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.
Apologies that this week’s column is later than normal, and probably the latest we’ve ever been.
Before we get to the first of the big summer movies, I just want to give a quick plug for Rod Lurie’s Nothing But the Truth, starring Kate Beckinsale, which is out now on DVD and can be ordered on Amazon. It was one of my favorite movies of last year and sadly, it got lost in the shuffle of its distributor filing Chapter 11, being given a negligible platform release for one week with barely any advertising or promotion. I’m happy to see that people outside of New York, L.A. and Toronto will finally have a chance to see Lurie’s film, which takes a hard look at the world of political journalism and standing up for one’s rights to protect their source. It features great performances from Beckinsale, Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon and Alan Alda.
(UPDATE: Guess what? We’re keeping everything exactly the same with the exception of Monsters vs. Aliens which lost more theaters than we were expecting. Oh, and Battle For Terra will probably be closer to $2 million.)
1. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox) – $92.3 million N/A
2. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB) – $23.2 million N/A
3. Obsessed (Screen Gems) – $12.0 million -58%
4. Earth (Disneynature) – $5.5 million -38%
5. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) – $5.5 million -52%
6. The Soloist (DreamWorks) – $5.4 million -45%
7. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $4.8 million -42% (down .2 million)
8. Fighting (Rogue Pictures) – $4.6 million -58%
9. State of Play (Universal) – $3.6 million -47%
10. Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney) – $3.0 million -53%
— Battle for Terra (Roadside Attractions) – $1.9 million N/A (up .2 million)
The start of the summer seems to have come early and unfortunately, the Weekend Warrior has found himself buried so deep in the Tribeca Film Festival that we’ll have to make this a slightly-abbreviated column if we’re going to get to some of the other things planned for this week.
Regardless, this weekend will see the summer explode right out of the gate by what’s expected to be one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, the superhero prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox), starring Hugh Jackman. The Australian actor has become a huge star thanks to his portrayal of the popular Marvel Comics character in three “X-Men” movies, the last two grossing over $200 million, and Wolverine is clearly the star that comic book fans and superhero movie geeks love. The question this weekend will be whether a highly-publicized leak of a workprint last month, one that’s been seen by at least a million viewers already, might seriously affect the summer’s kick-off action movie. If not for the early leak, Wolverine would have easily opened over $100 million, but that’s not as positive now, and it might have to settle for slightly less before dive-bombing next weekend against J.J. Abrams’ relaunch of Star Trek, which has been generating far better buzz.
Offering the obligatory superhero counter-programming this weekend is the high concept romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB), which pits Matthew McConaughey against Jennifer Garner. The former is much more popular among women than the latter, and the question is whether taking what would be a typical romantic comedy and putting it into the plot of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” will allow Matthew McConaughey’s latest to continue his strong run of comedies geared mainly towards womenthe gender who are quickly becoming one of the most dependable at the box office, going by movies released last month.
That’s essentially the Top 2, followed by Screen Gems’ Obsessed, which should drop sharply to second place, and after that, it’s a bit of a mess with four or five movies that should end up in the $4 to 6 million range.
This weekend last year saw the opening of what would become one of the biggest movies of 2008, Marvel Studios’ live action Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., which made $102 million its opening weekend, including an estimated $3.5 million in Thursday pre-screenings, and then another $98.6 million over the weekend. It ended up grossing $318 million, becoming the second highest grossing film of last year just behind Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight, but ahead of Paramount’s other big summer tentpole, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which opened a few weeks later. As counter-programming, Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan starred in the romantic comedy Made of Honor (Sony), which opened in second place with a respectable $14.8 million. Despite a number of big drop-offs, the Top 10 grossed $151.8 million, and it shouldn’t be a big surprise if this week’s combo is able to surpass that amount, since one should expect that Ghosts of Girlfriends Past will do better than the corresponding counterprogramming last year.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox)
Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch, Will.i.am, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Daniel Henney, Lynn Collins
Directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition); Written by David Benioff (Troy, The Kite Runner, The 25th Hour), Skip Woods (Hitman, Swordfish)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Plot Summary: Having lived his entire life as a mutant, Logan nee James Howlett aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) succumbs himself to the experimental Weapon X program to give him an advantage in seeking revenge against his older brother Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), who killed his great love, Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins).
Review (Held Until Friday)
When you look at the blockbuster movies coming out this summer, this prequel to the “X-Men” superhero trilogy which has grossed $1.1 billion worldwide (and about half that amount domestically) is certainly one that’s going to get a lot of attention, not only because of its blockbuster pedigree, but also because it’s the first big release of the summer movie season, something that greatly helps its chances at exposure. That was certainly the case with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man back in 2002, which set a new opening record with $114 million. A year later, 20th Century Fox used the first weekend of May to release Bryan Singer’s X2 and it opened with $85 million, proving that launching the summer box office was a great way to bring fans of superhero action movies out to theaters.
For over thirty years, Wolverine has been one of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters, only after Spider-Man, and while he always played a large part in the various “X-Men” comic books, he also headlined a number of his own solo series, while often appearing in other comic books to help boost their sales. There is little question that spinning the character as played by Hugh Jackman off into his own movie is a brilliant move, especially in that Wolverine’s origin in comics has been so convoluted and spread out over dozens of comics that making a movie version is a great way to condense it.
When X-Men opened in the summer of 2000, it was a very different time, being that it was the first modern feature film based on a Marvel Comic character. This was before Spider-Man and the two “Fantastic Four” movies. Australian actor Hugh Jackman was an unknown at the time, but his ability to portray Marvel’s Canadian anti-hero quickly got him attention, and now, X-Men Origins: Wolverine will be the third time that Jackman has opened the summer, the first time with the X-Men sequel and then a year later, he starred in Stephen Sommers action flick Van Helsing, which got horrendous reviews and opened with $51 million before tanking in the weeks that followed. In the last few years, Jackman has been everywhere, whether it’s in epics like Baz Lurhman’s Australia opposite Nicole Kidman, or hosting prominent awards shows like the Tonys and more importantly, the Oscars earlier this year, the latter which surely upped his popularity among a wide range of movie lovers. The good thing about Jackman is that he’s generally liked equally by both guys and women, both young and old, so him starring in a movie like this certainly helps make it appeal to mass audiences and not just the younger guys or comic fans.
Jackman has great support this time around in actor Liev Schreiber, who has done a lot of serious dramas like the recent WWII drama Defiance with Daniel Craig. Schreiber takes over for Tyler Mane as Sabretooth, Wolverine’s arch-nemesis and the character that most comic book fans will want to see play a large part in Wolverine’s origin story. There’s just as much interest in seeing what Ryan Reynolds can do with Wade Wilson aka Deadpool, the “Merc with a Mouth,” although it’s a much smaller role in the movie than some might realize. The younger version of Brian Cox’s Stryker from X2 is played by Danny Huston (30 Days of Night, The Aviator) while the film also introduces popular mutants like The Blob (Kevin Durand from 3:10 to Yuma) and Gambit (“Friday Night Lights” star Taylor Kitsch). Other mutants are played by Dominic Monaghan, formerly of “Lost,” and Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am.
This prequel is helmed by South African filmmaker Gavin Hood, who won an Oscar for his film Tsotsi a few years back, before helming the New Line political thriller bomb Rendition, starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal. Although he doesn’t have nearly the name recognition factor among movie geeks as Sam Raimi or Bryan Singer did when they took on their first Marvel movies, people might be surprised by the results as they’ll be going in with lower expectations.
One might think that one of the biggest things going against this prequel opening as big as the last few “X-Men” movies is the fact that a pirate copy of the movie leaked on the internet nearly a month before the movie’s release, and it’s reportedly already been seen by a million or more people. This is actually a double-edged sword, because one might expect they wouldn’t then pay to see it in theaters, but it also helped get the movie a lot of attention at a time when it needs it. (The same thing happened with Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, but the movie still opened with over $60 million despite negative buzz about the movie before opening.) The thing is that enough people who may have seen the pirate version will probably still want to see the movie in a theater with an audience because that’s the best way to see popcorn movies. To try to get those who might have already seen the movie into theatres, Fox announced that there will be special Easter egg endings on the movie after the credits that weren’t on the leaked workprint.
An even odder circumstance that might affect the movie’s opening is the sudden Swine Flu pandemic that hit our country earlier this week, something that might scare some people away from going to the movie theatres, particularly in places like L.A. and Texas. Even bearing that in mind, it’s hard to believe that moviegoers who’ve been itching for the big summer movies will let something like that scare them away. (At this point, ticket sales for Wolverine make up 65% of Fandango’s sales, which is a very strong showing.)
Why I Should See It: Hugh Jackman kicked ass as Logan/Wolverine in the three previous “X-Men” movies and this time, the spotlight is focused squarely on his character.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Emma Stone, Michael Douglas
Directed by Mark S. Waters (Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, Just Like Heaven, The Spiderwick Chronicles); Written by Scott Moore, (Four Christmases, The Hangover, Full of It, Rebound) John Lucas
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Tagline: “You can’t always run from your past.”
Plot Summary: Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey) is a womanizing photographer who has wooed literally thousands of women, swearing to never settle down, but he starts to think otherwise when he returns home for the wedding of his younger brother (Breckin Meyer) and is reunited with his former childhood sweetheart Jenny (Jennifer Garner). Connor tries to play things cool but soon, he’s visited by the ghost of his philandering Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas) and the ghosts of past girlfriends who aim to set Connor straight.
Review (Held Until Friday)
With every big summer action movie that’s presumably geared mainly towards guys, there generally comes some form of counter-programming for the ladies, especially now that the fairer sex is considered to be one of the more profitable demographics at the box office. (And if you don’t believe me, look at the last three weeks of #1 movies: Hannah Montana, 21 Again and Obsessed and try to figure out how many guys have seen any of them.)
The good thing about romantic comedies are they’re relatively cheap to make and if you have a halfway decent premise or concept, they’re just as easy to sell. Something like Bride Wars earlier this year practically sold itself based on the stars and premise, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past takes a known story, that of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and uses it as the basis for comedy and romance. What’s odd about this New Line production is that it was in development at Disney, originally to star Ben Affleck and be directed by Betty Thomas, but it fell apart and was put into turnaround before New Line picked it up as a vehicle for Matthew McConaughey with Mark Waters directing. Previously, Waters directed Reese Witherspoon’s similarly ghostly rom-com Just Like Heaven, but that wasn’t a very big hit compared to his earlier with Lindsay Lohan at the height of her fame in both in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Ghosts returns him to the realm of romance after helming last year’s fantasy film The Spiderwick Chronicles.
McConaughey has now headlined four romantic comedies that have grossed more than $60 million. His road to women’s hearts began when he was paired with Jennifer Lopez in her hit The Wedding Planner, but his pairing with Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days two years later led to a $100 million hit, and his 2006 comedy Failure to Launch with Sarah Jessica Parker also did very well. Last year, McConaughey was reteamed with Hudson for the romantic adventure Fool’s Gold which grossed $71 million despite horrendous reviews. That’s four movies, four hits, and it’s pretty clear that McConaughey is an actor who can star in this kind of movie and bring in a certain amount of audience.
This time, McConaughey is teamed with actress Jennifer Garner a.k.a. Mrs. Ben Affleck, whose biggest hit oddly enough, is the superhero movie Daredevil in which she met Affleck. That was followed by her own high concept rom-com hit 13 Going on 30, which grossed $56 million, which in turn was followed by two bombs (Elektra and Catch and Release). Fortunately, Garner did have a key role in the hit indie Juno, although her role in the film may have been slightly overshadowed by Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning screenplay and the performance by Ellen Page.
Another key draw for the movie will be the presence of Michael Douglas, an actor who probably needs no introduction, but he plays McConaughey’s mentor, a Bob Evans type womanizing ghost. Douglas has had mixed results when doing comedies in recent years with bombs like One Night at McCool’s, The In-Laws and It Runs in the Family, and they were only countered by one relative comedy hit with You, Me and Dupree. The actual Ghost of Girlfriends Past is played by a glammed-down Emma Stone, who has had breakout roles in big comedies like Superbad and The House Bunny.
The movie has a lot of elements that will appeal to a wide variety of women, both young and old. Besides the “Christmas Carol” theme, it also takes place in and around a wedding, giving it a similar edge as New Line’s hit comedy Wedding Crashers, and then of course, there’s the cast, the humor and the romance, all of which will make this a good choice for women this weekend, similar to last year’s Four Christmases. One shoudn’t just assume that women won’t be interested in this week’s other choice, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and one shouldn’t discount that Hugh Jackman is just as much of a draw with ladies as McConaughey. They may be just as tempted to see the action movie once it gets out that Jackman has a couple nude scenes. (Then again, Jackman showing some skin didn’t really help Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, so women may just go for the sure thing.)
Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of other romantic comedies opening over the next few weeks to kill this movie’s legs. While Angels & Demons will certainly be of interest to many women, next week’s Star Trek won’t be something they’ll care to see, which should help Ghosts of Girlfriends Past have decent legs, much like last year’s similarly high concept What Happens in Vegas.
Why I Should See It: If you’re into romantic comedies and “A Christmas Carol,” this movie is pretty much what it looks like.
