Box Office: Lycan-Killin’ Kate Takes on the Competition

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So far, 2012 is going pretty well considering how weak the box office had been in much of the second half of 2011, but the release of the first sequel of the year should help keep things going as Kate Beckinsale returns to the franchise that made her famous, playing the vampire assassin Selene in the horror-tinged action film Underworld Awakening (Sony/Screen Gems). The “Underworld” franchise has proven to be quite successful for Screen Gems, right up there with the “Resident Evil” movies and it’s been three years since the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, which opened with $21.7 million and grossed $52 million total (that’s more than the first movie, but less than the second). This one is directed by a couple of unknown Swedish horror filmmakers, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, and it’s the first movie in the franchise in 3D, which means higher ticket prices, but the return of Beckinsale as the character is going to be the main draw both for diehard fans and those who may have been disappointed by the prequel. With all of that in mind, we expect this one to make a play for $30 million but possibly fall just short, being frontloaded to Friday due to Thursday business. It’s also not likely to get to $100 million, but grossing more than the other movies with $75 to 80 million should warrant another movie sometime down the road. Who knows if Kate would come back for that one?

After a relatively quiet run in limited release, Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.), starring Critics Choice Award (and “Jeopardy”) winner Thomas Horn and a couple lesser-knowns named Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, will expand nationwide into 2,500 theaters. How well or poorly the film did in limited release–it’s grossed $680 thousand in four theaters since opening Christmas Day– the marketing campaign has always been geared towards its wide release nationwide. Even though reviews have been mixed at best and the attempt by Warner Bros. and producer Scott Rudin to get awards for the movie have failed, the two name stars and the idea of drama geared towards adults who won’t necessarily be interested in the other new movies, should help it bring in between $12 and 14 million this weekend and $40 to 45 million total.

A mostly African-American cast brings to light the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in the war movie Red Tails (20th Century Fox), starring Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr.,Nate Park and David Odelewe. The prestigious involvement of “Star Wars” creator George Lucas should help create interest among guys over thirty, but honestly, this probably should have opened over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend against the weaker Contraband, since the subject matter would have fit in well with the theme of the holiday weekend. Instead, it’s going to try to convince younger urban males to go see it instead of Underworld, which isn’t happening, and it’s probably going to miss out on the audience who could get the most out of the story. It should end up doing slightly better than Haywire just due to the higher theater count and more focused marketing campaign on the black community (including being on the cover of “Ebony”) but it still may be fighting a losing battle this weekend. We’re probably looking at an opening between $10 an 12 million, shooting for third place against Beauty and the Beast, and possibly $35 million total.

Video Interviews with the Cast

Steven Soderbergh also returns with the spy action-thriller Haywire (Relativity Media), starring Mixed Martial Arts superstar Gina Carano, awards boy Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas, which will try to get males away from the one-two punch of Underworld and last week’s Contraband, as well as Red Tails. Yeah, clearly, this wasn’t a very good week to open and it’s questionable whether Carano’s popularity among MMA fans or the known stars will do much to convince them to go see it. Soderbergh’s name certainly adds a bit more weight, but we’re still looking at mostly guys over 20 and older who wouldn’t necessarily give “Underworld” another chance. With a rather moderate opening in just over 2,000 theaters and Relativity not doing the best job making it look as good as Soderbergh’s bigger hits, we think this one is looking at an opening in the $7 to 8 million range and between $25 to 28 million total. At least it wasn’t too expensive to make.

Interview with Steven Soderbergh

We should see a few of the Golden Globe winners making some serious plays for box office business this weekend, most notably The Artist, which has grossed $9 million in less than 220 theaters, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, which was already in the decline after its earlier wide release but should add at least a few hundred more theaters on Friday. The Iron Lady should be able to keep a place in the Top 10 with Streep’s win at the Golden Globes as well, especially if the Weinstein Company brings it into a few new areas.

This weekend last year saw the release of Ivan Reitman’s R-rated romantic comedy No Strings Attached (Paramount), starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, which topped the box office with $19.6 million, while Peter Weir’s epic The Way Back (Newmarket Films) received a semi-wide release into 665 theaters but only grossed $1.2 million, so it didn’t even get into the Top 10. A number of movies saw bumps in business due to awards ceremonies including The King’s Speech which remained in fourth place with $7.8 million, True Grit in fifth with $7.3 million, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan in sixth and The Fighter in eighth with $4 million.

This Week’s UPDATED Predictions

UPDATE: We think that Red Tails has been gaining steam since Monday with a lot of advance ticket sales which could point to school classes attending due to the historical significance of the topic. Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire is also getting significantly more theaters than estimated earlier this week, but we still think that’s going to end up in the bottom half of the Top 10 due to overwhelming competition.

1. Underworld Awakening (Sony/Screen Gems) – $29.3 million N/A (down .2 million)

2. Red Tails (20th Century Fox) – $15.0 million N/A (up 3.6 million)

3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.) – $13.5 million +1178% (Up .3 million)

4. Contraband (Universal) – $12.5 million -49%

5. Beauty and the Beast 3D (Walt Disney) – $10 million -44%

6. Haywire (Relativity Media) – $8.6 million N/A (up 1.1 million)

7. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Paramount) – $7.0 million -40%

8. Joyful Noise (Warner Bros.) – $6.4 million -44%

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros) – $4.7 million -45%

10. The Iron Lady (The Weinstein Company) – $4.0 million -26%

The Artist (The Weinstein Company) – $3.4 million (up .8 million)

The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) – $3.2 million

In limited release, we’re going to start seeing various countries’ contenders in the Oscar Foreign Language race (even though nominations haven’t been announced yet) and the best of the ones this weekend is from Mexico, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala (20th Century Fox), starring Stephanie Sigman as a young woman whose dreams of becoming a beauty contest queen are derailed by the manipulations of a local crime boss who uses the contest to get her close to military targets.

Red Tails isn’t the only war movie opening on Friday as two Asian country’s movies put up for Oscar consideration will open in select cities Friday, including Zhang Yimou’s The Flowers of War (Wrekin Hill Entertainment), starring Christian Bale as American mortician John Miller, who is trapped in Nanjing, China in 1937, just as it’s invaded by the Japanese army. Taking shelter in a church, he works with a group of local call girls to protect a group of teenage schoolgirls who are in danger of being taken by the soldiers for their recreation.

Interview with Zhang Yimou

Also Hun Jang’s Korean war movie The Front Line (Well Go USA/Variance Films) which involves the investigation of a murdered soldier as tensions in a region along the border between North and South threatens to escalate as the fighting continues.

There’s no awards consideration or war to speak of in Shimon Dotan’s Watching TV With the Red Chinese (Roam Films) about three Chinese students who come to New York City to study in the summer of 1980 and end up discovering America through their odd neighbors and their decision to buy a gun after John Lennon’s murder.

On the documentary tip, we have Frederick (La Danse) Wiseman’s Crazy Horse (Zippoah Films), a look at the all-nude cabaret dance revue of Paris as they gear up their new show Désir. It opens exclusively at New York’s Carol Channing: Larger than Life (Entertainment One), a look at the influential entertainer, now 90 years old, showing the influence she’s had on Broadway and the big screen. That opens in Los Angeles on Friday and in New York on February 3.

Next week, it’s two thrillers and an action-comedy as a number of big stars make their 2012 debut including Sam Worthington as the titular Man on a Ledge (Summit Entertainment), Liam Neeson takes on wolves and the elements in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey (Open Road), while Katherine Heigl stars in the action-comedy One for the Money (Lionsgate), clearly having learned nothing from Killers and The Ugly Truth.

We will also be fully immersed in Sundance by then, so we may have to do an even more stripped-down box office column than we’ve been doing recently.

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

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas