Box Office: Big Name Superstars Face 3D Star Wars

This weekend has the potential to be one for the record books as things pick up again following Super Bowl weekend. There should definitely be something for everyone this weekend with a number of big stars releasing new movies, which may also make it a tougher than usual weekend to call since there are so many strong offerings. Even though the Grammies are Sunday night, we don’t expect those to have too much of an effect on moviegoing since they’re different audiences, but we’re also thinking a movie might win this weekend that no one expects, so we may be going against the grain here.

One would normally write off a romantic drama like The Vow (Sony/Screen Gems) as a chick flick with a limited audience, but this one teams Rachel McAdams with Channing Tatum, the stars of two hugely successful romantic hits with The Notebook ($81 million gross) and Dear John ($80 million gross). Based on the true story of a woman who loses her memories of her husband in a car crash, this one isn’t based on a Nicholas Sparks bestseller, but it may as well be as it harks back to 1995’s While You Were Sleeping, a big hit for Sandra Bullock. Opening the weekend before Valentine’s Day (on Tuesday) when women are in a particularly romantic mood is a smart move and they should be out in force Friday and Saturday nights (either with dates or with girlfriends). The two stars have been doing the morning shows for the past weeks (as well as Tatum hosting “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend), and being the only movie with no direct competition should allow it to end up somewhere in the mid-to-high $20 millions, probably enough to win the weekend, carrying it to $75 to 80 million in business overall.

George Lucas finally brings his series of 3D “Star Wars” rereleases to theaters starting at “the beginning” with Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace 3D (20th Century Fox), unquestionably the worst movie in the six-film series, but also the one that’s the most kid-friendly, which certainly will help it bring in the same avid fans that flocked to see the movie originally, making “Phantom Menace” the highest-grossing movie in the series (not including rereleases). Lucasfilm has done this before with the Star Wars: Special Edition rerelease in 1997, which grossed $137 million, but for better or worse, this is the first time “Episode I” has been re-released in theaters since its original release in 1999. One imagines many fathers will want to experience this with their boys who were probably too young to see it in theaters 13 years ago, which should help give Lucas’ franchise new life. If one takes into account the added cost of 3D tickets, this could end up doing better than normal even though if does have competition both for guys and family audiences, which will likely keep it somewhere between $21 to 24 million for the weekend and somewhere around $70 million total.

Older guys, not thrilled by the idea of seeing “Episode I” again in ANY-D, will have the option of the action-thriller Safe House (Universal), offering the superstar pairing of Denzel Washington with Ryan Reynolds in a movie about a renegade CIA agent and a rookie who must fight off mercenaries. There’s no denying Denzel’s track record with eleven movies that opened over $20 million since 2000’s Remember the Titans and two (2007’s American Gangster and 2010’s The Book of Eli) that opened over $30 million. While Safe House is more likely to end up in the former group, it’s been over a year since the actor’s last movie Unstoppable, which means his fanbase, including undeserved urban males, should be antsy for his return. There’s very little doubt that Safe House will do well this weekend, probably opening north of $25 million, which puts it in a fight with “Star Wars” for second place. It probably will end up in the $60 to 65 million range in total though, being more frontloaded than the other movies as well.


That just leaves the 3D action-adventure Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/WB), which may be hurt by the presence of the “Star War” re-release, which is targeting the same family audience looking for action adventure. Brendan Fraser is nowhere to be found but Josh Hutcherson is joined by Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine, the former likely to have the strongest draw, but maybe not enough to convince fathers and young boys to miss the opportunity to see “Star Wars” in theaters in 3D. The original Journey to the Center of the Earth opened with $21 million and went on to gross over $100 million, boosted by the then-original idea of a 3D live action movie, and while this could bring in a mix of boys and girls, it’s more likely to be hurt by school being in session Friday and Monday. Like so many family movie sequels, we think this won’t do as well as the original, ending up somewhere in the $16 to 18 million range this weekend and probably get up to roughly $60 or 65 million or so by the time it leaves theaters.

If there’s any doubt we may be in for a big weekend, one just has to look back at this weekend last year when three movies opened over $25 million. The Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston comedy Just Go With It (Sony) won the weekend with $30.5 million just barely edging out the concert doc Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Paramount) with $29.5 million while the long-delayed animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney) brought in a surprising $25.4 million for third place. Taking a distant fourth was this week’s romantic lead Channing Tatum in Kevin Macdonald’s historic epic The Eagle (Focus Features) with $8.7 million in just under 2,300 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $128 million, a number that may be hard to match unless at least one of the new movies opens better than $30 million.

This Week’s Predictions –

UPDATE: The Vow and Safe House are both tracking very well and they’re both getting very wide releases so we should see another big weekend even compared to last year.

1. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) – $33.1 million N/A (up 4 million)

2. Safe House (Universal) – $26.2 million N/A (Up .4 million)

3. Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace 3D (20th Century Fox) – $21.5 million N/A (down .8 million)

4. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/WB) – $17.8 million N/A (up .4 million)

5. Chronicle (20th Century Fox) – $11.5 million -48%

6. The Woman in Black (CBS Films) – $10 million -52%

7. The Grey (Open Road) – $5.0 million -48%

8. Big Miracle (Universal) – $5.0 million -42%

9 The Descendants (Fox Searchlight) – $3 million -39%

10. One for the Money (Lionsgate) – $2.6 million -50%

This week’s CHOSEN ONE is the first of two Oscar nominees being released on Friday, this one being the animated feature Chico and Rita (Luma Films), which shocked the world when it was nominated for an Oscar over much more high-profile animated films. It’s the work of Fernando Trueba, working with Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando and Cuban pianist and composer Bebo Valdés and it’s a work of animation that really deserves all the accolades it may receive.

Opening in Havana, Cuba in 1948, it tells the story of pianist Chico and singer Rita who meet in a night of passion, end up collaborating on a song that becomes a popular hit, but whose relationship hit problems as she’s pursued by American agents and his jealousy and alcohol-fueled insecurities drive them apart as they both wind up in New York City.

This is a fairly amazing story, first of all because it really feels as if something that might have truly happened, but also in the way it’s told using simple but gloriously hand-painted 2D animation which acts as such a counterpoint to the mature storytelling. This isn’t a cartoon for kids with some nudity, a love scene and a good amount of drinking. The animators are incredibly inventive especially when the story shifts to New York City and we get a colorful fantasy sequence playing on the immigrant’s dreams of the city.

It’s an incredibly beautiful story that covers many years in the lives of these two artists and how various factors try to keep them apart even though they clearly belong together. While he spends much of his life as a lowly piano player in various jazz clubs, she rises to fame from headlining clubs to starring in movies, but both of them still constantly having to prejudice because of the color of the skin. It follows Chico’s story until decades later when he’s an old man, no longer playing piano and still regretting what happened between him and Rita, but there’s a lovely third act turn that will bring a tear to your eye.

As moving as this story is, the music is nothing less than fantastic as it covers just as much ground including tunes by Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Tito Puente and the filmmakers do everything possibly to truly make the viewer feel as if they’ve time-traveled back to those times.

While I’m fully behind Team Rango to win the animated Oscar this year, I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised or even that disappointed if “Chico and Rita” pulls out a shock win, because it’s a film that truly uses animation in a way to push boundaries in what types of stories can be told in the format, and it’s a nice change from the kid-friendly CG comedies that have become prevalent in the animated vocabulary.

We have to give an honorable mention to Oren (The Messenger) Moverman’s Rampart (Millenium), starring Woody Harrelson as Los Angeles police officer Dave Brown, who is suspended under controversy while trying to get his family life together. It has an amazing cast that includes Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube and more.

Interview with Oren Moverman – Part 1

Interview with Woody Harrelson


The other Oscar nominee this weekend is Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness (Sony Pictures Classics), the Polish Oscar nominee in the Foreign Language Film category about a Polish sewer worker who helps a group of Jews hide in the town’s sewer system from the invading Nazi forces and how they’re able to survive there for over a year.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

If you want to make sure you’re ahead on your office pool, you’ll want to check out the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012, which Magnolia and ShortsHD will once again be releasing theatrically across the country with their widest release yet, essentially showing all the live action shorts, animated shorts and four of the five documentary shorts. You can read our thoughts on the ones we’ve seen here and look for a list of when and where you can see them here.

Perfect Sense (IFC Films) is the latest from director David Mackenzie (Young Adam), starring Ewan McGregor as a chef who suddenly finds himself without a sense of smell, so he enlists the help of an epidemiologist, played by Eva Green, who is seeing similar cases all across Europe of people’s emotions and senses being affected by some unknown phenomenon.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Liza Johnson’s Return (Dada Films) stars Linda Cardellini as Kelli, a solider returning from duty ready to get back to her normal life although her husband (Michael Shannon) can’t understand what she’s been through. It opens in New York, although it’s also On Demand as part of the Focus Forward program.

Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse (The Cinema Guild) involves the repercussions of a cab driver whipping his horse, and Friedrich Nietzche’s dying years after trying to put a stop to the brutal scene. It opens at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, following a week-long retrospective of Tarr’s films.

Opening at New York’s Film Forum Wednesday is The Miner’s Hymns (Icarus Films), Bill Morrison’s experimental film created from archival footage of coal miners combined with the music of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Next week, it’s Presidents’ Day weekend and Nicolas Cage is back as Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance (Sony), Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy star in the romantic action-comedy This Means War (20th Century Fox) and the Japanese animated family film The Secret World of Arriety (Disney) opens.

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 2011 Edward Douglas