Battle for Terra (Roadside Attractions)
Starring (voices of) Justin Long, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Amanda Peet, James Garner, Dennis Quaid, Chris Evans, Danny Glover
Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas (Visual FX artist for Titanic and Hellboy); Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos
Genre: Animation, Sci-Fi,
Tagline: “They are coming”
Plot Summary: Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is a rebellious teen on the peaceful planet of Terra that is invaded by human beings trying to find a new planet to colonize after earth has been destroyed. Mala ends up finding and befriending an injured human pilot (voiced by Luke Wilson) and the two of them try to work together to end the war and convince their races to live together peacefully.
There isn’t much to say about this CG animated film which premiered at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival except that it’s another attempt to capitalize on the popularity of CG animation and the 3D phenomenon. It’s a relatively small, low budget film from a former Visual FX artist, who has assembled quite an impressive voice cast for his sci-fi tale. Unfortunately, that was also the case with the long-in-production independently-released Delgo, which opened last December in over 2,000 theaters and grossed roughly $500 thousand total. This one is getting about half that many theatres and it’s not even going to be 3D in all the locations playing it, maybe because theater owners want to save their digital screens for the bigger summer epics. This might bring in a tiny bit of business being that it’s the only new family film, but if Star Wars: the Clone Wars could only make $35 million this summer despite being based on a hugely popular franchise, it’s doubtful this one could make a tenth that amount.
Sorry, no “Chosen One” this week either, since we haven’t really had time to see many of this week’s movies. There are a couple we may try to review later in the week.
The Limits of Control (Focus Features) – Jim Jarmusch returns with an enigmatic crime-drama starring Isaach De Bankolé (Night on Earth, Ghost Dog) as a mysterious loner who interacts with various odd characters in his desire to complete an enigmatic mission. The film which opens in select cities this weekend includes appearances by Tilda Swinton, Gael Garcia Bernal, Hiam Abbass, Bill Murray, Paz De La Huerta and Youki Kudho.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Anchor Bay) – Michael Douglas stars in Peter (End of Days, A Sound of Thunder) Hyams’ remake of the 1956 film noir thriller in which a writer sets himself up for murder in order to expose a corrupt district attorney, but it takes an unexpected turn. It opens in select cities.
Home (Monterey Media) – Marcia Gay Harden and her real-life daughter Eulala Scheel co-star in Mary Haverstick’s drama about a poet who hopes to buy a house that reminds her of her childhood while recovering from breast cancer, but doesn’t get the support from her husband that she finds in her 8-year-old daughter. It opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday.
The Merry Gentleman (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Michael Keaton makes his directorial debut and stars in this romantic crime comedy about an assassin named Frank Logan who finds solace when he meets shy and reserved woman (Kelly MacDonald) trying to escape an abusive relationship. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Three Monkeys (New Yorker Films) – This Turkish drama from Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates) about a politician who pays off his chauffeur to take the rap for a hit and run accident, causing problems within the driver’s already tormented family life. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday.
Revanche (Janus Films) – This Austrian Oscar-nominated crime drama from Gotz Spielmann about a bank robbery gone wrong which forces the perpetrator to hide out on his grandfather’s farm, a plan that takes a dangerous turn opens at the IFC Center in New York as well as in Boston and Seattle on Friday.
The Skeptic (IFC First Take) – Tennyson Bardwell’s thriller stars Tim Daly as Bryan Becket, a lawyer who moves into his late aunt’s house, which she always claimed was haunted, but when odd things start to happen around him, he must put aside his skepticism to solve the mystery behind the voices. It opens on Friday at the IFC Center in New York, as well as in L.A. and Albany, but debuts on IFC’s video-on-demand on Wednesday.
A Wink and a Smile (First Run Features) – Deirdre Allen Timmons’ documentary follows ten women who set out to learn the art of striptease and burlesque at Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque. It’s opening in New York at the Quad (opens in L.A. on June 12) but it’s not to be confused with…
Naked Ambition (Lantern Lane Entertainment) This documentary by celebrity photographer Michael Grecco looks at the mainstreaming of the adult entertainment industry, as he tries to assemble the coffee table book of the same name, filled with pictures from the annual Adult Video News Awards, known as “the Oscars of Porn.” It opens at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and Monica 4-plex in L.A. on Friday.
Next week, going boldly where no Star Trek has gone before, it’s J.J. Abrams’ reinvention of… Star Trek (Paramount)! Going where way too many comedies have gone before, it’s Next Day Air (Summit).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas