BOX OFFICE: Puss In Boots to Walk All Over the Competition

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October comes to a close with three new movies in wide release, but the biggest surprise may be DreamWorks Animation’s decision to move their computer-animated spin-off comedy Puss In Boots (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount), featuring Antonio Banderas as the “Shrek” side-character, away from its plum November opening to the last weekend of October. (Maybe Jeffrey Katzenberg did it as a favor to “Shrek” star Eddie Murphy whose own comedy Tower Heist originally opened against it.)

Puss In Boots is a beloved character from the “Shrek” franchise, and the marketing is wisely playing up the “cute kittie” aspect that will appeal to girls and older women, but the spin-off will also be helped by the fact that the “Shrek” movies have a built-in four-quadrant audience of kids, adults and teens. One can expect the movie will be of special interest to girls and women who love cats and swashbuckling heroes, and there should be enough action that guys won’t be too put off. With that in mind, the film should bring in a large audience (that isn’t just parents and young kids) seeing the movie over the weekend, which should give it a healthy Saturday bump. While it may not open anywhere close to the “Shrek” movies, which hold claim to some of the biggest openings for computer animated movies, we do think “Puss” can pull in at least $40 million in business, helped by the price for 3D and IMAX tickets and the general lack of stronger family fare in theaters now that The Lion King and Dolphin Tale are gone.

Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried team for Andrew (Gattaca) Niccol’s sci-fi action-thriller In Time (20th Century Fox), set in a world where everyone is 25 years old and beautiful–essentially, hell for anyone over 30–but it’s also the type of high concept science fiction we’ve seen so much this year, though it’s not based on the work of a master like The Adjustment Bureau. This one looks eerily like Bruce Willis’ Surrogates, a sci-fi action movie that barely made a mark at the domestic box office, but it’s also clearly shooting for a younger audience as well as women, something that didn’t work with Taylor Lautner’s Abduction a few weeks back. With little direct competition, we think In Time can do a little bit better, but we don’t expect reviews to be very good and the younger guys who might normally be interested in this sort of movie will scoff at the casting and just stay home to watch sports or play video games. We’ll go with under $15 million for this one, partially because many of its target audience may be more interested in Puss In Boots.

Lastly, Johnny Depp returns to the familiar world of Hunter S. Thompson, starring in Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Thompson’s Puerto Rico-based The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict) along with Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard and Richard Jenkins. Not counting his role as narrator for an Alex Gibney doc, Depp’s last dramatic foray into Thompson World with Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was an absolute bomb, grossing roughly $10 million, but that was in 1998 before Depp was the A-list star that he’s become since starring as Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, and he has enough fans in the over-25 group that would see this for him that it shouldn’t bomb nearly as badly. It still will probably do better in cities than in rural and suburban areas, which will keep the per-theater average low, so we expect this to end up somewhere in the single digits, but possibly be able to take fourth place against returning fare.

It’s hard to determine how Halloween falling on Monday might affect the weekend, if at all, as normally, the actual holiday might hurt families who take their kids “trick or treating.” It may limit the number of people who go to the movies the weekend before, but chances are that movies will be seen as a viable option over the weekend as the temperature starts to drop.

If we were still doing the “Chosen One,” we would have to choose between one of these two movies in limited release, and the bigger surprise would probably be Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous (Sony), a look at the theories that William Shakespeare didn’t write the dozens of plays for which he was credited, but that they were instead written by a royal, Edward de Vere, played by Rhys Ifans. Originally, the movie was going to get a wide release but Sony has wisely pulled the release back to a more limited release in 200 to 250 theaters, which should allow it to bring in roughly a million in its first more concentrated weekend, and we expect it to expand slowly over November.

You can watch interviews with the cast here and read our review here. We’ll have an interview with Emmerich and screenwriter John Orloff up shortly.

Drake Doremus’ romantic drama Like Crazy (Paramount Vantage), starring Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, covers five years in the relationship between a young couple separated by the immigration system, showing how the distance between them threatens to destroy their romance. (You can read our review of the movie here and read our interview with director Drake Doremus here.)

This weekend last year saw the end of another long-running Halloween franchise with Saw 3D (Lionsgate), the seventh movie in the franchise, continuing the slow decline with a #1 opening of just $24.2 million. That was roughly $10 million better than its predecessor Saw VI a year earlier, but was likely helped by the added ticket prices for 3D. Still, it showed that the franchise had run its course after being overshadowed by the less gory “Paranormal Activity” movies, and it only went on to make just $45 million. The Top 10 grossed less than $87 million but with the added bump of the “Shrek” spin-off, we should see another big bump at the box office from last year.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Puss In Boots (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $42.1 million N/A (~4100 theaters)

2. Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount) – $20.2 million -63%

3. In Time (20th Century Fox) – $12.5 million N/A (~3200 theaters)

4. The Rum Diary (FilmDistrict) – $7.4 million N/A (~2200 theaters)

5. Real Steel (DreamWorks) – $7.1 million -38%

6. Footloose (Paramount) – $7.1 million -35%

7. The Three Musketeers (Summit Entertainment) – $4.5 million -49%

8. The Ides of March (Sony) – $3.2 million -35%

9. Moneyball (Sony) – $2.8 million -30%

10. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) – $2.6 million -38%

Next week, it’s November, the official start of the holiday movie season, and we have our first comedy battle in quite some time as Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller’s Tower Heist (Universal) takes on A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (New Line/WB).

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Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas