Box Office Preview: The War on Terror, Organized Crime and Quality Humor

January rolls along with two more new movies of varying qualities as well as the wide expansion of one of the most acclaimed awards winners from December, and it’s going to be an interesting weekend since the Oscar nominations on Thursday should give a nice bump to multiple nominees like Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which have a lot of room for theatrical expansion as well.

Zero Dark Thirty (Sony)
Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break and more); Written by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Tagline: “The Greatest Manhunt in History”

After an astounding run in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles over the holidays and in more theaters this past weekend–it grossed $2.7 million in just 60 theaters which is incredible–Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s controversial follow-up to the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker is going into its first weekend in wide release with a good amount of buzz and a number of high profile awards under its belt with more possible by Friday.

In some ways, this has a lot more going for it than The Hurt Locker, which grossed less than $20 million domestically. The first thing is that it’s already a far more high profile movie, both due to the awards attention and the controversy surrounding how it portrays torture. It also has gotten a lot of attention for its star, actress Jessica Chastain, who last year appeared in many prominent films including The Help, for which she received an Oscar nomination, and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Last year, she appeared in John Hillcoat’s Lawless along with her Zero Dark Thirty co-star Jason Clarke and the movie also includes an ensemble cast including Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt (from Moneyball), Mark Strong and others. Really though, the focus is on Chastain who may already have a second Oscar nomination by the time Friday comes around, not to mention the movie’s potential for more nominations including Best Picture. Since the announcement of Oscar nominations tend to give the Best Picture nominee a boost at the box office, this couldn’t be any better time for Sony to release the movie wide, albeit in a moderate 2,500 theaters, and we think that all of the awards and talk for the movie over the past few weeks will lead to a lot of people rushing out to finally see the movie they’ve been hearing about so much in the media. In some ways, it should work similar to how Michael Moore’s doc Fahrenheit 9/11 built upon the media attention and controversy, which gives this a good chance at being #1 for the weekend with roughly $20 million or more and it should be able to build on that in the coming weeks leading up to Oscar night as well.

Weekend Est. (Updated!): $20 to 23 million; Est. Total Gross: $85 million total.

7.5/10 Review

Video Interview with Jessica Chastain

Gangster Squad (Warner Bros.)
Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Emma Stone, Sean Penn
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less); Written by Will Beall (“Castle,” upcoming Justice League, Lethal Weapon 5, Logan’s Run)
Tagline: “No names. No badges. No mercy.”

The second new movie of the year after last weekend’s Texas Chainsaw is this period gangster film by Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer, who has pulled together a great cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone, all stars on the rise in the movie industry, as well as respected veteran actors like Sean Penn and Nick Nolte.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a bonafide period gangster flick–probably Michael Mann’s Public Enemies in 2009 which grossed $97.1 million, which followed Ridley Scott’s American Gangster with $130.1 million–and Fleischer’s movie is being marketed like a hip and more up-to-date version of The Untouchables, which should make it a strong draw for teen and older males. What’s also interesting is how Warner Bros. has been marketing the flirting between the characters played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who are reuniting following Warner’s romantic comedy hit Crazy, Stupid, Love in hopes that the movie might bring in some women not necessarily interested in the other two movies. It’s also interesting that the movie reunites Milk co-stars Penn and Brolin, this time in a very different conflict. Besides the great cast, another good thing going for the movie is the great title, one that immediately lets viewers know what they’re in for, which is not the case with Zero Dark Thirty. Imagine if you’re a casual moviegoer going to the theater and you see those two titles on the marquee and maybe you don’t do a lot of reading, which movie would you want to see? Then again, the big awards push for Zero Dark Thirty, especially with the nominations being announced on Thursday, could end up overshadowing the film and its chances at breaking out.

Weekend Est. (Updated!): $18 to 20 million opening; Est. Total Gross: $50 to 55 million

Interview with Director Ruben Fleischer

A Haunted House (Open Road Films)
Starring Marlon Wayans, Nick Swardson, David Koechner, Essence Atkins, Cedric the Entertainer, Bobbie Lee, Dave Sheridan
Directed by Mike Tiddes (producer of Dance Flick); Written by Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez (producer of Dance Flick, LiTTLEMAN, White Chicks)
Tagline: “This $*%! ain’t paranormal.”

