Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.
1. Watchmen (Warner Bros.) – $74.2 million N/A (up +.6 million)
2. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) – $9.0 million -25%
3. Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate) – $8.0 million -51%
4. Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience (Disney) – $6.0 million -53%
5. Taken (20th Century Fox) – $5.8 million -42%
6. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) – $3.7 million -34%
7. He’s Just Not That Into You (New Line/WB) – $3.6 million -41%
8. Coraline (Focus Features) – $3.4 million -35%
9. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Disney/Touchstone) – $2.5 million -40%
10. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (20th Century Fox) – $2.0 million -57%
For the third year in a row, the old adage about March coming in like a lion will prove true, as another comic book movie is looking to defy all expectations and possibly set a few records as Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (Warner Bros.) becomes the first new movie in a month to get a release into over 3,000 theaters nationwide. With a similar R-rating and cast of little-knowns as Snyder’s record-setting sophomore effort 300, also based on a graphic novel, Snyder will essentially be competing against his own current March box office record as he tries to surpass the $70 million opening of the Greek war epic. There’s a lot of things going for his adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ award-winning graphic novel, and only a few things going against it, but being the only new movie of the weekend and the first one in a long time geared specifically towards guys, we expect it to do far better opening weekend than some might expect, though it’s just as likely to tail off quickly as non-comic-readers start to realize this isn’t 300 Part II. You can read our full in-depth analysis of this long-anticipated project below.
As far as the other returning movies, there’s some question about how many theaters some of them might lose to make way for Watchmen, especially the movies like Taken and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Either way, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire looks to move into second place as it continues to capitalize on the phenomenon it’s become since sweeping the Oscars a few weeks back, and there’s plenty of room for counter-programming geared towards women and families with children.
Last March kicked off with Roland Emmerich’s post-prehistoric action adventure 10,000 B.C. (Warner Bros.), which brought in just under $36 million in business its opening weekend in 3,410 theaters, though it would go onto make less than $100 million. Martin Lawrence starred in his second movie of the year with Disney’s College Road Trip, which brought in a disappointing $13.6 million for second place. Jason Statham starred in his first of three movies for 2009, the slightly lower-key crime thriller The Bank Job (Lionsgate), which opened in fourth place with just under $6 million in 1,603 theaters, although it would generate enough positive word-of-mouth to sustain its business over the next few weeks. The top 10 grossed roughly $87 million, and since Watchmen will probably make a good percentage of that on its own, we can expect this to be the seventh or eighth successive week where the box office is up from last year.
Watchmen (Warner Bros.)
Starring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead); Written by David Hayter (X-Men, X2), Alex Tse (upcoming The Illustrated Man and Frankie Machine)
Genre: Superhero, Drama, Action, Thriller
Plot Summary: As nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia seems imminent, someone is killing superheroes and the remaining crimefighting Watchmen–Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman) and the vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley)–must try to find out who is trying to discredit or kill all superheroes. They discover a conspiracy that may involve their colleagues Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode).
(Note: At the time of this writing, the Weekend Warrior has not seen the movie as of yet, so this analysis is done purely on the basis of auxiliary promotional materials.)
By now, everyone reading this probably already knows this movie is coming out, they know that it’s directed by Zack Snyder, the “visionary director of 300” (according to Warner Bros. marketing), and that it’s based on a famous graphic novel first released 20 years ago. In fact, there’s probably very little that anyone needs to know about the movie, because just by the basis that you’re reading this, you’re probably already planning on seeing it sometime this weekend. And yet, it seems like such an amazing phenomenon-in-the-making that it’s hard to not get a more in-depth into why it might do so well this weekend.
After all, it is a pretty amazing story, the way that this movie finally came to the big screen after years of development hell as prestigious filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass have struggled with developing it for years before Snyder proved to Warner Bros. that it was worth their time and investment to give it another go. Snyder was 20 years old in 1986 when British comic writer Alan Moore and his frequent collaborator Dave Gibbons pitched a 12-issue mini-series to DC Comics that set out to redefine the superhero. The story was well ahead of its time and for the past two decades, the comics have been collected and reprinted endlessly by DC Comics and been a mainstay in comic shops and bookstores, even winning a prestigious Hugo Award (the only graphic novel to do so) and being included in many lists of the best novels ever, as well as introducing many readers to the graphic novel medium. In the over 20 years since its initial release, it certainly has become a phenomenon in the comic business, one that’s been plagued with problems as many studios have considered it “unfilmable.”
