Box Office Preview: Witch Hunting in the Dead of Winter

After the first four-day holiday weekend (for some), we’re back to the grind and to be honest, there really isn’t anything that big or exciting for a couple of weeks, not until the next four-day weekend that starts on Valentine’s Day. Even so, we still have three new movies, all R-rated, nothing for the kids, and we’ll have to see which ones appeal to the teen and older moviegoers that may feel like going to the movies even if there’s nothing that looks like a must-see. (Generally, the last weekend in January has not been a great time to release a movie although Liam Neeson has had two significant hits on the weekend, first with Taken in 2009 and then with The Grey last year.)

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount)

Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann

Directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow); Written by Dante Harper, Tommy Wirkola

Genre: Action, Thriller

Rated R

Tagline: “Classic Tale New Twist”

I’m not sure this late January release really even needs a tagline with a fairly self-explanatory title like “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” as it combines fairy tales with horror and high-stakes action to create a weird mix unlike anything we’ve seen since last year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The results are a movie that looks a bit like horror-inspired action movies like Underworld and Resident Evil, which have found an audience of high school and college-age males that offer a combination of action and gore that can appeal to gamers.

On top of that, it offers a potential new franchise for Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the two lead characters – oh, who are we kidding? This movie is a one and done because everyone involved is just lucky that someone at Paramount was in a frivolous mood one day and decided to greenlight the craziest idea that crossed their table.

Renner has had some great success ever since appearing in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which got him one of two Oscar nominations, the second being for Ben Affleck’s The Town, and he followed those up with global blockbusters Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Marvel’s The Avengers, followed up by the lesser hit The Bourne Legacy which “only” grossed $276 million worldwide. On the other hand, Gemma Arterton has been the “hot new thing” for a while now and while she had success as a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace and in Wrath of the Titans, her other potential franchise Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was one of 2011’s biggest bombs. This oddball mix of genres is also the first American film from Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who came onto the scene with the festival favorite Dead Snow about a group of kids being terrorized by Nazi zombies. It co-stars Famke Janssen and Peter Stormare, who was just seen in last weekend’s big bomb The Last Stand.

The movie has been sitting on the shelf for a while, having originally been scheduled for March 2012, and maybe it was delayed for Wirkola to work on the CG and the 3D. It was filmed in 3D, although releasing a movie in 3D these days is barely even worth advertising anymore. “Hansel and Gretel” is also being released in IMAX, but that also seems like an afterthought and few moviegoers will probably feel the need to pay premium prices for this. In fact, we’re dubious that Paramount will screen the movie for critics at all, so most of them will only have a chance to see it Thursday night hours before opening, which is fine since anyone seriously thinking of going to see this probably doesn’t know how to read anyway. (Joking! Joking!) Anyway, there should be enough younger guys who might go see it because it looks like fun entertainment and Paramount opening it in over 3,000 theaters should allow it to steal the weekend win with a slight margin over last week’s breakout hit Mama, although we think the business will be heavily slanted towards Thursday night and Friday and it probably won’t be around very long.

Est. Theater Count: 3,000+; Weekend Est.: $16 to 18 million; Est. Total Gross: $35 million

Movie 43 (Relativity Media)

Starring Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Halle Berry, Leslie Bibb, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler, Bobby Cannavale, Common, Kieran Culkin, Josh Duhamel, Anna Faris, Richard Gere, John Hodgman, Terrence Howard, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Justin Long, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Chris Pratt, Dennis Quaid, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, Common

Directed by Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, James Duffy, Jonathan Van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn; Written by Will Carlough, Tobias Carlson, Jacob Fleisher, Patrik Forsberg, Will Graham, James Gunn, Claes Kjellström, Jack Kukoda, Bill O’Malley, Matthew Portenoy, Greg Pritikin, Rocky Russo, Olle Sarri, Elizabeth Shapiro, Jeremy Sosenko, Jonathan Van Tulleken, Jonas Wittenmark, Ricky Blitt

Genre: Comedy

Rated R

Tagline: “Comedy. Exposed.”

