March Madness hits the North American box office as three new releases hit the multiplexes hoping to take down the reigning Dr. Suess toon. Tyler Perry returns with his latest comedic drama Meet the Browns, Owen Wilson makes a return of his own in the comedy Drillbit Taylor, and Joshua Jackson jets off to Japan for his horror flick Shutter. The Good Friday holiday will help boost weekend numbers since the majority of students and many adults have the day off. But the start of the NCAA college basketball tournament will keep many male moviegoers and sports fans glued to their flat-screens watching the endless string of games all day everyday over the weekend. Fox meanwhile will try to repeat at number one with its animated hit Horton Hears A Who which could become the top-grossing film of 2008 after only ten days.

Shooting for his fourth $20M+ opener, filmmaker Tyler Perry goes hunting for elephants at the box office with his latest work Meet the Browns. The PG-13 pic stars Angela Bassett as a Chicago single mother down on her luck who travels down to Georgia after the death of her father to meet the family she never knew. Starpower will come primarily from Bassett and from Perry himself who in addition to writing and directing brings the wildly popular Madea character back to the big screen after a two-year absence. The role is small but the marketing has made it known that the outlandish law-breaking matriarch is back for some laughs. Former basketball star Rick Fox also has a major role and could be useful in drawing hoops fans.

Perry has been a dependable box office sensation for over three years now drawing in sizable African American moviegoers with stories that skew a bit female. There’s no reason to believe that Browns will fail to reach the heights of his last film Why Did I Get Married? which opened to $21.4M in October. Good Friday and Easter should help boost the numbers too. Hollywood routinely underestimates Perry’s power so expect a sizzling average here. Hitting his top debut, $30M for Madea’s Family Reunion, may not be in the works, but a strong second place showing is a virtual guarantee. Lionsgate will open Meet the Browns in 2,006 theaters and may find itself with around $23M this weekend.


Rick Fox and Angela Bassett in Meet the Browns

Owen Wilson takes up the title role of Paramount’s new high school comedy Drillbit Taylor playing a homeless soldier of fortune who takes an assignment to protect a trio of teenage nerds. The actor’s biggest commercial hits have come from pairings with other big-name actors like Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. Here he flies solo as the only star and historically that that has led to small grosses. Younger teens will make up the primary crowd so the PG-13 rating may give pause to parents of kids in the high single digits. A slight male skew is also likely. There’s ample competition so a large debut is not likely, plus Wilson’s main draw comes with adults not twelve-year-olds. The Friday holiday will get things started well, but word-of-mouth will have to take it the rest of the way. Reviews have not been too bright and March Madness will take many boys out of the picture this weekend. Debuting in about 2,700 theaters, Drillbit Taylor could punch up about $12M this weekend.


Owen Wilson in Drillbit Taylor

Another spooky Asian fright film gets the photocopy treatment by the idea-starved American horror industry in Fox’s Shutter. The PG-13 chiller stars Joshua Jackson as a photographer who discovers creepy images of a dead woman in his snapshots. The insatiable horror audience is the target here and the rating will make sure that younger teens up for a scare will be able to buy a ticket. Jackson is far removed from his Dawson’s Creek days and lacks the drawing power he once had. Plus the studio’s marketing push has not been very forceful so awareness is low. Don’t look for this one to open like The Eye or One Missed Call which both bowed in the $12-13M range. The only factors working for it are the 85 minute running time and the fact that there have been no horror films released since the Jessica Alba‘s thriller from the first weekend of February. Snapping into around 2,700 locations, Shutter could gross about $8M this weekend.


Shutter

Fox has no intentions of giving up its hold on the number one spot. The studio’s Seuss hit Horton Hears A Who looks unlikely to be defeated by the newcomers and should take advantage of the Good Friday school holiday to post a better-than-usual sophomore hold. Ice Age dropped by 35% in its second frame in 2002 while its Fox sibling Robots fell by 42% in 2005. Both were March openers but neither had the Easter holiday helping the sophomore session. The well-liked Horton might drop by 30% to about $31M and boost its ten-day total to a robust $91M.

10,000 BC should stabilize after its 53% plunge last weekend. A fall of 45% seems likely giving Warner Bros. $9M for the weekend and $76M after 17 days. A similar decline could await Never Back Down putting it at $4.5M for a ten-day sum of $16M for Summit. Martin Lawrence hasn’t exactly been setting the box office on fire with his latest comedy College Road Trip. The Disney title might drop by 30% to roughly $5.5M and lift its cume to $33M.

LAST YEAR: A six-pack of new releases cleaned house in the top ten led by the animated actioner TMNT which still had turtle power with a $24.3M debut. Warner Bros. went on to bank $54.1M with the toon which had weak legs. The studio followed in second with its Spartan blockbuster 300 which collected $19.9M in its third fight. Modern-day action was at the center of Mark Wahlberg‘s Shooter which opened in third with $14.5M on its way to a solid $47M for Paramount. Disney’s Wild Hogs followed with $13.9M. New Line’s The Last Mimzy bowed in fifth with $10M while the horror sequel The Hills Have Eyes 2 debuted close behind with $9.7M. Final grosses reached $21.5M and $20.8M, respectively. Adam Sandler‘s dramatic turn in Reign Over Me led to a $7.5M launch before a $19.7M finish. Lionsgate suffered the worst opening among the new titles with just $3.5M for the swimming drama Pride which ended with a $7.1M take.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Competition, or a lack of it, will be the deciding factor at the North American box office this weekend for the half-dozen new releases that studios are packing into already overcrowded multiplexes. Leading the way is the horror film 30 Days of Night followed by the sports comedy The Comebacks which both will be targeting the teens and young adults that Hollywood has been ignoring in recent weeks. Mature adults who already have a wide selection of serious dramas to choose from will be served up three more – Reese Witherspoon‘s Rendition, Ben Affleck‘s Gone Baby Gone, and Halle Berry‘s Things We Lost in the Fire. With far too many films aiming for the same finite audience segment, some are sure to eat into the potential of others.

Sony will monopolize the horror crowd looking for a scare before Halloween with its gorefest 30 Days of Night which tells of vampires that attack a small town in northern Alaska during its annual sunless period. The R-rated film prominently informs moviegoers in its marketing that it is based on a graphic novel hoping to tap into a little bit of the excitement generated by 300 last spring. The first eight months of this year were brutal to R-rated horror films with none reaching number one and high-profile franchise flicks like Hostel II, 28 Weeks Later, and The Hills Have Eyes 2 all failing to reach $10M on opening weekend. But the Halloween remake over Labor Day weekend changed all that and was followed three weeks later by another top spot debut from horror-action hybrid Resident Evil: Extinction. But those have died out so 30 Days stands as the only creepfest at a time when scary movies are in demand. Attacking 2,700 theaters, 30 Days of Night should easily top the charts and could bite into around $19M over the weekend.


30 Days of Night

Fox spoofs the world of sports films with its new comedy The Comebacks which will target adolescents either too young for 30 Days or uninterested in scary movies. With so many mature stories hogging up screens, the market can certainly use a dose of immature humor right about now. The Comebacks is the first viable PG-13 comedy aimed at teens since fellow sports comedy Balls of Fury launched at the end of August. After a mid-week debut, that pic bowed to $11.4M over three days and Comebacks will play to many of the same folks. And with seventeen R-rated films opening wide over the last eight weeks, there has been little to celebrate for the under-17 crowd. Sure The Comebacks looks dumb, but dumb can sell. Add in a trim running time of under 90 minutes and commercial prospects are not bad. This is disposable entertainment for 14-year-olds. It will draw attention upfront, and be forgotten two weeks from now. Thanks to a lack of direct competition, The Comebacks could debut with about $11M from 2,800 sites.


The Comebacks

Leading the charge for the 30-plus crowd this weekend is Reese Witherspoon who headlines the political thriller Rendition from New Line. The R-rated drama finds the Oscar winner playing a woman whose Egyptian-born husband is captured by the CIA after being suspected of being a terrorist. Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep add to the cast. Rendition follows The Kingdom and In the Valley of Elah as military-themed films this fall with connections to the Middle East. Audiences will want only so much of this content. Witherspoon will have her starpower put to the test since she is the only major commercial star here and she is outside of her safety zone of romantic comedies. The film will play to mature adults and will have to compete not only with this weekend’s other new dramas, but also with an assortment of holdovers already playing to the same audience. Reviews have been mixed which will also make things difficult. Debuting in roughly 2,200 locations, Rendition may capture about $9M over the Friday-to-Sunday period.


Reese Witherspoon and Peter Sarsgaard in Rendition

Ben Affleck makes his directorial debut with the crime thriller Gone Baby Gone which stars his brother Casey in the lead role. The Miramax release also stars Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Michelle Monaghan and carries a R rating. Reviews have been good which will come as a shocker to those that look at this movie as nothing more than Daredevil getting to hop into the director’s chair. Reese, Joaquin, George, Cate, and Halle will all be cutting into the adult pie which can only expand by a certain amount. The marketing push has been highlighting the film as being from the author of Mystic River in hopes of finding those who loved that other Boston-set fall crime drama. An invite to the top five may not arrive for Ben. Opening in approximately 1,500 theaters, Gone Baby Gone could collect about $6M this weekend.


Freeman, Affleck and Monaghan in Gone Baby Gone
Yet another new option for adults looking for serious fare is the Halle BerryBenicio Del Toro starrer Things We Lost in the Fire. The Paramount release about a widow who seeks comfort from her dead husband’s drug-addicted friend will play to a mature audience and skew more female. The R-rated film has generated some good early reviews and both leads have Oscars on their shelves, but it will not be enough to compete with the other films targeting the same crowd. Berry showed in April that she can only open a picture so much when her thriller Perfect Stranger bowed to a $4,211 average even though A-lister Bruce Willis co-starred. With a not-so-wide release in about 1,000 theaters this weekend, Things We Lost in the Fire might debut with around $3M.


Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire

Freestyle Releasing has booked the few remaining empty screens out there for its teen thriller Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour. As one of the only PG-rated suspense pics ever made, the film will try to attract younger teenagers not interested in sports-themed comedies. With only 1,100 theaters, a quiet marketing campaign, no stars, and zero buzz, a weak debut of about $1M could result.


Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour

After a potent number one debut, Tyler Perry‘s hit comedy Why Did I Get Married? should suffer a big fall in its second weekend if history is any indicator. Sophomore drops for the filmmaker’s previous offerings include 50% for Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 58% for Madea’s Family Reunion, and 57% for Daddy’s Little Girls. Lionsgate should see a 50% fall to about $10M this weekend giving the ensemble relationship tale $37M in ten days.

Disney’s The Game Plan once again has no new competition for the kiddie audience. Why studios have programmed so many serious adult dramas into this month and no other good family films is anyone’s guess. A 35% dip would leave The Rock with $7M and an impressive cume of $68M after 24 days.

Both Sony’s We Own the Night and the Warner Bros. thriller Michael Clayton will have to fight extra hard in order to compete with the new releases gunning for their customers. Night looks to slide more and fall by 45% while the strongly reviewed Clayton could ease by 40% with both films grossing roughly $6M over the weekend. That would lead to ten-day totals of $20M and $21M, respectively.

LAST YEAR: Just two months after the release of the similarly-themed magician pic The Illusionist, Buena Vista still managed to score a number one bow for The Prestige which opened with $14.8M on its way to $53.1M. Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed enjoyed a strong hold and ranked second with $13.5M in its third frame. Debuting in third was Clint Eastwood‘s war saga Flags of Our Fathers with $10.2M leading to a disappointing $33.6M final for Paramount. Sony’s animated hit Open Season ranked fourth with $8.2M. Rounding out the top five was rival family film Flicka with $7.7M for Fox on its way to only $21M. Also premiering in the top ten was Sony’s Marie Antoinette with $5.4M which led to a final tally of just $16M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Five new films push their way into nationwide release on Friday hoping to challenge two-time champ The Rock making for what should be a free-for-all at the North American box office with many different studios having a realistic shot at claiming the number one spot. Among the top contenders are Sony’s crime thriller We Own the Night, the Lionsgate comedy Why Did I Get Married?, and the George Clooney vehicle Michael Clayton which expands nationally after its scorching debut in limited release. Adding to the mix are the costume drama Elizabeth: The Golden Age and the baseball tale The Final Season. The box office race should be a tight one with as many as four films likely to reach the low double digit millions.

Oscar nominated actors Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix face off as brothers on different sides of the law in the new action thriller We Own the Night. The R-rated pic co-stars Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes and will target an adult audience with a slightly male skew. The former Marky Mark proved his box office pull last spring as the only major star in Shooter which bowed to $14.5M and a $5,176 average by targeting the same audience. Things will be more difficult this time because of the intense competition for mature audiences especially from Michael Clayton. But Night‘s biggest advantage over Michael is that it has two commercial stars instead of just one. The combo should lead to a slim edge at the cash registers.

Despite its awkward title, Night has been pushing itself as an action-packed thriller with faces people love to watch. Reviews have been mixed and with such a crowded field, it will be hard to stand out as a must-see option. Starpower should be the main factor here and showdowns between two solid actors are usually popular with ticket buyers. Opening in over 2,000 theaters, We Own the Night could debut to about $12M.


Phoenix and Wahlberg in We Own the Night

Taking on those boys with some machismo of his own, George Clooney heads into wide release with his legal drama Michael Clayton which Warner Bros. has drummed up plenty of awards buzz for. The R-rated pic bowed to a sizzling $47,994 average last weekend from its platform bow in the Clooney-friendly towns of New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. This weekend, the thriller will face the real test when it enters every major market across the 50 states. Thanks to his political outspokenness, the Academy Award winning actor has become a polarizing figure. He could easily win an election to become mayor of Hollywood, but in other parts of the country people would gladly pay theaters to not play his movies.

Clayton will test his drawing power since the film has no other box office anchors in it. Co-stars Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and Sydney Pollack are well-respected, but they don’t sell tickets. There is plenty of direct competition which is why the film got a head start a week early. Buzz from its red hot platform bow has spread helping to build interest. The crowd will consist of the same people that opened Syriana to $11.7M, The Black Dahlia to $10M, and Zodiac to $13.4M. Night will take away some males and Elizabeth will steal some females so a huge gross will be hard to find. But over the long-term the film could have legs. Expanding into 2,511 locations, Michael Clayton stands as the widest of the new offerings and may capture around $11M over the Friday-to-Sunday period.


Clooney as Clayton

Tyler Perry‘s latest relationship comedy Why Did I Get Married? finds trouble brewing when four married couples come together for an annual winter getaway. The writer/director’s films have always tapped into his loyal fan base with African American women at the core. His 2005 smash Diary of a Mad Black Woman surprised the industry with its first-place debut with $21.9M and a $14,771 average and was followed a year later by Madea’s Family Reunion which grew bigger with a $30M launch. Perry’s last pic Daddy’s Little Girls, also a February release, saw more modest numbers with a $11.2M opening as the filmmaker did not star in the pic.

Married does not have the promotional value of Black History Month or the help of Presidents Day which Girls had early this year. However, Perry’s new film will not face any direct competitors for its target audience. Girls had to face the second weekend of Eddie Murphy‘s hit comedy Norbit which offered some audience overlap. Plus Married boasts more starpower with Perry back on screen and an added boost will come from Janet Jackson who is always a strong draw at the box office with the target audience every time she makes a rare appearance in a movie. The PG-13 film from Lionsgate is unlike anything else in the marketplace right now and with few buzzworthy films aimed at black moviegoers in recent months, it should successfully connect. Debuting in 2,011 theaters, Why Did I Get Married? might open with roughly $12M this weekend.


Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?
Another female-driven film, but taking place centuries ago and across the pond, is the historical drama Elizabeth: The Golden Age which finds Cate Blanchett reprising the role of the British Queen which made her a star nine years ago. The PG-13 pic also finds Geoffrey Rush returning and adds Clive Owen to the mix telling the story of the later years of the monarch’s 16th century reign when threats from Spain and a possible love affair at home led to new challenges. Though at the core a costume drama like its predecessor, Universal’s marketing has played up the action and adventure elements in hopes of attracting men looking for warfare and battle scenes. That may backfire when word gets out that there is actually very little action on screen.

The first Elizabeth opened in limited release in November 1998 and rolled through awards season that winter eventually reaching an impressive $30M while never playing in more than 600 theaters. It also bagged seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Now the studio is hoping that a built-in audience will want to take another trip to the past. Though the first was an acclaimed picture, no real demand ever surfaced for a sequel. So it will be tough for Golden Age at the box office especially with all the competition. Female-led dramas often struggle in the marketplace since it is often too hard for adult women to drag men with them to the multiplex for these stories. New films from Clooney and Wahlberg offer more cross-gender appeal. Ordering her troops into 2,000 theaters on Friday, Elizabeth: The Golden Age might take home about $8M over the three-day period.


Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush in Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Likely to strike out at the box office this weekend is the high school baseball pic The Final Season which stars Sean Astin, Larry Miller, and Powers Boothe. The PG-rated film offers no starpower and has generated very little excitement for itself in the marketplace. Most sports fans interested in the national pastime will tune into the playoffs on their television sets this weekend. A quick trip to DVD is assured for this one which has no guarantee to clinch a spot in the top ten. Opening in about 1,000 theaters, a weekend take of just $2M could be in the works.


The Final Season

Among holdovers, The Game Plan surprised the industry two weeks in a row by taking the number one spot. Given its strong legs and continued lack of competition for the family audience and younger teens, a third round on top is not totally out of the question. Should all the newbies eat into each other and all fail to reach the $12M mark, the Disney kidpic by default may stay put. A 25% decline would give The Game Plan a third weekend tally of $12.5M pushing the 17-day total to a solid $58M.

Paramount and DreamWorks were caught by surprise by the lack of strength for the opening of the Ben Stiller comedy The Heartbreak Kid. With nothing to keep it afloat, a 45% decline might be in order especially since adults will be distracted by a wide assortment of other options. That would give the Farrelly brothers a sophomore session of about $7.5M and a cume of only $25.5M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: Sony used the Friday the 13th before Halloween to launch the sequel to one of the most successful horror films in history and captured the number one spot. The Grudge 2 bowed on top with $20.8M accounting for more than half of its $39.1M final. Eventual Oscar champ The Departed slipped to second with $19M easing only 29% for Warner Bros. The Robin Williams political comedy Man of the Year debuted in third with $12.3M before finishing with a disappointing $37.3M for Universal. Rounding out the top five were the Sony toon Open Season with $11.1M and New Line’s fright franchise flick Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning with $7.5M for a steep 60% plunge. Opening with weak results in sixth was the action pic The Marine with $7.1M on its way to $18.8M for Fox. The religious-themed drama One Night with the King bowed to $4.1M with a good $4,518 average and finished with $13.4M for 8X.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

For the first time in nearly a month, North America’s most popular movie won’t be about motorcycles. Warner Bros. goes back in time 2,500 years for the epic war saga "300" which aims to conquer the box office with ease.

Other studios have conceded the frame to the effects-driven actioner as the only other film opening wide is the family drama "The Ultimate Gift" which will cater to a non-violent crowd that prefers to keep decapitations to a minimum in their weekend entertainment.

Two and a half years after running the historical epic genre into the ground with "Alexander," Warner Bros. is back to breathe new life into the industry with "300." The R-rated war film stars Gerard Butler as the Greek king who in 480 B.C. led his small battalion of brave soldiers in battle against the mighty Persian army. Directed by Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead"), "300" is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and features stylized action sequences and a visual look unlike the endless line of epics that hit multiplexes a few years ago.

Warner Bros. got the ball rolling early last fall with exciting trailers that really energized the target audience of male action fans who now will be very satisfied by the amount of blood, gore, and female nudity in the picture. Momentum has been building ever since and today, "300" is an event film for many. The film lacks a marquee star but that should not matter much. The unique look and feel should compensate for that as moviegoers will find the film to be worth paying top dollar for to see on the big screen. This is not one to wait for on DVD. And unlike other epics, this one keeps it just under two hours which will allow theaters to offer enough showtimes per day. The marketplace is ready for "300." Aside from "Ghost Rider" which is going into its fourth lap, there will be little direct competition for "300" to face so King Leonidas and his men should prevail in this battle.

Other effects-driven R-rated action films have found success recently in the spring months. In 2005, Keanu Reeves‘ "Constantine" bowed to $29.8M and "Sin City" opened to $29.1M while last March "V for Vendetta" debuted with $25.6M. All three films ended in the $70-76M range. "300" looks like it has the strength to go higher. The marketing has been brilliant, competition is weak, and excitement is high. Warner Bros. will score its first number one opener of the year with "300" which invades 3,103 theaters, including Imax venues which will add a few extra bucks. A Friday-to-Sunday gross of about $38M could result.


"300," finally in theaters.

Fox Faith, the new wing of Twentieth Century Fox dedicated to films with uplifting religious themes, rolls out its family drama "The Ultimate Gift" starring James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and Abigail Breslin who comes straight from her high profile Oscar nomination for "Little Miss Sunshine." Based on the best-selling book, the PG-rated film tells the story of a young man who instead of getting his expected inheritance after the death of his wealthy grandfather, is given a series of challenges to help him build character and learn what is truly important in life. Grassroots marketing is being used to court the faith-based audience and a dollar from every ticket sold will be donated to one of a number of different charities. Still, the film is not being given a marketing blitz so large numbers are not expected. Opening in over 800 theaters, "The Ultimate Gift" may gross about $3M this weekend.


"The Ultimate Gift," with Abigail Breslin.

After opening almost everywhere else in the world, the hit Korean horror film "The Host" makes its ways to American shores through Magnolia Pictures this weekend. The R-rated creature feature debuts in about 70 theaters and has been garnering impressive reviews since its premiere last May at the Cannes Film Festival. Fox Searchlight platforms its family saga "The Namesake" from director Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding," "Vanity Fair") in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto. Starring Kal Penn, the PG-13 film about the struggles of an Indian-American family will expand weekly throughout the rest of the month.


"The Namesake"

After three weeks of motorcycle flicks ruling the box office, a stylized trip back in time with "300" will come as a welcome change of pace. "Wild Hogs," which powered its way to a surprisingly potent $39.7M bow last weekend, will drop out of pole position. With little direct competition, look for a reasonable dip in sales. The Buena Vista release has been a crowdpleaser and will remain the top choice for moviegoers in the mood for a laugh or anything with big Hollywood stars. A 35% decline could result giving "Hogs" a weekend tally of around $26M and a ten-day cume of $74M.

Paramount’s serial killer pic "Zodiac" got off to a moderate start last weekend and will have another R-rated film aimed at adults to deal with. A drop of 40% may occur putting the murder mystery at $8M for a total of only $25M after ten days. Sony’s "Ghost Rider" will become the first member of the 2007 century club and should fall 45% to $6M for a $103M cume. The Nicolas Cage pic is set to take a serious hit thanks to 300.

LAST YEAR: The Matthew McConaugheySarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy "Failure to Launch" debuted at number one leading a new crop of films with $24.4M. The Paramount release found its way to $88.7M. Opening in second place was the Tim Allen kidpic "The Shaggy Dog" with $16.3M followed closely by the new horror flick "The Hills Have Eyes" with $15.7M. Final grosses reached $61.1M and $41.8M, respectively. The Bruce Willis actioner "16 Blocks" dropped to fourth with $7.4M. After two weeks at the top of the charts, the Tyler Perry comedy "Madea’s Family Reunion" tumbled from first to fifth with $5.7M.

Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Moviegoers rallied behind the star-driven comedy "Wild Hogs," which raced to number one at the North American box office, zooming past all expectations from Disney. Meanwhile, Viacom saw less-than-stellar debuts from its serial killer drama "Zodiac" from Paramount Pictures and the southern fried saga "Black Snake Moan" from arthouse unit Paramount Vantage. Overall, the box office remained healthy and surged well ahead of last year’s performance.

Buena Vista powered its way to an estimated $38M in opening weekend sales for its road comedy "Wild Hogs," delivering the largest March debut in history for a live-action film. The PG-13 pic starring Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy as four middle-aged men on a motorcycle adventure averaged a stellar $11,561 from 3,287 theaters. It was the year’s second biggest opening after "Ghost Rider‘s" $45.4M bow two weeks ago. According to studio research, 54% of the audience was actually female. Travolta’s everlasting sex appeal, Allen’s pull with moms thanks to his many Disney flicks, and the cast’s appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last week probably contributed to the solid turnout by women. The stars also allowed the film to tap into different audience segments.

"Wild Hogs" posted the best opening ever in March for a non-animated film and the third biggest overall. The only movies to debut better in this month were the "Ice Age" flicks of 2002 and 2006. It also gave Travolta the biggest opening by far of his career, beating the $23.5M of 2005’s "Be Cool," and the second best bow for Allen after the $57.4M bow of 1999’s "Toy Story 2." As expected, "Hogs" was slammed by critics but reviews are practically irrelevant for a star-driven comedy like this. This is a crowdpleaser, not a criticpleaser. Audiences make their decisions based on if they think they will get a good laugh or not and Buena Vista’s marketing push was indeed solid. Though the overall weekend gross was strong, what was even more encouraging was the significant Friday-to-Saturday boost of 49% which is rare for any new release. A journey into nine-digit territory seems likely.

Debuting far back in second place was the serial killer pic "Zodiac," with an estimated $13.1M from 2,362 sites. Averaging a respectable $5,546 per theater, the R-rated film from director David Fincher played to an older audience as two-thirds of the crowd was over the age of 25, according to studio research from Paramount. Males and females were evenly represented. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, "Zodiac" follows the investigation behind one of California’s most notorious murderers from the 1960s and 70s. The $65M film fared better than last fall’s murder mysteries set in the Golden State, "The Black Dahlia" and "Hollywoodland," which debuted to $10M and $5.9M respectively.

Reviews were overwhelmingly positive for "Zodiac," but its 160-minute length may have cut into its grossing potential. Plus when factoring in ticket prices increases over the years, it can be estimated that "Zodiac" sold the fewest opening weekend tickets of any of Fincher’s films. Admissions were roughly the same as for "Fight Club," which bowed to $11M in 1999. The studio is hoping that good word-of-mouth can carry the film in the weeks ahead.

After leading the pack for two full weeks, the Johnny Blaze flick "Ghost Rider" fell to third but only dropped 43% for an estimated $11.5M gross. Sony’s Nicolas Cage starrer has taken in $94.8M in 17 days and should become the first new release of 2007 to break the $100M barrier. Disney’s "Bridge to Terabithia" also held up well dipping 39% in its third adventure to an estimated $8.6M. Cume stands at $57.9M.

Jim Carrey‘s thriller "The Number 23" fell from second to fifth place in its sophomore scare and collected an estimated $7.1M. Down an understandable 52%, the New Line title has taken in a semi-decent $24.7M in ten days and looks headed for a $35-38M finish.

Eddie Murphy‘s latest comedy "Norbit" enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten and dipped 34% to an estimated $6.4M for a $83M sum. Fellow laugher "Music and Lyrics" dropped just 36% to an estimated $4.9M giving the Hugh GrantDrew Barrymore pic $38.7M to date.

Paramount Vantage bowed its Samuel L. JacksonChristina Ricci drama "Black Snake Moan" and collected an estimated $4M from 1,252 theaters. Averaging a mild $3,208, the debut was half the size of writer/director Craig Brewer‘s last film "Hustle & Flow," which opened in July 2005 to $8M from 1,013 theaters on its way to $22.2M and an Oscar. Jackson has witnessed many of his headlining vehicles struggle at the box office including "Freedomland," "The Man," and even "Snakes on a Plane," which despite hitting the top spot, grossed much less than expected given its media hype last summer.

The Fox comedy "Reno 911!: Miami" tumbled 64% in its second weekend to an estimated $3.8M for a ninth place finish. The R-rated pic has grossed $16.4M in ten days and should conclude with roughly $20M. Rounding out the top ten was the FBI thriller "Breach" with an estimated $3.5M, off 42%, for a $25.4M total.

Three smaller films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. The slave trade drama "Amazing Grace" dipped only 26% in its second weekend to an estimated $3M. With $8.2M in ten days, the Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions period pic may find its way to $15-18M. The Billy Bob Thornton flop "The Astronaut Farmer" grossed an estimated $2.2M, down 52%, and put its sum at an embarrassing $7.7M. Look for a $11M final.

Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry comedy "Daddy’s Little Girls" fell 53% to an estimated $2.3M in its third frame and upped its cume to $28.4M. By comparison, the distributor saw stronger 17-day grosses of $44M and $55.7M respectively for the director’s last two films, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea’s Family Reunion." "Daddy’s" should end its run with $30-33M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $100.8M which was up a stunning 30% from last year when "Madea" stayed at number one with just $12.6M; but off 4% from 2005 when "The Pacifier" debuted on top with $30.6M.

Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

One super hero on a motorcycle looks to get replaced by four middle-aged bikers at the number one spot at the North American box office this weekend.

The new comedy "Wild Hogs" leads the pack of new releases with the widest release of the trio. Also debuting are the serial killer thriller "Zodiac" and the southern sizzler "Black Snake Moan" to kick of a March movie marathon.

Starpower is at the center of Buena Vista’s new highway to hell comedy "Wild Hogs." The PG-13 film brings together Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy as four suburban men who take to the road to put some adventure back into their lives. An adult audience is likely here and both genders should be represented fairly evenly. Star wattage and concept should sell the picture and trailers and commercials haven’t been half bad. The studio saw encouraging results from its sneak previews last Saturday which were at 85% capacity and skewed 51% male. "Wild Hogs" could reach the same audience that came out for Travolta’s "Be Cool" and "Ladder 49" which opened to $23.5M and $22.1M, respectively. Both Travolta and Allen have been out promoting the film aggressively so awareness is sizable. Opening in about 3,300 theaters, "Wild Hogs" may take in around $23M in ticket sales this weekend giving Allen a badly-needed hit.


Several actors attempt to kickstart their stalled careers in "Wild Hogs."

Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo star in the new serial killer pic "Zodiac" from director David Fincher ("Seven," "Panic Room"). The R-rated film chronicles the investigation behind one of the most notorious and mysterious murderers of the twentieth century. Paramount has long had a solid track record at finding success from crime thrillers with its slick marketing. For this particular film, the studio is hoping that the public does not find out that it is in for a nearly three hour saga. The running time should cut into the box office potential of the film since theaters will have to offer one less showtime per day compared to most other movies. A more subdued theater count will play a role too.

Still some appealing names are being offered in front of and behind the camera. Older adults are more likely to show up as the subject matter is too ancient for those in their early 20s. Films about famous California murders were met with indifference last fall in the other 49 states when Ben Affleck‘s "Hollywoodland" and Josh Hartnett‘s "The Black Dahlia" opened nationally to just $5.9M and $10M, respectively. "Zodiac" is a little more modern and is being packaged in a better way so its debut should be stronger. But the film lacks a star that can really bring some bang to the box office right out of the gate. Critics have been very supportive which will help with the older target audience. Attacking 2,362 theaters, "Zodiac" might find itself with about $16M this weekend.


Contemplating horoscopes is emotionally draining in "Zodiac."

With the eye-catching image of an older black man chaining up a young scantily clad white woman, Paramount Vantage’s "Black Snake Moan" already has one of the year’s most memorable posters. The new R-rated entry from writer/director Craig Brewer is the follow-up to his 2005 hit "Hustle & Flow" which won an Oscar last year for best song. With some more cash and bigger stars, "Snake" features Samuel L. Jackson as a Bible-loving blues guitarist who finds and cares for a beaten, bruised, and half-naked woman with a disturbing past played by Christina Ricci. Justin Timberlake adds some starpower with his second film of the year following
January’s "Alpha Dog."

"Black Snake Moan" should appeal to much of the "Hustle" crowd. That film was a summer opener and bowed to $8M from just over 1,000 locations for a solid $7,915 average. Jackson is always a wild card at the box office as many of the films he anchors do not pull in the big numbers while his ensemble pics tend to thrive. Here, he is the main draw. Competition from other contenders should not be that much of a factor as the film will work if audiences find it cool. Reviews have been generally favorable so that could provide an assist at the turnstiles. Young adults not interested in Vincent Vega and Santa on choppers might go for a more bold moviegoing choice like this. Opening in 1,252 locations, "Black Snake Moan" may debut with about $8M.


Ricci and Jackson in "Black Snake Moan."

After leading the pack for two weeks, Sony’s "Ghost Rider" will get passed up by some of the new releases this weekend. A 50% drop to about $10M seems likely giving the Nicolas Cage film $93M in 17 days.

Disney should enjoy a better hold for its fantasy drama "Bridge to Terabithia" since its audience is a little too young for the newcomers. A 35% decline would leave the PG-rated film with roughly $9M for the frame and push the 17-day cume up to $58M. Jim Carrey on the other hand should tumble with his thriller "The Number 23" which will see some direct competition from "Zodiac." A 55% drop would leave New Line with $7M over the weekend and $25M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: Tyler Perry stayed at number one for the second straight weekend with the Lionsgate comedy "Madea’s Family Reunion" which grossed $12.6M despite a hefty sophomore drop. Opening close behind in the runnerup spot was the Bruce Willis actioner "16 Blocks" with $11.9M on its way to $36.9M for Warner Bros. Disney’s family adventure "Eight Below" held up well in its third ride grossing $10.1M for third place. Debuting with unimpressive results were Sony’s action flick "Ultraviolet" with $9.1M in fourth and Fox’s drama "Aquamarine" with $7.5M in fifth. Final grosses reached $18.5M and $18.6M, respectively. Opening with decent results was "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party" with $6.2M for Focus from 1,200 theaters on its way to $11.7M overall.

Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage ruled Oscar weekend with his skull-on-fire motorcycle actioner "Ghost Rider," which held steady at number one in North America for the second straight time. Moviegoers delivered different verdicts to the handful of new releases led by the Jim Carrey thriller "The Number 23," which fared best and debuted in second place. Overall, the top ten was about even with the corresponding weekends from the last two years.

Dropping 57% from its powerful opening weekend, "Ghost Rider" took in an estimated $19.7M over the weekend and pushed its ten-day tally to a sensational $78.7M. The big-budget Sony actioner adapted from the popular Marvel comic book series suffered a decline similar to that of 2003’s "Daredevil," which sank 55% in its second frame after an explosive bow over Presidents’ Day weekend. That super hero flick captured 68% of its domestic total in the first ten days. "Ghost Rider" is so far following the same path which means a final gross of $115-120M seems likely.

Comedy guru Jim Carrey took a stab at horror with his new psychological thriller "The Number 23" and saw moderate results with a $15.1M launch, according to estimates. Playing in 2,759 theaters, the R-rated film averaged $5,476 per location for New Line. Critics were brutal to the scary pic, but the opening fared better than those of most of Carrey’s previous non-comedies.

Disney’s "Bridge to Terabithia" dropped 40% in its sophomore adventure and pulled in an estimated $13.6M in ticket sales. The PG-rated fantasy has banked an impressive $46.2M in ten days and may be heading for around $75M overall.

Fox saw a not-so-arresting debut for its cop comedy "Reno 911!: Miami," which opened in fourth place with an estimated $10.4M. The R-rated feature adapted from the moderately successful Comedy Central series averaged a mild $3,849 from a wide release in 2,702 theaters. By comparison, openings for other recent R-rated comedies based on popular television properties include $26.5M for "Borat" and $29M for "Jackass: Number Two," both of which bowed at number one.

Eddie Murphy‘s comedy "Norbit" dropped 42% to an estimated $9.7M in its third weekend raising its total to $74.7M for Paramount. Warner Bros. followed with its own comedy "Music and Lyrics," which pulled in an estimated $8M in its sophomore weekend. Down a reasonable 41%, the Hugh GrantDrew Barrymore pic has taken in $32.1M in 12 days and could be headed for the $50M mark.

Universal’s "Breach" dipped 41% in its second weekend to an estimated $6.2M. With $20.5M in ten days, the FBI thriller in on course for a $35M total. The Tyler Perry comedy "Daddy’s Little Girls" lost half of its audience in the second weekend just like the director’s last two February comedies. The Lionsgate release grossed an estimated $5.3M, down 53%, and has taken in $25.6M. Both "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea’s Family Reunion" made about 75% of their total grosses in the first ten days so a $35M final for Girls seems likely.

A pair of new releases rounded out the top ten. Warner Bros. saw a dismal opening for its Billy Bob Thornton drama "The Astronaut Farmer," which grossed an estimated $4.5M from 2,155 locations. Averaging a poor $2,093 per theater, the PG-rated film earned mixed reviews from critics.

Goldwyn’s historical slave trade drama "Amazing Grace" enjoyed a solid bow with an estimated $4.3M from only 791 sites for a respectable $5,442 average matching "Ghost Rider’s" per-theater average to the dollar. Reviews were mostly favorable.

Four films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. The runaway smash "Night at the Museum" collected an estimated $2.2M in its tenth weekend and upped its total to $241.7M putting it at number 44 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters ahead of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which made $241.4M in 2002. "Museum" fell 41% this weekend and should go on to reach around $246M domestically and over $500M worldwide.

Universal’s Diane Keaton comedy "Because I Said So" grossed an estimated $2.9M, down 44%, putting its cume at a decent $38.4M. A final gross of $43-45M seems likely. Sony’s thriller "The Messengers" grossed an estimated $1.6M, tumbling 58%, for a $33.4M cume. The $16M production should conclude with a healthy $35M. MGM’s "Hannibal Rising" has grossed about $26M to date and should end its run with only $30M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $96.7M which was up 1% from last year when "Madea’s Family Reunion" opened at number one with $30M; but off 2% from 2005 when "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" debuted on top with $21.9M.

Source: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Following a busy holiday weekend when five new releases opened nationwide, the crowded marketplace will now face another four new films invading multiplexes everywhere.

Jim Carrey tries out the horror genre in "The Number 23," TV comedy comes to the big screen in "Reno 911!: Miami," Billy Bob Thornton longs to be in outer space in "The Astronaut Farmer," and more frights pop up in "The Abandoned." Overall ticket sales should simmer down after the record Presidents’ Day holiday weekend led by "Ghost Rider" which will fight to keep its box office crown. Meanwhile, aging Oscar contenders will compete over last-minute biz ahead of Sunday’s Academy Awards which will bring some drama of its own.

After tackling comedy, drama, super hero flicks, and kids movies, Jim Carrey explores his darker side in the new psychological thriller "The Number 23." The Riddler reteams with his "Batman Forever" director Joel Schumacher in this R-rated story about a man obsessed with a book that seems to reveal mysteries about his own past. Virginia Madsen co-stars. Older teens and young adults will make up the target audience here and many in the horror camps will come out of curiosity too. The title is strong and the marketing has been solid so "23" will be able to make a serious challenge for the top spot. Jim Carrey’s starpower will be put to the test once again since this is not a "Bruce Almighty" or "Liar, Liar" situation. Actually, "23" might post one of the best openings of his career for a non-comedy. Maybe if it opens big, he’ll be cast in one of the next twenty-three "Saw" films. Opening in over 2,500 locations this weekend, the new Carrey film may end up grossing $23M – $2M – $3M.


Jim Carrey goes whacko due to "The Number 23."

After making a mint on "Borat," Fox looks to another raunchy comedy for some income. "Reno 911!: Miami" finds the cast of the popular Comedy Central series hitting the road to Florida for a national convention. The R-rated pic will play almost exclusively to fans of the show which while successful, is not really a runaway smash so the potential could be limited. Trailers and commercials actually look funny so a slightly wider crowd may come in. Though "23" could not be more different of a film, it will still offer plenty of competition for older teens and young adults. Moviegoers paying top dollar for a ticket are more likely to try out a Jim Carrey film, even if he’s testing out a new genre. By not screening for critics and releasing the film in the most theaters of any new release this weekend, Fox is basically hoping that those who have seen the show will come out and give this one a try. Steep declines in subsequent weeks are assured. But for the opening frame, a debut in 2,702 venues could lead to a weekend tally of around $14M for "Reno 911!: Miami."


Our favorite careening cops are ready to take on Miami.

Billy Bob Thornton plays an ex-astronaut who tends to his farm in the aptly-titled "The Astronaut Farmer" from Warner Bros. The PG-rated film co-stars Virginia Madsen who pulls double duty this weekend playing the wife to both a bad santa and a grinch. The former Mr. Jolie sells more tickets when he’s not the anchor of a film, so it could be a rough ride this weekend. Appeal to teens and young adults seems weak as the turnout could come from older adults who may also bring with them younger children thanks to the rating. With the violence of "Ghost Rider" and the debut of a trio of R-rated pics, there could be an opportunity with the family crowd. That is, if they already have seen "Bridge to Terabithia." The marketing push has not been too loud so don’t expect a high altitude here. "The Astronaut Farmer" opens in over 2,000 theaters on Friday and may find itself with about $8M.


Billy Bob has the right stuff in "The Astronaut Farmer."

