Box Office Preview: Revisiting Aliens and Escaped Animals

ON

Last week, Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman kicked off the month of June in a big way and this week, we’re looking at the potential for two more big movies to keep the box office love going.

One of the more anticipated movies of the year is Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (20th Century Fox), a thematic follow-up to his 1979 horror sci-fi classic Alien, this one starring Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba. Besides having a great cast and premise, Scott has a lot of prestige himself, although two things may hold the film back, the first being the title, which is not something that will immediately connect with audiences who have no idea what the movie’s about, and the second is the R rating, which may limit the younger teen males from seeing the movie. Science fiction in general has been a mixed bag in recent years with movies like last year’s Super 8 from J.J. Abrams, District 9 and the pairing of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise for Minority Report opening in the mid-$30 millions– though the latter two reteamed for a remake of War of the Worlds, which grossed nearly twice as much.

In some ways, Prometheus is meant as a prequel to 20th Century Fox’s “Aliens” franchise, which has never had a movie gross over $100 million (not accounting for inflation), although Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator had a stronger $38 million opening in 2004. Ridley Scott is no stranger to coming into franchises and having huge hits, as seen when he directed Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, to a $58 million opening, which became his second-biggest hit after 2000’s Oscar-winning Gladiator. Scott has been somewhat hit or miss since then, only having three other movies gross over $100 million (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster and Robin Hood), although there’s a lot of excitement about him returning to science fiction and the world of Alien, which has gotten a lot of guys excited for Prometheus. If you take into consideration higher ticket prices for 3D and IMAX, both viable options for this one, one has to imagine it will open at least as high as last week’s Snow White.

So far, reviews have been relatively mixed, which also doesn’t help when you have a movie that’s so anticipated, although the people who had wanted to see the movie may just ignore the critics and go ahead and see the movie. If they side with the harsher critics, the movie might have trouble with legs, but we think it still has a good chance at bringing in over $60 million its opening weekend as those who’ve been itching to see the movie will do so opening weekend and mixed word-of-mouth leading to roughly $150 to 165 million total (vs. the $200 million plus we predicted at the start of the summer.)

Interviews with Sir Ridley Scott & Damon Lindelof

Video Interviews with the Cast

Mini-Review: As a Ridley Scott fan, almost to the point of being an apologist, I was just as excited to learn of him returning to the world of science fiction for the first time in nearly three decades as everyone else, even as “Prometheus” started to slowly move away from being the “Alien prequel” so many had expected.

Opening with a gorgeous title sequence set on what seems like another planet, but what we’ll figure out later is our own, it’s pretty clear that Scott has decided to create something so grand and majestic it’s impossible not to immediately be pulled in by the film’s fantastic visuals, given even more grandeur with its 3D depth.

We then cut forward thousands of years to meet Drs. Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) making a major discovery in the caves of Scotland. Years later, we’re in deep space on the Prometheus where we watch Michael Fassbender’s David, a cyborg who is keeping an eye on things while the 17-person crew sleeps for the two years it takes to reach the planet they’ll be exploring looking for answers to the cave paintings, which are being interpreted as an invitation by our makers to come find them.

This is the set-up for a film that explores some of the same ideas introduced in “Alien” in terms of being careful how much you want to know about the origins of life–both our own and that of alien lifeforms in space–with the Weyland Corporation once again representing the evil empire funding the excursion for the wrong reasons and Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers being a character whose cold nature makes her as mysterious as the planet they’re exploring.

Much credit needs to be given to Damon Lindelof for bringing so many layers to the film that it’s absorbed as readily as one of those sci-fi paperbacks one finds at the back of the drugstore that has a gorgeous painted cover and keeps the reader invested on every page, but one can never visualize as a movie. This is where Scott’s pedigree as a master filmmaker comes into play as well as his ability to match original material with a cast that will make the most of it.

“Prometheus” mainly works as well as it does due to the casting of Rapace, Fassbender and Theron, all giving some of their best performances as the lynchpins of the story. Fassbender’s David is really the character most audiences will be drawn to, because he’s another fascinating A.I. character whose motivations aren’t that easy to pinpoint, similar to some of the others. Idris Elba offers some of the best quips as the captain of the Prometheus, and the lesser-known Marshall-Green holds his own against the other larger personalities.

It’s a film that keeps you on edge by not allowing you to fully figure out what you’re watching, especially once the crew starts exploring the planet and the vast cavern system found there, and we watch the scientists trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle while David seems to know more than he’s letting on. It all builds to a number of delightfully frightening scenes including one that pays homage to the famous “chest-burster” scene from the original “Alien” that’s just as effective at creeping out the viewer.

Those looking for a movie full of action and gore, rather than one about the human experience and how it’s affected by the unknown, may be disappointed that the film’s pace very closely mirrors that of “Alien,” and though the more subtle visual references and nods to that movie are more than welcome, the film’s only real faltering point is when it goes one step too far to be tied into the “Aliens” mythos.

“Prometheus” is a fantastic film that really should be accepted on its own merits as science fiction filmmaking at its finest rather than as anything that connects directly with “Alien,” and one has to be optimistic that any sequels would veer further away from those connections.

Rating: 9/10

Offered as counter-programming and possibly even giving Prometheus a run for the top spot is the animated threequel Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (DreamWorks Animation / Paramount), once again featuring the voice of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen and more. This time, the group of talking animals are traveling through Europe with a circus, which gives moviegoers two primary motivations for attending – having a chance to see Europe in animate form and the general love that family audiences have towards circuses. One of the benefits the movie has is that there haven’t been that many family movies this summer and certainly none currently in theaters, making this one of the few choices for parents wanting to get their kids out of the house on the weekend. (Many schools are still in session for a couple more weeks.)

The original Madagascar opened over Memorial Day weekend in 2005 with $61 million over the first four days and went on to gross $193 million domestic and $532 million globally. Its sequel opened a little over three years later in early November with $63.1 million and ended up grossing slightly less domestically but more internationally. In recent years, we’ve been seeing audiences becoming less enthralled by computer animations and animated sequels in particular, as seen by last year’s Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, neither which opened as big as their predecessors.

With the competition of Prometheus for the guys and the general ennui towards DreamWorks Animation’s sequels, we think Madagascar 3 will open slightly lower than its predecessor with somewhere in the lower-$50 millions but it should be able to hold well for the two weeks before Disney•Pixar’s Brave takes over that audience. We think Madagascar 3 should end up with around $175 to 185 million by summer’s end.

This weekend last year, J.J. Abrams’ own sci-fi thriller Super 8 (Paramount) opened at #1 with $35 million, which isn’t bad for a movie with no big stars or big name actors. It also fared far better than the family movie Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer (Relativity Media), which tanked with just $6.1 million in 2,524 theaters to open in seventh place. Both The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides crossed the $200 million mark, joining Fast Five. The Top 10 grossed $130.9 million, which shouldn’t be hard to surpass if both of the new movies do decently this weekend.

This Week’s UPDATED Predictions

1. Prometheus (20th Century Fox) – $59.3 million N/A (down 1.1 million)

2. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $53.5 million N/A (up .5 million)

3. Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal) – $28.0 million -50% (up .2 million)

4. Men in Black 3 (Sony) – $14.6 million -48% (down .2 million)

5. Marvel’s The Avengers (Disney) – $11.0 million -46% (corrected from earlier, down $3.8 million)

6. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Fox Searchlight) – $3 million -30%

7. What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Lionsgate) – $2.4 million -45% (down .3 million)

8. The Dictator (Paramount) – $2.3 million -51%

9. Battleship (Universal) – $2.1 million -57% (down .1 million)

10. Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features) – $1.8 million +247% (down .2 million)

There are a bunch of decent movies opening in limited release this weekend, although we’re too far behind on other things to write at too much length about any of them. (Fortunately, we’ve done interviews for the three best movies, so the movies.)

Colin Trevorrow’s quirky time-travel comedy Safety Not Guaranteed (FilmDistrict) stars Audrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) as a cynical young woman named Darius, working as an intern at a Seattle you can check those out to learn more about newspaper who is assigned to work with a care-free reporter (Jake Johnson from “New Girl”) to find the author of an odd classified ad, played by Mark Duplass, who is looking for someone to go on a time-traveling journey with them. A popular movie from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it opens in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle on Friday.

Interview with Colin Trevorrow & Jake Johnson

Stephen Kessler’s documentary Paul Williams Still Alive (Abramorama) follows the hugely successful and popular ’70s singer, songwriter and actor Paul Williams, responsible for writing hits like “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie as he lives a sober life, 20 years after his huge fame drove him to drugs and alcohol. It opens in New York at the Angelika on Friday and in L.A. at the NuArt on June 22.

Interview with Paul Williams and Stephen Kessler (Coming Soon!)

Greta Gerwig stars in Daryl Wein’s Lola Versus (Fox Searchlight) as the title character, a young New York woman whose live-in boyfriend (Joel Kinnaman) breaks up with her on her 29th birthday, forcing her to try and find love in the tough market. Co-starring Zoe Lister Jones (the film’s co-writer), Hamish Linklater, Bill Pullman and Debra Winger, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Daryl Wein & Greta Gerwig

Welcome to the Dollhouse director Todd Solondz returns with Dark Horse (Brainstorm Media), starring stage actor Jordan Gelber as brash 30-something Abe, still living at home with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken), while chasing after the similarly-dysfunctional Miranda (Selma Blair). Also starring Justin Bartha as Abe’s brother and Donna Murphy as his amorous co-worker, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Review from Toronto

Robert Pattinson stars in Declan Donnellan’s Bel Ami (Magnolia) as Georges Duroy, a 19th Century Parisian man who uses his wiles to rise up the ranks of wealth through his sexual dalliances, from prostitutes to the richest women of Paris, using his sexuality to gain power. Co-starring Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci, it opens in select cities following a month-long run on VOD.

Catherine Keener and Jane Fonda star in Bruce (Driving Miss Daisy) Beresford’s Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (IFC Films) with Kenner playing a New York City lawyer going through a divorce who escapes to the Woodstock farmhouse of her hippy lifestyle mother Grace (Fonda) along with her two kids (Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff). Also starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chace Crawford as two of the hunky men they meet up there, it opens in New York on Friday.

Ellie Kanner-Zuckerman’s crime drama For the Love of Money (All Cash Productions) follows a Jewish immigrant looking to make his mark in America, starting in the casinos of Tel Aviv 1973 through his family’s relocation to Los Angeles. It co-stars James Caan, Oded Fehr and Steven Bauer.

Brian Lilla’s documentary Patagonia Rising (First Run Features) is about Chile’s two rivers, the Baker and Pascua, which are in danger of being dammed up, which could put the lives of the Patagonia’s residents, the Gauchos, at risk. It opens at New York’s Cinema Village on Friday.

Opening on Monday, June 11, for an exclusive run at New York’s Maysles Cinema is archaeologist Stefano Savona’s documentary Tahrir: Liberation Square (Icarus Films) which looks into the protests that led to the Egyptian revolution to depose President Mubarak as Savona goes into Egypt’s Tahrir Square with digital camera and recorder to talk to individual protesters.

Next week, the month of June continues with two very different comedies, as Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg team for the fatherly comedy That’s My Boy (Sony) and Adam Shankman tackles the movie-musical Rock of Ages (New Line/WB) with the all-star cast of Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones and more.

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 2012 Edward Douglas