We’ve talked a lot about spoof comedies in this column because it’s been such a prominent genre, but more than that we’ve talked about the rise of the R-rated comedy as a viable box office draw. Here’s an interesting concept from a couple of the filmmakers who have played a large part in that, namely Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers and producer Charles Wessler, whose 1998 movie There’s Something About Mary really paved the way for what can be achieved in comedy with an R rating. That eventually led to the American Pie movies, the “Harold & Kumar” movies, Wedding Crashers and of course the work of Judd Apatow and his colleagues. Essentially, Movie 43 is a collection of raunchy comedy shorts, but what’s really amazing about it is the unbelievable cast that Farrelly and Wessler have brought together including dozens of Oscar-nominated and winning actors that one normally wouldn’t expect to see doing this sort of low-brow humor. You can read the roster above, but some of the names they got are pretty amazing, plus they also got the likes of the super-busy Emma Stone before she got too huge. The shorts are written and directed by a mixed bag of comedy newcomers and vets so it’s hard to tell if this is quality comedy that offers laughs like we’ve seen online or if this is just more sub-par humor going for the low hanging fruit ala the films of Friedberg & Seltzer. Either way, there’s certainly a bit of a dearth of comedies in theaters other than A Haunted House, and the combination of raunchy R-rated humor and that amazing cast should convince the 16 to 22 year olds not interested in the oddball “Hansel & Gretel” action movie to go out and see it en masse. The commercials do a good job selling the raunchy comedy and Relativity was smart enough to give it a big push on MTV where it can attract its desired demo. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have enough confidence in their own marketing to give it more than a moderate release into roughly 2,000 theaters (and not screening it for critics) but it probably should have a decent per-theater average, possibly even the best in the Top 10, which should be enough to win it third place.

Est. Theater Count: 2,000+; Weekend Est.: $12 to 14 million; Total Gross: $32 million total

Interview with Peter Farrelly

Parker (FilmDistrict)

Starring Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Nick Nolte

Directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray, Proof of Life, An Officer and a Gentleman, Against All Odds); Written by John J. McLaughlin (Hitchcock, Black Swan)

Genre: Crime-Thriller

Rated R

Tagline: “To Get Away Clean, You Have to Play Dirty”

The month of non-stop action movies continues with the second movie in a row from one of the “Expendables,” this one starring Jason Statham as the character made famous in Donald E. Westlake’s novels and this one teaming him with veteran filmmaker Taylor Hackford. As we saw last year with One of the Money (see below), making a movie based on a popular character from novels doesn’t necessarily mean that fans of the books will go see it in theaters, but the filmmakers of this one are probably hoping that Jason Statham’s audience will give this a look since he’s usually good for anywhere between a $7 to 11 million opening weekend. 2011’s Killer Elite opened with $9.3 million and grossed $25 million, while Statham’s next movie Safe opened even lower and did even less business. But then he was back with Sylvester Stallone for The Expendables 2, another action hit that proved that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The great thing about Statham is that you always know what to expect and most of his fans go see his movies for more of the same and with few other strong choices this weekend, we can see guys 25 and older choosing this over some of the other movies. Even so, FilmDistrict is giving it a fairly moderate release (presumably through Open Road still) and there doesn’t seem to be as much marketing as the other movies, so anyone who doesn’t know the character from the book will probably assume this is more of the same from Statham.

Est. Theater Count: 2,200 +; Weekend Est.: $6 to 8 million; Est. Total Gross: $18 million

4.5/10 Review

This weekend last year was an interesting one since it followed just one week after the purchase of Summit by Lionsgate and both companies had new movies competing against each other, but it was the Liam Neeson vs. the wolves thriller The Grey (Open Road Entertainment), directed by Joe Carnahan, which opened at #1 with $19.7 million with a solid $6,200 per theater average. Kathryn Heigl starred in One for the Money (Lionsgate), playing Janet Evanovich’s popular bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, but even with a Groupon deal, the movie only brought in $11.5 million to take third place behind Underworld: Awakening in its second weekend – it dropped 51%. Both of those still fared better than the Sam Worthington thriller Man on a Ledge (Summit Entertainment), which tanked with just $8 million in nearly 3,000 theaters, averaging less than $3,000 per site for fifth place. The Top 10 grossed $91 million and since we honestly don’t think any of this week’s movies will gross as much as The Grey, this looks to be a down weekend.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

UPDATE: Not too much difference although we think that Hansel & Gretel will do better than we projected earlier in the week and the horror film Mama should hold up well in its second weekend. The bottom half of the Top 10 is looking like a mess with a lot of movies that will be relatively close.

1. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount) – $18.8 million N/A (up 2 million)

2. Mama (Universal) – $15.0 million -47% (up 1.2 million)

3. Movie 43 (Relativity Media) – $11.0 million N/A (down 1.2 million)

4. Zero Dark Thirty (Sony) – $10.0 million -37%

5. Parker (FilmDistrict) – $7.8 million N/A (up .2 million)

6. Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company) – $7.0 million -35% (same)

7. Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company) – $4.7 million -40% (same)

8. Gangster Squad (Warner Bros.) – $4.6 million -47% (same)

9. Les Misérables (Universal) – $4.5 million -42% (up .1 million)

10. Broken City (20th Century Fox) – $4.3 million -48% (same)

(ADDENDUM: Apparently, Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet (The Weinstein Company) will be expanding nationwide on Friday but since we have no idea how many theaters it may be getting, we’ve chosen not to write too much at length about it.)

Veteran horror filmmaker Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) returns with John Dies at the End (Magnet Labs), his adaptation of David Wong’s novel starring Chase Williamson and Ro Mayes as a pair of supernatural investigators who discover a drug called Soy Sauce that creates an out-of-body experience that’s actually being used as the start of an invasion from another dimension unless they put a stop to it. Over a year after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival and after a month on VOD, it opens in L.A. at the Nuart Theater on Friday and in New York at the Sunshine on February 1, as well as other theaters throughout February.

Rob Lowe stars in documentary filmmaker Bill (Nanking, Soundtrack for a Revolution) Guttentag’s drama Knife Fight (IFC Films), playing political strategist Paul Turner, who works with his assistant (Jamie Chung), to help a number of politicians overcome the scrutiny of the media, particularly a Kentucky governor (Eric McCormick) accused of sleeping with his masseuse and others. Also starring Julie Bowen and Carrie-Anne Moss, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Ten years after his film Yossi & Jagger, filmmaker Eytan Fox revisits one of the characters from the earlier film with Yossi (Strand Releasing), following Ohad Knoller’s Dr. Yossi Hoffman, now a cardiologist after leaving the army but still trying to get over the death of his lover, a fellow soldier, when he encounters his mother at the hospital. Meanwhile, he’s trying to hide his sexuality from his co-workers and decides to take a vacation to the beach-side city of Eilat where he encounters a group of soldiers. It opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on February 8.

It may not be much of a surprise that filmmaker Werner Herzog was invested enough in the four-hour special by director Dmitry Vasyukov to re-edit it into Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (Music Box Films), a look at the small community of 300 who live in the small village of Bakhta, in the middle of the Siberian wilderness. It harks back to other Herzog docs like Encounters at the End of the World and Grizzly Man (although in this movie, we barely see a single bear). The movie may not have the lush cinematography of some of the films Herzog directed on his own, but his narration gives it the same personality as his other movies and there’s lots of interesting things you don’t see every day inside this culture of trappers. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday as does…

Korean filmmaker Im Sang-Soo (The Preisdent’s Last Bang, The Housemaid) returns with The Taste of Money (IFC Films), which involves a good looking young man introduced into the world of power and corruption of a rich South Korean family run by Madame Baek, whose illegal activities are uncovered along with other family secrets.

Opening on Wednesday at New York’s Film Forum is Moussa Touré’s Senegal-based film The Pirogue (Artmattan Productions) that follows 30 men and one stowaway woman as they travel illegally to Spain in a 7-day voyage on a dinghy called a “pirogue,” hoping to create a better future for themselves.

As far as the movies I haven’t seen this week, there’s…

Justin Benson’s horror film Resolution (Tribeca Film) involves an intervention to get a friend off meth by taking him to an abandoned cabin on an Indian reservation which turns into a night of terror.

“Girls” star Alex Karpovsky and Tarik Lowe star in Daniel Schechter’s Supporting Characters (Tribeca Film) as a pair of New York film editors hired to save a botched comedy by a director played by Kevin Corrigan, but the job starts screwing with their relationships as one of them finds themselves being flirted with by the film’s star (Arielle Kebbel) even though he’s already engaged.

Blake Freeman’s comedy Noobz (Big Air Studios) involves four friends (including Jason Mewes, Matt Shively, Moises Arias and Freeman himself) on a road trip to the Cyberbowl Video Game Championship in LA to win big prize money and meet one of their online gamer crushes, played by Zelda Williams, only to face a number of obstacles and wacky competition. Maybe this is looking to be the new Joysticks. It opens theatrically on Friday and on VOD on January 29.

Next week, the month of February kicks off with Super Bowl weekend, which means that all movies will be doing their business on Friday and Saturday. The two movies vying to win the weekend are the romantic comedy zombie movie Warm Bodies (Summit Entertainment) and Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller Bullet to the Head (Warner Bros.). Also, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are Stand Up Guys who may be getting a wide release as well.

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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