We’ll now jump forward 20 years and the release of Zack Snyder’s 300, his follow-up to the horror remake Dawn of the Dead a few years earlier. There was a lot of interest and anticipation, but no one could expect that it would turn into such a huge phenomenon despite all of the odds stacked against it, such as its R rating and cast of mostly unknowns. On top of that, Warner Bros. lost a lot of money years earlier when Oliver Stone’s Alexander tanked, so most would assume that no one would be interested in another historic battle epic. It’s into that environment where Snyder’s 300 opened in March (a notoriously bad month for big movies) two years ago, defying all odds by making nearly $71 million its opening weekend, boosted greatly by the attraction of the movie being screened in IMAX. The success in the latter format has made it almost a mainstay for Warner Bros.’ bigger tentpole releases, as well as those by other studios.
Almost right after 300 opened, it was announced that Snyder would develop a movie based on Watchmen and two years later, that movie is ready to go. The big difference is that while 300 was based on a generally unknown graphic novel by Frank Miller, Watchmen is based on a hugely popular and widely-read graphic novel that’s considered by comic book fans and even literary experts as one of the finest examples that the graphic novel medium has to offer. (This writer respectfully disagrees with that analysis for reasons we’ll save for another time.)
While 300 proved that the star power in your cast doesn’t make that big a difference when it comes to highly-anticipated event movies, Snyder is going to try to further that theory with his latest which features a cast of talented actors who’ve mainly appeared in smaller movies and studio movies in different genres. Oddly, the majority of the cast have been appearing in movies for years, though you’d be hard-pressed to find a comic fan familiar with any of them.
For instance, if you were familiar with a little-seen Oscar-nominated drama called Little Children from Todd Field, you might already be familiar with Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II) and Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), the latter who received his first Oscar nomination with a performance that many considered a comeback. (20 years earlier, Haley was somewhat of a teen heartthrob from appearing in movies like Bad News Bears and Breaking Away.) Oddly, sexy blonde Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II) has probably achieved the most success in studios movies, having co-starred in last year’s hit romantic comedy 27 Dresses, following her co-starring role in Ben Stiller’s R-rated bomb The Heartbreak Kid. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) also has a Katherine Heigl connection, having starred on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and his own movie output includes the romantic comedy P.S. I Love You. Matthew Goode has done his share of romantic movies beginning in 2004 with the Mandy Moore bomb Chasing Liberty followed by the Britcom Imagine Me & You and last year’s Brideshead Revisited. Veteran indie actor Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) also appears in the movie but good luck recognizing him, since he’s essentially performing as the giant blue CG Dr. Manhattan. The point is that while all of these actors have done interesting things, much like Gerard Butler, only Morgan might get recognized if he were to walk down the street, and the success of the movie will only up all of their Q-ratings.
Comic book movies have generally become big business in recent years, which may be why a studio finally decided to give it a shot despite the difficulty in the material, being much edgier than normal superhero comics due its graphic violence and sexuality. Watchmen clearly isn’t Fantastic Four or X-Men, since it’s definitely more of an adult superhero story, which is why Snyder knew immediately that he’d have to keep it rated R rather than diluting the source material to make it appeal to a broader audience including teens. Surely, some younger comic book readers in their teens will probably want to see it anyway and they’ll have to figure out clever ways of getting in to see it, but there are fortunately enough college-age and older comic fans who are very excited by this movie and other than Fox’s Taken and various horror remakes, they haven’t really had much to see in the past month.
Watchmen isn’t the first Alan Moore comic book work to make it to the big screen though, as his Jack the Ripper graphic novel From Hell was adapted by the Hughes Brothers as a Johnny Depp vehicle in 2001 to limited success. It was considered by fans of the graphic novel to be horrid, but not quite the abomination that was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a few years later. That one did exactly what Snyder has done his best to avoid: taking Moore’s concept and trying to turn it into X-Men. Warner Bros.’ Constantine in 2005 wasn’t exactly based on an Alan Moore work, though he did create the character and introduce him in “The Saga of the Swamp Thing,” and Keanu Reeve’s take on the character grossed $75 million. A year later, Warner Bros. achieved similar success with a movie based on Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s earlier graphic novel V For Vendetta. Even so, Moore had such a bad experience dealing with Hollywood on his earlier works that he literally has wiped his hands clean of any movies based on his works, asking to not receive credit or money from the movies’ profits. This might be the one time where he regrets it if Watchmen makes as much money as we think it will.
And then there’s the lawsuit. Any time you have a project like this one that’s been in development for so many years, someone is bound to come out of the woodwork and say they had the idea first. In this case, it was 20th Century Fox, who owned the original rights to make a movie based on Moore and Gibbons’ graphic novel and came forward to sue Warner Bros. on Christmas Eve last year. The judge decided that Fox had a legitimate case and there were concerns about the movie being delayed, but things were resolved, hopefully to everyone’s satisfaction, and Warner Bros. was able to get back on track with promoting the movie.
The question is whether a movie based on what many consider Moore’s greatest work will have any sort of interest for anyone besides comic fans. Certainly, the interest and buzz for the movie outside comic circles clearly began when the first teaser was attached to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight last July, which would go onto become Warner Bros.’ biggest blockbuster hit, grossing over $500 million. A few weeks later after The Dark Knight, Snyder showed more footage to the packed Hall H at Comic-Con International to an even more excited audience. That officially kicked off the next wave in the Warner Bros. hype machine which has been in overdrive since a year earlier when Snyder attended the con to run a few victory laps for the premiere of the DVD release of 300.
An important thing to bear in mind is that Watchmen is not 300 by any stretch of the imagination, and while it’s great that Snyder finally got this movie made after so many other directors have tried and failed, there’s a reason why it’s been so hard to bring it to the screen. One of the reasons 300 became such a huge event movie was because the premise was able to appeal to such a vast audience. Besides the Frank Miller and comic book fans, there was also the jocks who saw the Spartan’s battle as a great team-building movie, while plenty of women and gay men just wanted to ogle all the chiseled actors and stunt men in their minimal uniforms. (It’s true!) Certainly those looking for an action-packed superhero movie might be able to get some of that, but this is a serious, politically-minded film for intelligent moviegoers similar to V For Vendetta, and that movie didn’t exactly make huge waves. By its very nature, Watchmen won’t have nearly as much appeal to women as 300, though without any counter-programming offered (see below), we might see a few women convinced to see it. (Maybe they’ll be attracted to the thought of a giant blue naked man, who knows?)
Even though Watchmen is relying almost entirely on the diehard comic book audience to drive its business, their enthusiasm has certainly spilled over to others via osmosis to make Watchmen as much of a must-see event movie as 300. If you attended any of this year’s big comic conventions, you would have experienced inordinately packed houses to see footage from the movie even though it was only a month away, and Warner Bros. has been building anticipation by releasing a lot of auxiliary material like digital comics (arriving on DVD Tuesday) and a separate animated movie based on the mythic “Tales of the Black Freighter” which ran through the original graphic novel. There have also been gallery showings and other events in various cities building anticipation much like the viral campaigns for The Dark Knight.
Unfortunately, the early teasers and commercials haven’t been great, generally received with apathy from regular moviegoers, as much as they’ve been gushed over by comic book fans. At times, it almost seemed like the more that Warner Bros. showed of the movie, the less people became interested. With that in mind, Warner Bros. have done their best to keep this movie close to vest, and while they were able to get some glowing reviews from fanboy sites like CHUD and AICN, a few of the real critics and reviewers from the trades who’ve seen it have been less than enamored by the film. Who knows how much of that is due to what’s on screen and not understanding the source material?
Even so, Watchmen is the only movie opening in wide release this week, as well as the first movie in weeks to open in over 3,500 theaters. In many movie markets, Snyder’s magnum opus will not only be the first choice for many but the ONLY new choice in weeks. These two things alone are a sure sign of a strong opening since no other studio has had the b*lls to put another movie up against Snyder’s latest. There’s certainly room for counter-programming, much like Mamma Mia! offered to The Dark Knight, because Watchmen holds very little interest to most women, but even Fox moved their Sandra Bullock romantic comedy All About Steve to allow Watchmen to grab more screens. (It’s kind of ironic when you realize that Bullock’s most successful movies were for Warner Bros.)
Oh, did we mention that Watchmen, like so many other big event movies, is opening in IMAX theaters across the country? Okay, we just did. As of Monday, Fandango was reporting that ticket sales for Watchmen was making up 61% of their advance purchases, and although it’s hard to put any sort of monetary number on that, one can expect that by Thursday, that percentage will probably be closer to 90% or more.
The only other thing really working against the movie is its long running time, which is roughly 2 hours and 40 minutes, following in the footsteps of movies like Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It won’t make that much of a difference in terms of number of screenings, since the bigger multiplexes will get enough prints to make sure they have regular showings throughout the day. Without any competition or counter-programming, they’ll have as many screens they need to meet the demand for the movie.
With all that in mind, we’re probably looking at an enormous Friday opening in the range of $30 million or just under, including the ubiquitous Thursday midnight screenings, and then it’s all downhill from there unless comic book fans love it enough to drag their non-comic reading friends to see it.
Why I Should See It: Even those who have never read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ groundbreaking graphic novel are aware of its influences on the medium and on comic book creators today. There will be a lot of interest in the movie both among diehard comic readers and those hoping to find out why everyone has made such a big deal about this graphic novel for over two decades.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
12 (Sony Pictures Classics)
It’s not often that you see a Russian film appear in this highly prestigious position, but like the Polish film Katyn, our “Chosen One” a couple weeks back, this is a foreign film that was clearly good enough to get into the final 5 at the Oscars in the Foreign Language category a few years back. Like that movie, it was picked up for distribution but then sat on the shelf until long after it might have benefited from its Oscar nomination, something we’ve seen happen far too often.
As I waited patiently for it to get released, I never even realized that Mikhalov’s film was essentially a remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic 12 Angry Men, this time transplanted into post-Communist Russia, dealing with a Chechen boy on trial for the murder of a Russian officer. For what is essentially a courtroom drama that takes place completely outside of court, the film is surprisingly light-hearted, especially as the men explore the environment in which they’ll be sequestered as they deliberate. Essentially, these 12 very different men from different backgrounds have to come to a unanimous decision to convict or free the boy, and while at first it seems simple enough, there is one dissenting vote that makes things more difficult. The men share personal stories of their own pasts and we learn more about their personalities and why they find the boy guilty–for some, it’s a matter of pure racism–though as the deliberations progress, more men start shifting over to the other man’s way of thinking.
For what is essentially an ensemble piece starring 12 actors who are virtually unknown in this country, Mikhalov does an impressive job maintaining the viewer’s interest over the movie’s two-and-a-half hour running time. If nothing else, it’s an interesting character study, much like the original, one that shows off a lot of talent as each actor has their own moment in the spotlight to give a stirring soliloquy. I’ll admit that I did start to doze off during a few of the stories, but the movie is far from just a boring talking heads movie, as their deliberations are interspersed with flashbacks to the boy’s past trying to survive in Chechnya during the war between the Russians and the rebels. These flashbacks allow for a number of terrific set pieces including a shootout between two buildings as the boy looks on, and some impressive foot and knife-juggling work that epitomizes the Chechen way of life despite the war and death all around them. Throughout the film, Mikhalov continually finds new and creative ways to film 12 men talking in a room that keeps things moving briskly, and ultimately, it’s a strong piece of filmmaking that probably bears repeat viewing, even though the running time alone requires some breathing time to absorb what you’ve watched.
Mikhalov’s film opens on Wednesday exclusive at the Film Forum in New York.
Rendezvous with French Cinema (Film Society of Lincoln Center) Following hot on the heels of their “Film Comment Selects” series, the Film Society of Lincoln Center are kicking off another popular film series this weekend with their look at some of the latest films from out of France. Now I’m not a huge fan of French cinema myself, only finding a few things that truly thrill or excite me a few times a year, but there’s no denying that the country continues to produce some of the finest dramas and comedies that are generally as far removed from what is coming out of Hollywood as can be. And yet, we see more and more French films being remade by Hollywood showing us that there are many clever ideas coming out of there. “Rendezvous” is a fine example of the latest in French films, some which haven’t even been released there yet.
The festival kicks off tomorrow night with Paris 36, a wonderful period musical from Christophe Barratier (The Chorus), based around the eccentric inhabitants of a pre-WWII music hall who rebuild it after it’s closed down by a local mobster. It’s a good old-fashioned movie musical like the ones they made at MGM but with such interesting characters and great performances all around, and you’ll likely fall in love with the songs by Reinhardt Wagner, written in the old style of the ’30s. Definitely keep an eye out for the talented Nora Arnezeder (you can’t miss her) as the theater’s beautiful young ingenue Douce, who splits her time between the mobster backing the company and a young stagehand played by Maxence Perrin.
That said, the film I’m most excited about people in this country seeing is Jean-François Richet’s crime epic Mesrine starring Vincent Cassel as the infamous French bank robber, dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1.” Having just won three coveted French Cesar Awards last week, the Film Society are screening both chapters of the four-and-a-half hour biopic (separately and back-to-back) months before its release in this country by Senator Distribution in August.
Martin Provost’s Seraphine (Music Box), about the eccentric French artist Séraphine Louis who was institutionalized before she received acclaim in the art world, is currently basking in the seven Cesar Awards it won last week, including one for actress Yolande Moreau who gives another amazing performance as the title character. It’s a slow-moving film that’s probably more like Ed Harris’ Pollack than other biopics, but it’s a lovely and moving story. After screening at “Rendezvous” on March 6 and 8, the film will be released theatrically by Music Box Films in June.