Hitting theaters on a pitstop to what could be solid DVD revenue, the horror film "The Abandoned" enters the marketplace as the weekend’s other new scary movie. The R-rated film tells the story of an American woman who finds terror in Russia when she sets out to find her birth parents. Obviously, opening against Jim Carrey’s new spookfest will hurt the grosses for "The Abandoned." If it were a PG-13 film aimed at teenage girls, it could have been another story, but those over the age of 17 who want a fright will be thinking "23." Lionsgate is only launching "The Abandoned" in about 1,250 locations so a mild $3M gross could result.


No reviews, and no other photos for "The Abandoned."

Last weekend, Nicolas Cage enjoyed a record-breaking Presidents’ Day opening with "Ghost Rider" which grabbed $45.4M over the three-day portion of its holiday bow. The Marvel super hero flick opened much like 2003’s "Daredevil" which launched on the same frame and suffered a 55% drop on the sophomore session. "Ghost Rider" should see similar results as it also attracted much of its fan base last weekend and is facing the same level of competition that the Ben Affleck actioner saw in its second attack. Look for "Ghost Rider" to burn up another $20M which would lift its ten-day tally to $79M.

Disney’s "Bridge to Terabithia" should enjoy a better hold since there is little new competition for its family audience. A 30% decline would give the PG-rated fantasy around $16M for the weekend and a solid $48M after ten days. Aside from crossing his fingers for an Oscar, Eddie Murphy will see another sizable drop in sales for his comedy "Norbit." A 45% fall would give the Paramount release a $9M frame bumping the cume to $74M.

LAST YEAR: Tyler Perry‘s comedy "Madea’s Family Reunion" opened atop the charts with a powerful $30M debut for Lionsgate. The hit flick found its way to $63.3M. Holdovers rounded out the top five with Disney’s "Eight Below" dropping a spot to second with $15.9M in its sophomore frame. The Steve Martin remake "The Pink Panther" took in $11.1M and was followed by "Date Movie"’s $9.1M and the $7.2M of "Curious George." Opening to poor results were the animated film "Doogal" with $3.6M and New Line’s "Running Scared" with $3.4M. Final grosses reached only $7.6M and $6.9M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Five new films, each targeting its own audience, cram into North American multiplexes giving moviegoers plenty of entertainment options over the four-day Presidents’ Day holiday weekend.

Segregating the races on Wednesday’s Valentine’s Day holiday with competing romantic comedies, Warner Bros. bowed the Hugh GrantDrew Barrymore starrer "Music and Lyrics" for white audiences while Lionsgate countered with Tyler Perry‘s "Daddy’s Little Girls" for black moviegoers. Adding to the overcrowded frame on Friday will be Sony’s comic book actioner "Ghost Rider," Disney’s tween adventure "The Bridge to Terabithia," and the FBI thriller "Breach" from Universal. Although studios jammed too many films into this particular frame, audience overlap seems minimal so the box office should easily expand to its largest size of the year finally beating 2006 levels.

Johnny Blaze leads the way over the extended weekend as Nicolas Cage steps into the role of the Marvel Comics character in the big-budget actioner "Ghost Rider." The PG-13 film is directed by Mark Steven Johnson whose "Daredevil," another effects-driven action flick based on a B-level Marvel hero, topped the box office over the Presidents’ Day frame four years ago with a powerful $45M with Ben Affleck in the lead. Much of the same audience of young males and comic fans will be back, however moviegoers have since been subjected to endless super hero flicks so don’t be surprised if some take a pass this time. Sony has been loud in its marketing campaign and awareness is sky high with the target audience. A crowded marketplace could keep the grosses in check. But with the most theaters of any new release by far, the motorcycle pic should ride off with the box office crown with ease. "Ghost Rider" opens in 3,619 theaters on Friday and could collect around $35M over the four-day span.


Nicolas Cage in "Ghost Rider"

Disney goes after the always reliable family audience with the fantasy drama "The Bridge to Terabithia," a film adaptation of the beloved book. In the PG-rated tale, a seventh grade boy befriends the new girl who moves in next door and together create a fantasy world through their imaginations as an escape from the struggles of real life. Kidpics based on books usually find themselves with a built-in audience showing up on opening weekend and with "Terabithia" launching over a school holiday session, the target audience will be very available. Last year, the studio won the weekend going after a similar crowd with "Eight Below" which opened to a solid $25M over four days. "Bridge" lacks big star names, but should still pull in families especially since that segment has few other titles in the current marketplace to be excited about. Younger teens may however get pulled away by the crude physical comedy of "Norbit" or the comic book action of "Ghost Rider." Launching in over 2,800 theaters, "The Bridge to Terabithia" may gross around $18M over the Friday-to-Monday period.


"The Bridge to Terabithia"

Following up his number one hits "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea’s Family Reunion," Tyler Perry returns to the big screen with his latest comedy, "Daddy’s Little Girls." The PG-13 film stars Gabrielle Union as an attorney who falls for a working class driver who has three daughters. Unlike his last two February chart-toppers, "Girls" finds Perry strictly behind the camera and not playing the outrageous matriarch Madea.

In recent years, nobody has proven the power of the African American audience more than Perry who exceeded industry expectations both times with the $21.9M bow of "Diary" and the stronger $30M debut of "Reunion" a year ago. Both debuted on the weekend after the Presidents’ Day frame. Lionsgate once again handles distribution duties, but various factors indicate that sales should deflate a bit. Starpower is less for "Girls," most notably because of Perry’s absence. Plus competition will be much tougher than in past years with "Norbit" in its second weekend playing to much of the same audience. However, the Tyler name sells and sell-outs are sure to occur in all parts of the country. Opening Wednesday in 2,111 theaters, "Daddy’s Little Girls" could take in about $16M over four days and $23M over six days.


Tyler Perry’s "Daddy’s Little Girls"

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore find love in the new romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics" which also opened on Wednesday to capture the date crowd on Valentine’s Day. On paper, the PG-13 film has all the ingredients to become a box office hit thanks to the starpower and timing of its release. But a poor script and lack of chemistry could impact weekend grosses if mid-week ticket buyers spread bad word of mouth. Both actors are proven draws at the turnstiles and their first pairing will undoubtedly spark interest from women and couples. Warner Bros. has been pushing the 80’s music angle since Grant plays the washed up half of a pop music superduo from that era. Competition for white women over 25 is not too fierce among the weekend’s other contenders so a strong start is likely. Composing tunes in 2,929 locations, "Music and Lyrics" may find itself with around $16M over four days and about $22M over six days.


Hugh Grant, in a sadly realistic portrayal of an 80s popstar, in "Music and Lyrics."

Ryan Phillippe stars as a young FBI agent out to catch his boss who has been selling secrets to the Soviet Union in the new political thriller "Breach." The PG-13 pic co-stars Chris Cooper, Laura Linney, and Dennis Haysbert and is being released by Universal. Three factors will prevent big grosses for Reese’s ex-hubby. "Breach" lacks starpower, has too much competition to face, and is not being booked in too many theaters. Though the cast features some respected actors, none is a box office anchor that can draw in large paying crowds. Plus with four other new films hitting the multiplexes, and a collection of acclaimed Oscar contenders all attracting the attention of serious-minded adults, "Breach" cannot stand out. Academy pics may all be grossing small numbers individually, but moviegoers spent nearly $20M on the ones in the Top 20 last weekend and this long holiday frame will be the last full weekend to catch up on the contenders. Opening in just 1,487 theaters, "Breach" might steal about $7M over the four days.


"Breach," with Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, and some blurry guy.

Among holdovers, Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy may get driven out of the top spot by Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage. Both of their new films, of course, are for commercial gain and not critical acclaim. "Norbit" will be coming off of a solid opening, but will face competition from many of the new releases. The four-day gross could slide 30% from last weekend’s three-day opening and reach roughly $24M for the frame. That would give the Paramount release a terrific $64M in 11 days. A larger drop is in the works for "Hannibal Rising." The MGM release may fall 40% to about $8M for a cume of $23M after a similar 11 days.

LAST YEAR: The battle for Presidents’ Day weekend was won by the family adventure "Eight Below" which debuted on top with $25M over the four-day frame. Disney’s hit kids flick went on to collect $81.6M. Fox settled for second with its spoof comedy "Date Movie" which bowed to $21.8M over the Friday-to-Monday period on its way to $48.5M. "The Pink Panther" dropped from first to third with $20.9M followed by fellow kidpic "Curious George" with $15.4M. Rounding out the top five was "Final Destination 3" with $11.5M. Samuel L. Jackson flopped with his new drama "Freedomland" which debuted to just $6.7M over four days leading to a weak $12.5M final for Sony.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The studios have been hiding movies from those pesky scribes all year long, but this time they’ve outdone themselves. This week, three movies won’t be screened before getting tossed into the theaters: Neil LaBute‘s remake of "The Wicker Man," starring Nicolas Cage; "Crank," another high-octane actioner starring Jason Statham; and Mike Judge‘s "Idiocracy," a "Futurama"-esque comedy starring Luke Wilson.

What’s odd about this batch of unscreened films is that two of them are directed by established helmers. They include the generally blameless Judge, the man behind such beloved creations as "Beavis and Butthead" and "Office Space," and LaBute, whose filmography is a bit darker ("In the Company of Men," "Your Friends and Neighbors") but has never been uninteresting. Even stranger, "Idiocracy" is opening in limited release, but is bypassing the normal release pattern by playing outside of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area.


No, these aren’t the sad movie critics waiting in vain to see "The Wicker Man"….

So we’re going to play that increasingly popular party game: Guess the Tomatometer! (If the studios continue to stop screening movies beforehand, GTT may replace the NFL and Nascar as one of the most popular games in America.) But we’ll make it easier for you with some super unscientific calculations. The average Tomatometer of the movies not screened for critics is just under 15 percent; Basically, we’ve taken the average Tomatometer of unscreened films plus the average Tomatometer of the key participants’ films divided by two. By factoring in the combined Tomatometers of LaBute, and stars Cage and Ellen Burstyn, we’re guessing "The Wicker Man" will wind up around 42 percent. Utilizing Judge’s and Wilson‘s Tomatometers, "Idiocracy" may wind up in the area of 38 percent. And since the directors of "Crank" are relative newcomers, we’ll use Statham, Amy Smart, and Dwight Yoakam to guesstimate that "Crank" will end up around 32 percent. Feel free to knock as many points off as you feel is necessary.


…and no, this is not a metaphor for what the studios think those mean ol’ critics will do to the opening weekend grosses.

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006 (Best To Worst Tomatometer Score):
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69% — Snakes on a Plane
28% — Silent Hill
27% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
23% — Phat Girlz
16% — Grandma’s Boy
15% — Underworld: Evolution
11% — The Benchwarmers
10% — Ultraviolet
10% — When a Stranger Calls
7% — Date Movie
7% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
6% — Material Girls
6% — See No Evil
5% — Doogal
5% — BloodRayne
5% — Stay Alive
0% — Zoom

This week at the movies, we’ve got Oliver Stone paying tribute to the heroes of 9/11 ("World Trade Center," starring Nicolas Cage); two youngsters trying to start a dance dance revolution ("Step Up," starring Jenna Dewan and Channing Tatum); a school for young superheroes ("Zoom," starring Tim Allen and Courteney Cox); and an evil website ("Pulse," starring Kristen Bell). What do the critics have to say?

Oliver Stone has never been the subtlest of directors, nor has he shied away from controversy or conspiracy-mongering. So it’s something of a surprise to critics that with his latest, "World Trade Center," he has tackled a subject (the 9/11 attacks) rife with talk of dark machinations and created a straightforward, apolitical tale of heroism. Based on a true story, "World Trade Center" stars Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena as a pair of Port Authority police officers who became trapped in the ruins of the World Trade Center while attempting to rescue others. Critics say the narrow human focus is one of the strengths of the film, along with its stunning visuals and an old-fashioned sense of resilience and heroism. At 70 percent on the Tomatometer, "World Trade Center" may be a cut below Paul Greengrass‘ 9/11 film "United 93" (90 percent), but it’s a worthy examination of a day that will live in infamy. It’s also Stone’s best-reviewed film since "Nixon."


Nicolas Cage as real-life officer John McLoughlin in "World Trade Center"

"Step Up" tells the story of a hip-hop dancer from the wrong side of the tracks (Channing Tatum) and a privileged ballerina (Jenna Dewan) who overcome their differences to make beautiful music together on the dance floor. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve seen "Saturday Night Fever," "Save the Last Dance," or "Dirty Dancing." Perhaps the Bee Gees presciently spoke for the critics of "Step Up" when they sang, "You should be dancing," for the scribes say the film is at its best in its electrifying dance sequences, but dramatically flat otherwise. At 21 percent on the Tomatometer, the critics are putting this baby in a corner.


"Step Up": Do fries come with that shake?

The studios apparently believe "Pulse" is pretty lifeless, and that "Zoom" is full of cinematic gloom. What else could explain the fact that the Kristen Bell J-horror remake and the Tim Allen superhero comedy, respectively, were not screened for critics? It’s time to bust out those crystal balls and guess those Tomatometers, people.


"Sometimes when we touch/ the horror’s just too much"

Also in theaters this week, in limited release: "Half Nelson," starring Ryan Gosling as a troubled inner city teacher, is at a whopping 95 percent on the Tomatometer; the Czech surrealist horror film "Lunacy" is at 80 percent; "House of Sand," a visually remarkable Brazilian epic, is at 80 percent; "Conversations With Other Women," a tale of a romantic reunion starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart, is at 70 percent; "The Trouble With Men and Women," a low-budget Brit relationship drama, is at 50 percent; "Poster Boy," a drama about the gay son of a senator, is at 43 percent; and "The Ordeal," a dark Belgian horror import, is at 43 percent.

Recent Oliver Stone Movies:
———————————–
16% — Alexander (2004)
50% — Comandante (2003)
48% — Any Given Sunday (1999)
51% — U-Turn (1997)
74% — Nixon (1995)

Recent Nicolas Cage Movies:
————————————
61% — Lord of War (2005)
59% — The Weather Man (2005)
42% — National Treasure (2004)
82% — Matchstick Men (2003)
90% — Adaptation (2002)

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006 (Best To Worst Tomatometer Score):
————————————————
28% — Silent Hill
27% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
24% — Phat Girlz
16% — Grandma’s Boy
15% — Underworld: Evolution
11% — The Benchwarmers
10% — Ultraviolet
10% — When a Stranger Calls
7% — Date Movie
7% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
6% — See No Evil
5% — Doogal
5% — BloodRayne
5% — Stay Alive

You thought the awards season ended with the Oscars? Please. MTV’s just gearing up for their movie awards, which will be broadcast worldwide on June 8th — but we have all the nominations listed just a click away. (Interesting to note that not only were Paris Hilton & Rob Schneider nominated for awards, but also that "Hustle & Flow" earned three noms — a movie produced by "MTV Films.")

More than an award show, but a film unto itself, MTV: Music Television today announced the cast, or nominees, of the “2006 MTV Movie Awards.” Up for starring roles are the “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Wedding Crashers,” each receiving five nominations. Also vying for the spotlight are “Batman Begins,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Hustle & Flow,” “Sin City” and “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith” with three nominations each. Filming June 3rd at Sony Picture Studios in Culver City, CA, the “2006 MTV Movie Awards” will premiere to audiences nationwide on Thursday, June 8th at 9pm ET/PT on MTV.

MTV also announced it will cast for new categories of “Best Hero,” “Sexiest Performance” and the “mtvU Student Filmmaker Award” for the first time ever. And in another Movie Awards first, all of this year’s categories, including “Best Performance,” will make no distinction between male and female. Breaking the gender barrier and award show tradition, both actors and actresses will be vying for the same coveted golden popcorns.

Fans can vote for the entire nominated cast of the “2006 MTV Movie Awards” by visiting movieawards.mtv.com before May 19th . Fans can also vote from their mobile phone by texting “MOVIEAWARDS” to 91757 to receive a ballot. Voting is also available by dialing toll free to 1-877-MTV-VOTE where fans can support their favorite nominees with a different category available for voting each day.

“This year’s Movie Awards will be more than an awards show — it’s an experience completely inspired by the movies, and everything we love about them,” said Christina Norman, President, MTV. “This year’s cast of movies and stars are all deserving nominees, and there is no doubt this year’s Movie Awards will in itself, be a movie to remember.”

Starring Hollywood’s hottest actors and celebrities, the “2006 MTV Movie Awards” promises to be one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Sources close to the production have remained tight lipped, revealing little of the project’s storyline or script except to say mystery, adventure and mayhem prevail. MTV will announce other starring roles in the upcoming weeks including the project’s leading man and/or lady, along with featured bands and performers making up the production’s soundtrack.

The “2006 MTV Movie Awards” will be seen in 171 countries/territories via 50 music programming services, and in 23 languages in more than 479.5 million households.

Nominees for the “2006 MTV Movie Awards” are:

*BEST MOVIE*

The 40-Year-Old Virgin
(Universal Pictures)
Batman Begins (Warner Bros. Pictures)
King Kong (Universal Pictures)
Sin City (Dimension Films)
Wedding Crashers (New Line Cinema)

*BEST PERFORMANCE*

Joaquin PhoenixWalk the Line
Jake GyllenhaalBrokeback Mountain
Rachel McAdamsRed Eye
Steve CarellThe 40-Year-Old Virgin
Terrence HowardHustle & Flow
Reese WitherspoonWalk the Line

*BEST COMEDIC PERFORMANCE*

Owen WilsonWedding Crashers
Adam SandlerThe Longest Yard
Steve Carell – The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Tyler PerryTyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
Vince VaughnWedding Crashers

*BEST ON-SCREEN TEAM*

Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen & Romany MalcoThe 40-Year-Old Virgin
Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott & Jessica SimpsonThe Dukes of Hazzard
Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans & Michael ChiklisFantastic Four
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert GrintHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Vince Vaughn & Owen Wilson – Wedding Crashers

*BEST VILLAIN*

Cillian Murphy
Batman Begins
Hayden ChristensenStar Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Ralph FiennesHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Tilda SwintonThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Tobin BellSaw II

*BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE*

Andre “3000” BenjaminFour Brothers
Isla FisherWedding Crashers
NellyThe Longest Yard
Jennifer CarpenterThe Exorcism of Emily Rose
Romany Malco –The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Taraji P. HensonHustle & Flow

*BEST HERO*

Christian BaleBatman Begins
Jessica Alba – Fantastic Four
Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Kate BeckinsaleUnderworld: Evolution
Ewan McGregorStar Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

*SEXIEST PERFORMANCE*

Beyonce KnowlesThe Pink Panther
Jessica Alba – Sin City
Jessica Simpson – The Dukes of Hazzard
Ziyi ZhangMemoirs of a Geisha
Rob SchneiderDeuce Bigalow: European Gigolo

*BEST FIGHT*

Kong vs. The Planes — King Kong
Stephen Chow vs. Axe Gang – Kung Fu Hustle
Angelina Jolie vs. Brad PittMr. & Mrs. Smith
Ewan McGregor vs. Hayden Christensen – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

*BEST KISS*

Jake Gyllenhaal & Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain
Taraji P. Henson & Terrence Howard – Hustle & Flow
Anna Faris & Chris Marquette – Just Friends
Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt – Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Rosario Dawson & Clive OwenSin City

*BEST FRIGHTENED PERFORMANCE*

Rachel Nichols – The Amityville Horror
Jennifer Carpenter – The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Derek RichardsonHostel
Paris HiltonHouse of Wax
Dakota FanningWar of the Worlds

*mtvU STUDENT FILMMAKER AWARD*

Joshua Caldwell (Fordham University) – A Beautiful Lie
Sean Mullin (Columbia University) – Sadiq
Stephen Reedy (Diablo Valley College) – Undercut
Jarrett Slavin (University of Michigan) – The Spiral Project
Landon Zakheim (Emerson College) – The Fabulous Felix McCabe

*2006 MTV Movie Awards *
*Total Number of Combined Category Nominations*

The 40-Year-Old Virgin — 5
Wedding Crashers — 5
Batman Begins — 3
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — 3
Hustle & Flow — 3
Sin City — 3
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith — 3
Brokeback Mountain — 2
The Dukes of Hazzard — 2
The Exorcism of Emily Rose — 2
Fantastic Four — 2
King Kong — 2
The Longest Yard — 2
Mr. & Mrs. Smith — 2
Walk the Line — 2
The Amityville Horror — 1
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — 1
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo — 1
Four Brothers — 1
Hostel — 1
House of Wax — 1
Just Friends — 1
Kung Fu Hustle — 1
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion — 1
Memoirs of a Geisha — 1
The Pink Panther — 1
Red Eye — 1
Saw II — 1
Underworld: Evolution — 1
War of the Worlds — 1

* Nominees are chosen through a national poll of MTV and MTV2 viewers.

After some furious debate over David Germain‘s discussion of films "not screened for critics," RT takes a look at the Tomatometers and respective B.O. performances of the flicks withheld from critics so far this year.

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006:
————————————————
29% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (Feb. 24)
17% — Grandma’s Boy (Jan. 6)
16% — Underworld: Evolution (Jan. 20)
10% — When a Stranger Calls (Feb. 3)
9% — Ultraviolet (Mar. 3)
8% — Date Movie (Feb. 17)
7% — BloodRayne (Jan. 6)
6% — Stay Alive (Mar. 24)
5% — Doogal (Feb 24)
4% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (Mar. 24)
Average Tomatometer not screened for critics: 11%

As Germain noted, this is becoming a common trend; in 2006, 10 films have already been withheld from those mean old scribes, with "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz" joining that illustrious list this week. Apparently, the whole of the studio system is terrified that the following exchange will take place within the coveted teen and young adult demographic:

Teen No. 1: "Man, am I ever stoked to be first in line to see ("Date Movie"/ "Underworld: Evolution"/ "The Benchwarmers," etc.)! This film will certainly be off the chain! Oh look, there’s my friend!"

Teen No. 2 (running, looking frantic): "Bad news, homie. David Denby, Andrew Sarris, AND Stephanie Zacharek all dissed ("Date Movie"/ "Underworld: Evolution"/ "The Benchwarmers," etc.). They say it’s really stupid."

Teen No. 1: "Curses! I’m getting out of the line for this movie, and I shall not be seeing it on its opening weekend. Dear fellow, perchance is ‘The Best of Youth‘ still playing in the local arthouse?"

The phrase "critic-proof" has entered the lexicon for a reason: it perfectly sums up a certain type of move, one that the studios still feel is necessary not to screen.

And what do the critics have to say about these films? Unsurprisingly, the average is an 11 percent on the Tomatometer. Of the twenty worst reviewed wide releases of the year so far, these ten films occupy the top slots. Still, that doesn’t mean too much; "Big Momma’s House 2" was screened for critics, got a six percent on the Tomatometer, and still made a lot of money. So while the films that aren’t screened are by no means cinematic gems, there’s an excellent chance they will make lots of money regardless.

When the staff of Rotten Tomatoes is not meticulously analyzing the films of Bergman, Ozu, and Bresson, we’ve been known to watch (and unironically enjoy) such critically drubbed flicks as "Stealth," "Black Knight," and the collected works of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Some movies aren’t "good" per se, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have potential audiences. Studios should know this better than anyone; they made the movies.

See Also:
"Not Screened For Press" Trend Growing in 2006

By now it’s downright ridiculous, but once again the weekend’s box office winners are also the week’s critical duds, with the aptly named "Failure To Launch" balancing a Tomatometer of 30 percent with an opening B.O. of $24.6 mil.

That’s right, the Matthew McConaugheySarah Jessica Parker rom-com that gave all the scribes fodder for their cannons with its title alone managed to debut at #1 last weekend, with an impressive per-screen average of $8K. According to Variety, we have the over-25 female demographic combined with the hunky powers of McConaughey to thank for this.

Coming in second last weekend was Tim Allen‘s mongrel of a flick, "The Shaggy Dog," which actually tied "Failure to Launch" with 30% on the Tomatometer but performed well below at the box office with a total of $16 million from 3501 theaters.

Third in theaters last weekend was the Alexandre AjaWes Craven remake, "The Hills Have Eyes." Faring slightly better with critics (51% on the Tomatometer) seemed to do little good for the mutant hill-people slasher, which brought in $15.5 million (but played in only 2620 theaters and had a much narrower, bloodthirstier audience than the top two flicks).

Interesting results came with the performance of Oscar winner "Crash," which Lions Gate re-released last week following the Best Picture win. Opening in only 175 theaters, the pic brought in a disappointing $357,000, according to Variety.

Also, the mighty "Madea" was finally knocked off its cushy perch by the top three openers and last week’s "16 Blocks," which pulled in $7.3 million to take number 4 at the B.O. "Madea’s Family Reunion" added only $5.8 million to its total so far of nearly $56 mil, and dropped from #1 last week to #5.

For the complete returns from last weekend, click over to the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office page.