This week isn’t going to be about what movie is going to be #1 at the box office, because there’s a good chance this week’s single wide release, Gary Ross’ adaptation of the dramatic sci-fi epic The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) may be #1 before we even get to Saturday. There’s clearly that much interest and demand in seeing the movie based on the first book in Suzanne Collins’ popular young adult sci-fi series. While the books weren’t selling as well as the “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” books when they were first released, the impending movie has pushed book sales up to a point where both those movie franchises are solid comparisons. (Even so, one should bear in mind that even huge bestsellers like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code didn’t do the type of business people are expecting from The Hunger Games, not to mention The Kite Runner, a book read by millions turned into a movie seen by a handful.)
Director Gary Ross has been nominated for four Oscars giving the film about teenagers forced to fight to the death a solid pedigree, but the casting is going to be key to the movie working or not. Playing the popular heroine Katniss Everdeen is Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, who last year wowed audiences in Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, joined by long-time child actor Josh Hutcherson–just seen in Journey 2, still in theaters–as Peeta, Katniss’ teammate in the Hunger Games and relative newcomer Liam Hemsworth as her hunky childhood friend Gale. The cast also includes better-known actors like Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz in his first role since the SAG-nominated Precious. Child actors Alexander Ludwig (Race to Witch Mountain) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan) play some of the antagonists faced by Katniss and Peeta in the arena. It’s great casting that has had the support of the novel’s devout fanbase from the very beginning, and in the year leading up the movie’s release, the fanbase for the books has been stirred into a frenzy by the numerous fansites that have cropped up to gush about every trailer, clip or bit of marketing released in conjunction with the movie.
Lionsgate’s highest grossing movie to date was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 with $119 million total, so how have they been able to handle a global phenomenon like this property and capitalize on it to the point where it might make that amount opening weekend? Maybe it helped for them to buy the marketing clout of Summit Entertainment a few months before opening – not that they’ve had many hits outside the “Twilight” franchise. Advance sales have been huge with over a thousand sell-out shows according to Fandango, many of those being at midnight on Thursday, and as has been reported, tracking has been terrific with interest among both men and women, which makes the movie much more of a four-quadrant film than the “Twilight” movies.
It’s also opening on roughly 270 IMAX screens, which should help up the per-theater average as the larger format tends to be a first choice for big event movies in areas where they’re available. What’s odd is that the commercials and trailer have mainly focused on the first third of the novel before the actual games, which means we haven’t had a chance to see much of the action and FX that play a large part in the series, something that might have helped with older males, the one demo not as interested in the movie as others.
Over the past few weeks, The Hunger Games has become one of those once-every-couple-of-years must-see event movies where people who don’t normally go to the movies want to see it, though one should bear in mind that not every person who wants to see a movie will necessarily rush out opening weekend either, especially knowing how crowded theaters will be. That hasn’t stopped every single media outlet, website, morning news show and more from trying to capitalize on the excitement for this movie by reporting non-stop on the movie, turning the buzz into outright hype.
With that in mind, could The Hunger Games be heading for a few box office records? Opening in March could be seen as a problem because other than schools on Spring Break, it’s not exactly thought of as a month where blockbusters would normally open (versus the summer), at least not until the release of Zack Snyder’s 300 back in 2007. Currently, the March opening record to beat is Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which opened with $116 million in March two years ago, and we think The Hunger Games can kick that number to the curb. Even without an added bump from 3D prices and the Saturday bump that comes with a PG family movie, it’s likely to end up with nearly half its opening weekend business on Friday, including Thursday midnights. We think that opening day could come close to $60 million (roughly $25 million from midnights)–those paying attention will immediately realize that this is more than the amount we predicted the movie would make its opening weekend three months back–and that should lead to an opening weekend in the $120 million range, maybe a little higher. That should be a good base for the movie to end up grossing just over $300 million even though the next couple of weeks have some strong movies to offer competition for all audiences. Even so, The Hunger Games should be able to hold the #1 spot for two weeks with ease.
With more than half the movies in the Top 10 potentially making $2 million or less, this would be a great weekend for a studio to expand one of their limited releases even wider and we half expect one or more will do just that in hopes of getting in the Top 10 even with a very small amount made in wide release.
Going into this same weekend last year, it was expected that Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch (Warner Bros.) would top the box office, but instead, it ended up tanking with just $19 million, taking second place behind the family sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox), which took the top spot with $23.7 million. Last year, the top 10 grossed $104 million and obviously, there’s a good chance The Hunger Games will make more than that on its own, which means everything made by the other nine movies is cake.
