Long Distance Box Office: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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With the Weekend Warrior coming to an end and my desire to move on, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t see me doing any long-form box office analysis. One of the things I’m looking forward to is grabbing random movies coming out in a few months or even later and looking at their box office prospects.

First up, we’ll look at David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, opening December 21, which premiered a long-form trailer a few weeks back that gave us a much better look at the story. Of course, if you’re one of the millions who already read the book or saw the Swedish adaptations of the late Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series” novels, you already knew that plot but were still excited to see Fincher return to the darker serial killer territory of his earliest hit Se7en and the lesser-seen but critically-praised Zodiac.

The movie reunites Fincher with Sony and with producer Scott Rudin, who helped take his previous movie The Social Network to multiple Oscar nominations and lots of award wins, especially among critics. It just missed the $100 million mark with just $97 million, making it Fincher’s fourth-highest grosser after The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Se7en.

The biggest name in the cast is Daniel Craig aka James Bond, whose recent thriller Dream House tanked, and his summer sci-fi Western Cowboys & Aliens, co-starring Harrison Ford, also underperformed by only making $100 million. Even though Craig is the most recognizable star, all eyes will be on Rooney Mara in the role of Lisbeth Salander, the punk cyberhacker heroine from Larsson’s novels. She was played in the Swedish adaptations by Noomi Rapace, who has gone on to get roles in bigger Hollywood movies (including one opening the same weekend as this), and it would be a significant breakthrough for Mara if she’s even half as good. It also stars veteran actor Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, fresh off Marvel Studios’ Thor, and Joely Richardson, who just starred in Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous.

The movie has a lot of strengths, most notably the diehard fanbase for Fincher that’s grown in recent years as he’s taken on more high-profile projects and been nominated for Oscars for his work. Even more than that is the fact that this is a bestselling novel that’s been read by millions of American men and women who will be curious to see how Larsson’s evocative writing translates to the screen. (And we expect there’s a lot more of these people out there who don’t normally go to movies with subtitles, which is kind of ironic if they’re avid book readers.) In that sense, this movie is very much like Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, which opened with $77 million in the summer of ’06 and went on to gross over $200 million, because so many people who’ve read the book will be interested in the movie.

The biggest hurdle may be the choice to open the movie the week before Christmas (rather than on Christmas proper). That’s never a great time to open a movie since so many people are doing last-minute scrambling for gifts or trying to get work done before the long week off. Other than Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movies and King Kong, very few movies have done big business in that weekend right before Christmas.

This year, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, and that should see a nice bump, but Friday and Saturday will suffer from people traveling and shopping. Opening on a Wednesday may be the movie’s best bet since it can bank a good amount of money–possibly $20 million or more–from those rushing out to see it before their weekend holiday plans. It’s also facing a ton of competition including the second week of Robert Downey Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” sequel and the first wide release of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol as well as Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. That’s a lot of choices for the masses on one of the slower moviegoing weeks, but we think younger guys will make it their first choice that opening week while women and couples will go see it over the holidays.

Because of that, we expect a lighter first weekend, probably in the $40 to 45 million range, which would still be Fincher’s biggest opening, but then it will explode over the holiday week as everyone who read the book but had to deal with last-minute Christmas shopping goes out to see it en masse. Even if it does have a lot of direct competition for moviegoers’ holiday bucks, we expect this to be a movie that crosses all demographics and we also think that its chances at getting Oscar attention could help keep it going through February. We can probably expect Fincher’s latest to gross roughly $200 million by the time it leaves theaters, making it his biggest movie to date.

Check back sometime before December 21 to see if our early thoughts stick.

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage in the new Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow the brand-new Twitter feed.