The Wayans family has long been associated with spoof movies going back to the early work of Keenan Ivory Wayans which culminated in 2000 with the R-rated Scary Movie, which became a blockbuster hit based on its spoof of horror films like Wes Craven’s Scream. It was followed a year later with the less successful Scary Movie 2, but then in 2004, Marlon and Shawn Wayans starred in White Chicks which was a huge hit for the family as was 2006′s LiTTLE MAN both directed by Keenan. 2009′s Dance Flick introduced the next generation of Wayans with its spoof of dance movies, but it didn’t fare nearly as well.

Now it feels like they’ve come full circle by spoofing horror movies, but in fact this one only involves Marlon Wayans, who wrote and stars in it with the likes of David Koechner, Nick Swardson from the Happy Madison camp, Cedric the Entertainer and Bobbie Lee from “Mad TV.” Spoof movies have generally shown declining returns in recent years with Vampires Suck, the latest from Friedberg/Seltzer, grossing just $36 million compared to the success of their earlier films. The Wayans generally have strong appeal for younger guys and women in urban areas, but if the movie even tries to interest guys over 20, it’s going to have some heavy competition from the other two movies. It’s also odd that the movie is coming out months before Scary Movie 5, an attempt to revive the long-dormant horror spoof franchise, because some may just wait for the proven commodity. Because the movie doesn’t look very funny (and any early reviews that slip out probably won’t be good) and with so many stronger choices this weekend plus being released by Open Road Films, who are still finding their ground in terms of marketing, we think this one will probably have a weaker opening than the other two and probably end up in fourth place behind Django Unchained.

Weekend Est. (Updated!): $13 to 15 million; Est. Total Gross: $35 million.

This weekend last year was actually Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, which makes it a hard comparison for this week. Mark Wahlberg’s crime-thriller Contraband (Universal) won the weekend with $24.3 million and $28.5 million for the four-day weekend, followed by the 3D rerelease Beauty and the Beast 3D (Disney), which took in $17.7 million and $22.2 million over four days. The latter shows how well family movies can do over the MLK Jr. holiday, although we don’t have any family movies this January at all. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol dropped to third place with $14.2 million followed by the Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah musical comedy Joyful Noise (New Line/WB) with $11.2 million over the three-day weekend and $13.8 million including Monday.

This Week’s Updated Predictions -

UPDATE: It’s looking much better for Gangster Squad and A Haunted House this weekend to come closer to Zero Dark Thirty then we initially predicted earlier in the week. The fact that Zero Dark Thirty and A Haunted House are both in less than 2,500 theaters may limit their business this weekend though they both should have strong per-theater averages, particularly “ZD30″ which has been in the news quite a bit over the past few weeks. That said, we may have gone a bit overboard with our prediction and we’re lowering it and raising the others. Oh, and The Hobbit loses roughly 800 theaters to make way for the new and expanding movies so we expect it to have a bigger drop this week.

1. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony) – $21.8 million +835% (down 1.6 million)

2. Gangster Squad (Warner Bros.) – $18.5 million N/A (up 2.2 million

3. A Haunted House (Open Road) – $13.3 million N/A (up 2.8 million and one spot)

4. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company) – $12.5 million -38% (down one spot)

5. Les Misérables (Universal) – $9.5 million -42% (up .5 million and one spot)

6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line/WB) – $9.0 million -48% (down .6 million and one spot)

7. Texas Chainsaw 3D (Magnolia) $8.0 million -63% (same)

8. Parental Guidance (20th Century Fox) – $5.9 million -38% (down .1 million)

9. Jack Reacher (Paramount) – $4.8 million -45% (down .2 million)

10. Lincoln (DreamWorks) – $4.5 million -18% (up .3 million and one spot)

11. This Is 40 (Universal) – $4.5 million -46%

No CHOSEN ONE this week, but “Glee” star Chris Coulfer wrote and stars in Brian (Saved!) Dannelly’s Struck by Lightning (Tribeca Film) as Carson Phillips, a high school senior with higher aspirations than his home town of Clover can deliver, so he creates a scheme with his best friend (Rebel Wilson from Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect) to blackmail his high school’s popular kids to help him with his literary magazine. Also starring Allison Janney, Dermot Mulroney, Christina Hendricks and Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”), it opens in New York on Friday.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with Quartet (The Weinstein Company) based on Sir Ronald Harwood’s play set in Beecham House, a retirement home for aging musicians and opera singers and starring Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins as singers Wilf, Reggie and Cissy, who want to stage a benefit concert for Verdi’s birthday, a plan that will only work if they convince Reg’s wife Jean (Maggie Smith) to join them for the concert. Also starring Michael Gambon, it opens in New York on Friday.

Barry Battles’ The Baytown Outlaws (Phase 4 Films) stars Clayne Crawford (“24″), Daniel Cudmore and Travis Fimmel as the Oodie Brothers, Alabama rednecks who are hired by Eva Longoria’s Celeste to retrieve her godson who has been kidnapped by her ex-husband Carols (Billy Bob Thornton). It opens in select cities Friday.

Mini-Review: Who knows who’s to blame for this deplorable mess of an action movie? We surely can’t entirely blame director Barry Battles or his writing partner Griffin Hood, but maybe we can blame Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez or movies like Joe Carnahan’s “Smokin’ Aces” and “Boondock Saints”–movies that made it seem like anyone with a camera and a script filed with the F-word could potentially create a B-movie cult hit.

This one revolves around the Oodi Brothers, a trio of backwater rednecks always getting into trouble as we see in the opening sequence where they shoot up a house full of gun-toting drug dealers. Soon after that, they’re hired by Eva Longoria’s Celeste to retrieve her godson being held captive by her ex, a druglord named Carlos, played by Billy Bob Thornton in a fashion that makes you think he realizes how bad the writing is because he tries to make more out of the role then what’s on the page. Carlos isn’t having any of the Oodis and he sends killers after them that progressively get more ridiculous… and this is after kicking off with a half-dozen prostitute-cum-assassins who encounter our “heroes” in a bar run by Michael Rapaport, who also tries to make more out of a one-dimensional character.

It’s a pretty lame premise and the script isn’t much better, not making much of an effort to set up a backstory or make us understand why on earth Celeste would entrust these bozos with such a delicate matter as getting the boy… who turns out to be in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy.

Eva Longoria isn’t bad but that may be because she’s barely in the movie, every once in a while the film cutting to her on the phone checking in or cutting to Thornton in full-on *sshole mode. The fact Thornton never appears in the movie with any of the key actors or has any sort of resolution gives you some idea of the lack of thought put into the script.

The worst casting has to be “The Vampire Diaries’” Paul Wesley, looking way too young and well-groomed to be taken seriously as a federal agent from up north sent down to investigate the slaughter at the beginning of the movie. Most of his scenes are with Andre Braugher as the town sheriff who seems to let the Oodis literally get away with murder. Braugher is probably the best thing the movie has going for it, but it constantly feels like he and Wesley are in a different movie.

For the most part, it’s painfully clear this is a movie written by misogynistic adolescents not trying to appeal to anyone older than 13 or with the IQ of roughly same, at least not until the third act where they suddenly realize no one’s going to care about these guys unless they give them some sort of dimension. In that sense, both Clayne Crawford and Travis Fimmel step up to the plate with some feelings, but by that point we’ve watched them display so much moronic buffoonery, it’s hard to believe they could go through such a dramatic change and by then it’s too late to save the movie.

There’s probably an audience for “Baytown Outlaws,” but it’s not one anyone might want to spend 90 minutes with in a movie theater. Rating: 4/10

Tom O’Brien wrote, direct and stars in Fairhaven (Starz Digital Media) as a former high school football stars who returns to his fishing village hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts and reunites with his friends Sam (Rich Sommer) and Dave (Chris Messina) as they each try to find something more with their lives.

Wolfgang Mumberger’s WWII thriller My Best Enemy (IFC Films) is set in pre-war Austria where two long-time friends–Jewish Victor and non-Jewish Rudi–have a falling out which leads to the latter turning against his friend in hopes of getting a sketch by Michelangelo owned by the former’s family. When the Nazis discover they’ve stolen a forgery, they interrogate the imprisoned Victor trying to find the real one. It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.

From Bollywood comes Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (FIP), a dramedy about an industrialist, his daughter and his assistant, a relationship that’s put to the test when his daughter is set to marry the son of a powerful politician.

Set in a London in chaos that’s been put in lockdown, Johannes Roberts’ Storage 24 (Magnet) is about a couple who get trapped in a storage unit when the power goes out and they find themselves being hunted by an unknown predator. After its run on VOD, it opens this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

Next week, it is the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday and it marks the return of former Governor and soon to be once again action star Arnold Schwarzenegger with The Last Stand (Lionsgate). Also, the ever-present Guillermo del Toro produces the horror-thriller Mama (Universal), starring Jessica Chastain (her again!) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”) while Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe star in the crime-thriller Broken City (20th Century Fox).

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

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