burnt by Shyamalan a few too many times. On the other hand, there aren’t that many choices for guys in theaters, and the promise of big FX-laden action scenes might entice them; the movie certainly has gained the interest of a number of geek/fan sites on the ‘net. Still, it’s hard to determine whether this movie is meant for kids or adults or all audiences, but the PG rating shouldn’t limit parents from bringing ‘tweens and younger boys to see it.

The Last Airbender is opening in 3D theaters on Thursday with the decision to convert it to 3D coming from out of left field less than two months ago. While that normally could help boost a movie’s per-theater-average, moviegoers are already starting to cool off to 3D, not helped by the Warner Bros. remake of Clash of the Titans, which also did a last-minute conversion to an underwhelming response. That may not stop people from seeing this but they may save their money and not pay extra for 3D unless they hear that the 3D makes it worth it.

Paramount has done another exemplary job marketing the movie going back to a teaser in front of last year’s “Transformers” sequel, then a steady stream of commercials and trailers going back to this year’s Super Bowl, all showing different aspects of the movie. These have mainly focused on the amazing action and FX of the movie and less on the characterization and dialogue that has played such a large part in Shyamalan’s movies up until this point. Even without a name cast, those commercials should be enough to interest people in the movie for its action and FX making it the first choice for boys 15 and under, similar to The Karate Kid a few weeks back. That, along with school being out, should allow it to bring in more business than Prince of Persia did over Memorial Day.

Why I Should See It: M. Night Shyamalan continues to prove himself to be a daring filmmaker by trying something new and challenging.
Why Not: It’s somewhat worrying that we haven’t really seen many if any dialogue scenes as that could make the difference.
Projections: (UPDATED 7.1.10) $7 to 8 million on Thursday, another $33 to 36 million over the three-day weekend, another $8 million on Monday but we’re now saying it will be closer to $100 million or less total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector (BBC Arena/VIXPIX Films)
Starring Phil Spector
Directed by Vikram Jayanti (Snowblind, Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine)
Genre: Documentary, Music
Plot Summary: Filmmaker Vikram Jayanti tries to uncover the true Phil Spector through his music, a recent series of interviews, as well as footage from his recent court case where he was accused of murdering actress Lana Clarkson while she was visiting his mansion.

Interview with Vikram Jayanti

As an avid fan of music of all types, but especially those that exemplify innovative production techniques, it’s impossible not to at least be an admirer of Phil Spector, the man who created the famous “Wall of Sound” working with a diverse group of musical acts throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. In recent years, Spector has become more of the butt of late night jokes after being arrested for the murder of Lana Clarkson in his house. Anyone who has been familiar with all the crazy stories about Spector over the years–such as when he held guitarist Johnny Ramone at gunpoint until he got his parts right–probably weren’t too surprised either by Spector’s arrest or by his eventual imprisonment. Yet he still remains very much an enigma in an industry that doesn’t do a lot to support the “men behind the curtain.”

Filmmaker Vikram Jayanti uses a variety of styles to tell Spector’s musical history – silent courtroom footage of people testifying on the stand scored by Spector’s most famous productions with running commentary from music critic Mick Brown acting as subtitles while explaining the significance of the work. This isn’t a dry stiff talking heads “biodoc” as much as an attempt to create an artsy amalgam representing Spector past and present. In that sense, it’s similar to A.J. Schnack’s Kurt Cobain: About a Son, although it takes a little while longer to adjust to Jayanti’s modus operandi because the music and footage create such a jarring dichotomy.

The film’s most crowning achievement is Jayanti’s extensive interview with Spector done around the time of the trials. This is the most interesting aspect of the film and the best reason to see it, because we haven’t really seen or heard from Spector since he was first accused of murdering the actress who went back to his mansion with him.

In some ways, the movie is similar to the excellent Roman Polanski doc from a few years back, though this isn’t nearly as focused on the case and the filmmaker never tries to take a stance on whether he feels Spector was innocent or not even as he gets a chance to get closer to Spector than so many others. The absence of any of the songs from the Ramones album Spector produced is somewhat disappointing since it would have been nice to hear his side of some of the stories from that era. Otherwise, watching historical footage of Spector’s acts combined with his present-day running narration can be as riveting as trying to connect his pop songs with the highly publicized court case.

Even so, it’s the interview that gives us the best representation of Spector as a person, as he talks about everything from losing his father at an early age, becoming a musical “whiz kid” as well as crazier stories like how his benevolent generosity allowed Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro to have careers – their talents may have helped a little bit. He shares his thoughts on the Beatles, Brian Wilson and God, and he even talks about those crazy hairstyles that everyone was mocking during the trials. Spector is clearly quite eccentric, bordering on crazy, something made obvious by his non-sequitur rants, but he’s also clearly a smart guy with a wild sense of humor, and the movie goes a long way to show more of his personality than we’ve had a chance to see, maybe ever, and certainly from the media coverage of the case.

The resulting film falls somewhere directly between Court TV and VH-1, and fans of music and Spector’s productions in particular should be fascinated by what ends up being a fairly thorough portrait of the man both as an eccentric but tormented artist, but also an arrogant blowhard whose hubris may have been his undoing.

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

Also in Limited Release:

Great Directors (Anisma Films/Paladin) is Angela Ismailos’ documentary where she interviews some of the great living filmmakers including Bernardo Bertolocci, David Lynch, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, John Sayle and others. It’s released in New York on Friday at the Quad Cinemas and in the Hamptons at the Sag Harbor Cinema.

(Sorry, did not have time to review this.)

Director Taylor Hackford and his wife actress Helen Mirren team for the biopic Love Ranch (E1 Entertainment) starring Mirren as Grace Bontempo and Joe Pesci as her husband Charlie, the married owners of one of Nevada’s first legalized ranches. Their turbulent relationship takes a drastic change when a South American boxer named Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) enters their lives and begins to romance Grace. It opens in select cities on Friday.

(Sorry, did not have time to review this.)


Next week, the team of Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal bring you the return of the outer space assassins
Predators (20th Century Fox), while Steve Carell plays the super-villain Gru in the animated comedy Despicable Me (Universal).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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