This Week’s UPDATED Predictions –
1. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate) – $124.8 million N/A (up 3.3 million)
2. 21 Jump Street (Sony) – $19.5 million N/A -46% (down .1)
3. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (Universal) – $12.5 million -45%
4. John Carter (Disney) – $6.0 million -56% (down .2 million)
5. One Thousand Words (Paramount) – $2.0 million -50% (down .1)
6. Project X (Warner Bros.) – $1.9 million -52%
7. Act of Valor (Relativity Media) – $1.9million -50%
8. Safe House (Universal) – $1.4 million -48%
9. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/WB) – $1.3million -46% (down .1 and 1 spot)
10. Casa de mi Padre (Pantelion/Lionsgate) – $1.3 million -45%
This week’s CHOSEN ONE is Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action flick The Raid: Redemption (Sony Pictures Classics), which follows a group of SWAT officers as they raid a Jakarta complex to capture a vicious crimelord, who convinces the other tenants of the building to protect him, creating a seemingly impassable gauntlet for the officers, many of them rookies.
I’ve never seen Merantau, Gareth Evans’ first martial arts flick with Iko Uwais, but going by what they do in The Raid: Redemption, this is the type of movie that could shine the spotlight on Indonesian martial arts in a similar way as Ong Bak did on Thailand’s Tony Jaa. The combination of Evans’ innovative cinematography and Uwais’ unmatchable martial arts techniques really makes this one of the most exciting movies you’re likely to see, as well as the action movie every other action movie is compared to this year.
The biggest shame is that Screen Gems has already bought the rights to make an English language movie based on this and sure, the idea of a SWAT team running a gauntlet of criminals is a good one, but there’s no way an American movie could replicate what really makes this movie special, and that’s the martial arts and the action.
Since I haven’t had a chance to watch the movie again since Sundance (which was only six weeks ago), I don’t have a lot more to say about the movie beyond my review (linked below), but even if you’ve never bothered with movies with subtitles, trust me that this is one movie you’re going to want to see if you’re a martial arts and action fan, ’cause it will probably blow you away much like everyone else who has seen it.
We’ll give an “Honorable Mention” to Douglas Tirola’s All In The Poker Movie (4th Row Films) because we already wrote about it when it was released last summer. In fact, it made our list of Top 12 Docs for 2011. Essentially, it’s a look at the popularity of poker and specifically Texas Hold Em in the last ten years, featuring interviews with Matt Damon, star of Rounders, a movie that helped kick the craze into overdrive, and professional poker players like Phil Hellmuth Jr, Chris Moneymaker, Annie Duke, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer and Daniel Negreanu. As a poker enthusiast myself, I loved how Tirola explores how and why poker became so popular and successful, and one of the reasons it’s being released is that a good amount of new footage and interviews have been added on the government’s shut-down of some of the biggest online poker sites, forever changing the industry as it created a domino effect, leading to the cancellation of many of the popular poker shows on television. For those who missed this fascinating doc last year, it’s opening at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on April 13.
Director Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Days on Earth (IFC Films) stars Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh as a New York couple dealing with their last day on earth as it comes to an end the next morning. It opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday.
Stephen Dorff stars in Gabe Torres’ Brake (IFC Films) as a secret service agent who finds himself trapped in the trunk of a car driving down the highway as part of a terrorist plot. It’s been playing on VOD for the last month but it opens at the IFC Center on Wednesday.
Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston star in Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea (Music Box Films), an adaptation of Terence Ratigan’s play in which Weisz plays Hester Collyer, a woman who comes from a privileged life married to Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale) who falls for a young pilot (Hiddleston), though their romance is plagued by drunken arguments that leads to her attempting suicide when he forgets her birthday. Fun stuff.
Desperately Seeking Susan director Susan Seidelman is back with Musical Chairs (Paladin) starring E.J. Bonila as Armando, a Latino handyman at a Manhattan dance studio who bonds with the studio’s superstar Mia (Leah Pipes) who finds herself confined to a wheelchair after an accident until he convinces her to take part in a wheelchair ballroom dance competition.
In Michael Knowles’ comedy The Trouble with Bliss (Variance Films), Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) plays Morris Bliss, a man who still lives at home who gets into a relationship with his friend’s 18-year-old daughter (Brie Larson). Co-starring ucy Liu, Peter Fonda and Chris Messina, it opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York on Friday, Los Angeles on March 30 and then other cities throughout April.
Jon and Andrew Erwin’s October Baby (Samuel Goldwyn Films) stars Rachel Hendrix as a college girl suffering from an affliction that can be traced back to her birth after an abortion attempt, so she sets out with her friend Jason (Jason Burkey) to find out the truth about her past.
Next week, March comes to a close, although we can’t really use the same lazy March adage we’ve used before about lions and lambs, ’cause there’s absolutely nothing even remotely lamb-like about the action epic sequel Wrath of the Titans (Warner Bros.), once again starring Sam Worthington and Liam Neeson, nor do we think there will be nothing mild or understated in Tarsem’s “Snow White” pastiche Mirror Mirror (Relativity), starring Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer and Lily Collins.
Copyright 2012 Edward Douglas