Another film that already has distribution from Magnolia Pictures is Anne Fontaine’s The Girl From Monaco, starring Fabrice Luchini as a lawyer who travels to Monaco to defend a client in a dangerous case, only to become enamored by a pretty weathergirl. Featuring music from the Scottish group Tindersticks, Claire Denis’ new movie 35 Shots of Rum, about a single father who has to let his daughter follow her heart, will also play at the festival on March 13 and 15.
I’m sure there are plenty of other hidden gems among the films shown there, and every year I wish I had more time to discover them at this program, rather than waiting for their theatrical releases, but Film Society generally has a pretty good track record for picking winners.
Films in the series will screen both at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center downtown. Unfortunately, a lot of the screenings being held at the Walter Reade Theater have already sold out, but it’s always worthwhile to try to show up early and get on the standby line.
We’ll have interviews with Cassel and Richet later this week, and one with Christophe Barratier closer to his film’s release in early April.
Also in Limited Release:
Tokyo! (Vitagraph Films) – Three filmmakers–Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-Ho (The Host)–tackle short films set in the capitol of Japan in this quirky anthology. Gondry’s “Interior Design” involves a young couple trying to make it in Tokyo while having to crash with a friend who gets frustrated the longer they stay with her. Carax’s “Merde” involves a bizarre creature living in the Tokyo sewers who causes great mayhem whenever he comes out into the public. In “Shaking Tokyo,” Bong Joon-Ho looks at a local phenomenon called “hikikomori,” agoraphobic shut-ins who never leave their homes and one such man who falls in love with a pizza delivery girl who faints in his flat. The odd anthology opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine and in L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Everlasting Moments (IFC Films) – Oscar-winning Swedish director Jan Troell returns with this film set in the turn of century about a working class mother (Maria Heiskanen) trying to raise five kids while her boorish and abusive husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt). When she’s given a job at a camera shop by the charming owner (Jesper Christensen), her love for photography puts her into conflict with the father of her children who feels that women should not hold jobs. Submitted as Sweden’s Oscar choice but snubbed by the nominating committee, Troell’s film opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Explicit Ills (Peace Arch Entertainment) – Paul Dano, Rosario Dawson and Lou Taylor Pucci star in actor Mark Webber’s directorial debut that involves four interlocking stories about eccentric characters living in Philadelphia. It opens at the Angelika Film Center in New York on Friday, in Philly on March 13 and then in L.A. on March 20.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Fados (New Yorker Films) – The third film in Carlos (Flamenco, Tango) Saura’s musical trilogy focuses on the music of Lisbon, Portugal that’s heavily influenced by the music of Africa and Brazil. With performances by some of the country’s greatest acts involved with the genre, the musical film opens in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, and sadly, it may be the last theatrical release from New Yorker Films.
The Horsemen (Lionsgate) – Dennis Quaid stars in music video director Jonas Akerlund’s horror-thriller as Aidan Breslin, a widower detective investigating a series of four violent murders that seem to tie into the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as written about in the bible: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. No, I’m not quite sure why they didn’t call this movie “4our” either, but it’s getting a minimal limited release ala The Midnight Meat Train before its DVD release.
Phoebe in Wonderland (Capitol/THINKFilm) Elle Fanning stars in Daniel Barnz’s coming-of-age drama that revolves around a strange young girl named Phoebe and her desire to take part in the school’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” While she gets support from the drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson), her parents (Bill Pullman, Felicity Huffman) have troubles dealing with Phoebe’s outbursts as the stress of the play causes her to behave more erratically. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Reunion – Alan Hruska’s indie ensemble drama looks at a group of smart, successful people from a Yale secret society who meet years after graduation to talk about who they’ve become since graduating after receiving an enigmatic letter from an old friend that opens old wounds as past secrets are revealed. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas.
Sherman’s Way (Starry Night Entertainment) – Michael Shulman and James Le Gros stars in Craig Saavedra and Tom Nance’s road trip comedy about a young, uptight law student named Sherman (Shulman) who finds himself driving across country with a washed-up athlete (Le Gros) in order to get down to Beverly Hills law firm for an internship. Having just won an Audience Award at Cinequest, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
13B (Big Pictures) – Vikram Kumar’s supernatural thriller about a television that starts to take control over the lives of a man’s family who have just moved into a new home.
Next week, a bunch of movies will open trying to take down Watchmen, the one with the best chance of doing so being Disney’s reinvention of Race to Witch Mountain starring Dwayne Johnson. Also, Wes Craven continues to remake all of his classic horror films with The Last House on the Left (Rogue/Universal), while the stars of IFC’s “The Whitest Kids U’Know ” take on raunchy humor in Miss March (Fox Searchlight).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas