Long Distance Box Office: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

This week, we’re looking at another movie that was supposed to be released last year, but instead got shifted to this coming March and that’s Paramount’s sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, another attempt to bring the popular Hasbro toys of the ’80s to the big screen. This one is opening on March 29 which also happens to be Good Friday and there being no school that day should definitely help it bring in a lot of business in a month that’s becoming better for tentpole releases.

The first movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, directed by The Mummy‘s Stephen Sommers, was released in early August 2009 and brought in $54.7 million its opening weekend, helped by the huge fanbase for the toys, comics and cartoons. One also would imagine that it was helped by the earlier success of Hasbro’s Transformers earlier in the summer. Although it did well, reviews weren’t good–just 34% on Rotten Tomatoes–and its 5.7 rating on IMDb doesn’t show huge fan support. It ended up grossing $150 million domestically and twice that including international, which isn’t great when you consider the film’s $175 million price tag.

Even so, Paramount and Hasbro knew that the characters were too popular with too rich a history to not give it another try so that’s what Paramount and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura have decided to do.

Right off the bat, they courted controversy when Jon M. Chu was announced to direct the sequel, because up until that point, he was best known for the “Step Up” movies and the Justin Bieber concert doc, neither which exactly cater to the male fanboy audience. Apparently, Chu is a G.I. Joe fan himself which is why he got the gig.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an oddball sequel of sorts, since while it does continue some of the plot from “Rise of the Cobra,” it also reboots the franchise by not bringing back the full cast from the original movie with three exceptions. It might not be so odd that two of the lesser known actors, Ray Park and Korean actor Byung-hun Lee, are back as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, because those are two of the most popular characters in the G.I. Joe mythos and they play a much bigger part in the second movie. Channing Tatum, who played Duke in the first movie, has become a much bigger commodity in the last five years, but originally, he only had a small role in the movie and presumably was killed in the first act of the movie. There were then rumors that when the release was delayed, they went back to do reshoots to add more Tatum because he had become so popular, but Chu and di Bonaventura say it was all about the 3D conversion (Interesting to note that the movie was originally going to open against Tatum’s own Magic Mike.) Oh, yeah, and Jonathan Pryce also returns as the President of the United States, which is partially what continues the storyline from the first movie.

The key selling point for the sequel will be the decision to bring on Dwayne Johnson to play Roadblock, which is a smart move since we all know that anything is better when it includes “The Rock.” Johnson is going to have quite a presence this year, because not only is he back at the WWE taking part in big wrestling events, but he has two other movies this season, Snitch in February and Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain in late April.

For the sequel, they’ve also introduced Flint and Lady Jaye, as played by D.J. Cotrona and Adrianne Palicki, who will also play a bigger part in the story. But the wisest move and biggest surprise had to be the decision to bring Bruce Willis on board as the original “G.I. Joe,” General Joe Colton, something that really brings another level of excitement to the movie, especially among older moviegoers who have remained Joe fans since the ‘80s. Willis has also been seen a lot in recent months, starring in Looper and returning as John McLane in A Good Day to Die Hard, which opens roughly six weeks before “Retaliation.”

As far as the other new characters, they’ve cast Elodie Yung (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Jinx, a popular ninja character with connections to Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes, plus they have RZA playing Blind Master, who also ties into their past. More importantly, they have Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone, Thor) as Firefly, one of the more popular Joe villains.

Clearly, the success of G.I. Joe relies as much or more on the characters brought on board from the comics as it does the cast playing them and the filmmakers are interested in introducing some of the fan-favorites and hopefully make them forget what they hated about the previous movie.

The movie was pretty much finished and roughly a month away from release when in late June, Paramount announced the movie would be converted to 3D and moved to late March. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened–in fact, they did a similar thing with this week’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which was supposed to open last January (although to be fair, that was filmed in 3D).

This poses a problem with the marketing, since Paramount may have already blown their budget promoting the movie last year for its summer release. In fact, they already paid the big money for a Super Bowl spot last year when the movie was opening in June, so will they bother shelling out for another Super Bowl spot this year with the movie opening in just two months? That’s the big question right now because Paramount already released three semi-decent trailers running last year and one wonders if there’s any way to resuscitate the ad campaign without rehashing what’s already been seen.

What they’ve decided to do is release four minutes of new footage in 3D exclusively in front of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which will hopefully serve double purpose to get G.I. Joe fans out to see that movie this weekend in 3D and IMAX 3D theaters. It’s quite genius if you think about it, because otherwise there’s little reason to pay premium prices to see that movie plus maybe it’ll get G.I. Joe fans excited again.

One definite positive thing going for the movie is the fact it’s Easter weekend and with there being no school on Good Friday–as well as some people taking off Monday–it’s a good weekend to release a big blockbuster, as seen by Clash of the Titans, which opened with $61.2 million, setting a new Easter record in 2010. Other movies like Scary Movie 4 ($40.2 mil. opening), Hannah Montana: The Movie ($32.3 million) and David Fincher’s Panic Room ($30 million) have also done well, which justifies the decision.

One expects that the diehard G.I. Joe fanbase are the primary audience and they might check the movie out if they weren’t turned off by the first movie or made dubious by the last minute schedule change. Fortunately, it doesn’t have a lot of direct competition over Easter weekend, with Stephenie Meyer’s The Host and Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor more likely to appeal to girls and women who normally won’t have much interest in a military action movie.

With that in mind, we figure G.I. Joe Retaliation will bring in around $15 to 18 million on Good Friday with the weekend being typically frontloaded since Easter tends to be slower, so it should end up with somewhere between $36 and 40 million over the three-day weekend.

Next time on “Long Distance Box Office,” we’re going to look at the weekend of April 12 when Evil Dead takes on Scary Movie 5. Can a really scary and gory horror movie defeat the long-running horror movie spoof franchise?

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