HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, Hiccup (top, voice: Jay Baruchel), 2010. ©DreamWorks SKG/Courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by ©DreamWorks SKG/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Some dragons are big and scary and could definitely kill you with a single exhale — and others, like How to Train Your Dragon‘s Toothless, are big old sweethearts who just so happen to breathe fire.

Toothless (and his human BFF Hiccup) are back for more adventures in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, as they set out on a new journey to protect their dragon utopia of Berk and head to a world they previously though only existed in myths and legends.

In honor of Toothless’ new adventure, Rotten Tomatoes has rounded up pop culture’s most famous — and infamous — dragons. Which is your favorite?



See these dragons and more in action:

For the first time in three weeks, studios will pack a Friday with plenty of new releases as four films open or expand nationwide giving the box office chart a major shakeup. Leading in the polls and getting the widest release is The Bucket List starring Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Challenging Hollywood’s old guard are three younger agents of change. Ice Cube campaigns for a spot in the top five with the comedy First Sunday, Jason Statham heads up the adventure tale In the Name of the King, and some cartoon vegetables headline the kidpic The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. Hoping to play the spoiler is the indie smash Juno which once again expands into wider release. The films should each play to different audiences which will help the overall marketplace expand.

After spending the last decade directing flops, Rob Reiner hopes to score his first number one hit in over fifteen years with The Bucket List which features the Academy Award-winning actors Nicholson and Freeman on screen together for the first time. The PG-13 pic tells the story of two dying old men who set out to fulfill their last wishes before taking the big trip upstairs. Financing a major film anchored by two men who celebrated their 70th birthdays last year is not something Hollywood studios typically do. It’s usually seen as a risky endeavor. But Warner Bros. is counting on mature adults, men and women alike, to take interest and come out to see two legends on the big screen together.

Hurting Bucket‘s chances are the mixed reviews it’s been getting from critics. The target audience for this particular movie will definitely be affected by what reviewers have to say. Also, the picture has come up almost empty-handed during awards seasons so it has less marketing tools in its arsenal than the handful of acclaimed adult dramas touting their awards and nominations. In limited release, Bucket scored muscular per-theater numbers over the last two frames averaging $20,989 and $20,424 from only 16 locations. Co-star drawing power will not shoot this film up to the opening weekend levels of recent Jack flicks like The Departed or Anger Management. But even his less flashy films generate solid debut numbers due to his loyal fan following. Kicking its way into 2,911 theaters, The Bucket List could debut with about $15M.


Nicholson and Freeman in The Bucket List

Two petty criminals plot to rob their neighborhood church in the new comedy First Sunday. The PG-13 film stars Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, and Katt Williams and will find a large portion of its ticket sales coming from African American moviegoers. Cube has seen much success in the past with early-year comedies like Next Friday which opened to $14.5M in January 2000 and Barbershop 2 which debuted to $24.2M in February 2004. But both of those were sequels that took advantage of built-in audiences that wanted to see popular characters return to the big screen for new shenanigans. The rapper-actor is back with another laugher at the start of a presidential election season, but this time winning the job of commander-in-chief of the box office will probably be out of his reach.

First Sunday comes a week before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday frame which historically has been a good time for films led by black casts. Cube’s pictures usually are dependable when it comes to drawing a crowd. However his last two releases, the Sony sequels Are We Done Yet? and XXX: State of the Union, were not exactly major hits. Plus the story of stealing from church may not go down well with some folks. Breaking into roughly 2,000 theaters, First Sunday might open with around $12M.


First Sunday

Targeting young males (and older dudes who spent their childhoods playing Dungeons & Dragons), Freestyle Releasing offers up Jason Statham in the adventure tale In the Name of the King. The PG-13 actioner will try to play to the fantasy crowd although most will probably wait for this one on DVD. The distributor tried to make this genre work in the fall with Dragon Wars. which bowed to just $5M and a poor $2,214 average. Fox also failed with its fantasy clunker The Seeker the following month which opened to only $3.7M and an embarrassing $1,192 average. Though aging, heavyweight holdovers National Treasure: Book of Secrets and I Am Legend are set to steal a combined $20M this weekend from the same audience that might be interested in Statham flicks so there will be distractions for younger guys. Of course the NFL playoffs on both Saturday and Sunday will be factors too. Debuting in an estimated 2,500 locations, In the Name of the King may collect about $6M this weekend.


In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale


The year’s first new toon comes in the form of The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything from the VeggieTales franchise. Universal’s G-rated pic about a squash, cucumber, and grape that go on high seas adventures will play to younger tots and their parents. The 2002 film Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie enjoyed a solid bow opening to $6.2M and a $6,597 average during an October weekend when all other films in the top ten were catering to adults. Those kids are all five years older and have probably outgrown the produce-based characters so it will be a new generation taking interest this time. Plus Pirates will face more competition since Alvin and the Chipmunks continues to do killer biz from the family audience and even National Treasure and The Water Horse are pulling dollars from that sector. The studio’s marketing efforts have been aimed at its target audience only so crossover business is not likely. Opening in 1,336 theaters, look for The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything to gross about $5M this weekend.


Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything

Holdovers will finally get some competition to deal with which will certainly shake up the chart rankings. Fox Searchlight’s Juno has been patiently building up buzz and momentum and was rewarded on Monday and Tuesday by seizing control of the number one spot at the North American box office. The distributor will add another 500 theaters to the run climbing to 2,447 playdates which will lead to a solid hold.in its sixth frame. The pregnant teen will duke it out with a pair of grumpy old men for the top spot. It’s girl vs. geezers. Making the contest even more interesting is Juno‘s new televisions spot which features a clip of star Ellen Page mentioning Morgan Freeman by name in one of the film’s more memorable jokes. A scant dip would give Juno about $15M for the weekend and boost the cume up to a remarkable $72M.

After enjoying the second three-week box office reign of his career (the first being his other turn as Ben Gates), Nicolas Cage will see National Treasure: Book of Secrets drop down a couple of spots in the standings. The Buena Vista smash could fall by 40% to about $12M boosting the overall total to $187M which would make it one of the top ten blockbusters of 2007. Also hopping into that list will be fellow PG-rated holiday hit Alvin and the Chipmunks. Fox’s family comedy looks to slide by 35% this weekend to roughly $10M giving the singing chipmunks a robust $189M to date.

Scary movies from last weekend’s top five should witness larger declines. Will Smith‘s I Am Legend which is the highest grossing zombie movie of all-time may fall by 45% to about $8.5M for a $240M cume. The supernatural thriller One Missed Call should depreciate faster and fall 50% to around $6M giving Warner Bros. a respectable $21M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend was ruled by the urban dance drama Stomp the Yard which generated a powerful $25.9M debut over the four-day extended frame. The Sony hit went on to finish with a solid $61.4M. Holdovers filled up the rest of the top five led by three-time champ Night at the Museum with $21.8M over the long weekend. Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness followed with $10.7M with Dreamgirls in fourth with $10.3M and Hilary Swank‘s Freedom Writers ranking fifth with $8.8M over four days. Three new releases opened lower on the charts. Universal’s action drama Alpha Dog bowed to $7.4M on its way to $15.2M. Debuting in more theaters but with smaller grosses were Buena Vista’s horror pic Primeval with $6M and MGM’s kidpic Arthur and the Invisibles with $5.7M. Final grosses reached $10.6M and $15.1M, respectively.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Tasty treats are in store for us this week at the video counter, where you’ll find an action-packed Western (3:10 to Yuma), a 2007 space odyssey (Sunshine), new stoner laughs (Smiley Face), a creature feature (Dragon Wars), and a quirky rom-com (Eagle vs. Shark). Dig in!


3:10 to Yuma

Tomatometer: 88%

The last time we saw Christian Bale playing cowboy, he was singing and dancing his way through turn-of-the-century New York selling newspapers. (Raise your hand if you’re obsessed with Newsies!) Not so in James Mangold‘s heady remake of the 1957 classic Western, which pits the intense Welsh actor against Aussie thesp Russell Crowe — a foreign-born pair who scratch out grimy, pitch-perfect performances in the most American of genres. The action-packed tale of a poor farmer (Bale) who volunteers to escort a deadly criminal (Crowe) to the titular prison-bound locomotive, 3:10 to Yuma comes to DVD with a passel of deleted scenes, director commentary, and featurettes that discuss the well-traveled ground of the film Western.
 


Sunshine

Tomatometer: 76%

As he demonstrated with 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle can craft tense atmospherics, and for some audiences, movies don’t get any tenser than those set in deep space. At long last, his science fiction thriller Sunshine is out on DVD, rife with genuinely stunning visuals and surprisingly believable “movie science” (save a contestable last-act turn of events). At once action thriller and psychological exploration, Boyle’s tale of a crew of scientists trying to reignite the sun to save Earth is a good bet for viewers who love spaceship drama, eye-popping images, and Cillian Murphy. Loads of bonus materials comprise the release, but for those lucky PS3 owners, watch the Blu-Ray version. As IGN DVD editor Christopher Monfette tells us, “It’ll destroy your retinas.”

 

Smiley Face

Tomatometer: 67%

If, like us, you long for the days of stoner comedies like Half Baked and the entire Cheech & Chong oeuvre, you might enjoy this day-in-the-life adventure starring a bunch of young Hollywood actors. As Jane, an out-of-work actress who accidentally on purpose eats an entire tray full of pot cupcakes, Anna Faris hazily stumbles her way across Los Angeles in an effort to make some money, buy more weed, replace the cupcakes, save an original manuscript of the Communist Manifesto, and other stuff we can’t exactly recall, all while riding the biggest high in film history. Bravo, Gregg Araki. You’ve done it this time!

 

Dragon Wars (D-WAR)


Tomatometer: 25%

The Host this ain’t; Korea’s second greatest monster movie in recent history is a bit of a far cry from…well, a good movie, according to most critics, but is perhaps a must-see for those to whom the terms “guilty pleasure” and “so bad it’s good” carry weight. And that includes us!

Eagle vs. Shark


Tomatometer: 25%

Independent cinema has thrived lately, thanks largely to the popularity of the sweet quirky comedy; now see the trend as filtered through the mind of New Zealand director Taika Waititi. Oddball characters in love? Check! Deadpan line delivery? Check!

White Noise 2: The Light


Tomatometer: N/A

Now, you may think that the original White Noise, starring Michael Keaton as a widower communing with the dead via everyday household appliances (yes, yes, we know it’s a “real” occurrence called Electronic Voice Phenomenon), truly needed no sequel. But you’d be wrong. Check out White Noise 2: The Light, starring Nathan Fillion and Katee Sackhoff, then spend a few hours listening really closely to your toaster.

Death Sentence


Tomatometer: 16%

It’s time for another round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, who stars in Death Sentence as a vengeful father alongside Kelly Preston, who is married to John Travolta, who was in Look Who’s Talking Too with Roseanne Barr, who was in Backfield in Motion which was a funny women-playing-football movie. Wait, how do you play this game?

Until next week, fruitful renting to us all!

For the second straight weekend, a star-driven action drama aimed at adult
audiences opened at number one with $14M in ticket sales from roughly 2,700
theaters. This time it was
Jodie Foster‘s
The Brave One
which topped the charts bumping former champ
3:10 to Yuma
to
the runner-up spot.
Billy Bob
Thornton
‘s new comedy
Mr. Woodcock

opened respectably in third while the fantasy actioner
Dragon Wars
bowed to
weak results in fourth place.

Warner Bros. captured the top spot with the vigilante thriller
The Brave One
this
weekend averaging a solid $5,087 from 2,755 theaters. The Jodie Foster film’s
gross was enough to claim the number one spot, but was a far cry from the
numbers that the Oscar-winning actress has seen from recent films. The R-rated
pic’s bow was 43% weaker than her last film
Flightplan
‘s
$24.6M launch in September 2005 and down 53% from the $30.1M debut of
Panic Room
in
March 2002. All were adult-skewing thrillers anchored solo by Foster playing a
strong woman who takes care of problems on her own.
 



Two elements that may have dampened the grosses for Brave were lukewarm
reviews and a better-than-expected hold from
3:10 to Yuma

which is also playing to a mature adult crowd. Foster was aggressively promoting
the Neil Jordan-directed
film on every TV and print outlet over the past two weeks but that did little to
prevent the revenge pic from posting one of her worst openings in recent years.
In fact, over the last decade, her only wide release to debut weaker was 1999’s
Anna and
the King
with $5.2M.
 





The Brave One was the first number one hit of the year to be anchored by
a woman. It could be followed by another next weekend when
Milla Jovovich‘s
action sequel
Resident
Evil: Extinction
attacks.
 




Audiences kept lining up for
Russell Crowe
and Christian
Bale
in the Western 3:10 to Yuma which enjoyed a strong hold in its
second weekend dropping only 35% to an estimated $9.2M. That gave Lionsgate a
solid $28.5M after ten days with $50M possible by the end of the run which will
make it one of the distributor’s top-grossing non-Saw
films.





Opening with a decent showing in third place was the
Billy Bob ThorntonSeann
William Scott
comedy
Mr. Woodcock

with an estimated $9.1M. Averaging $4,079 from
2,231 theaters, the PG-13 pic performed slightly better than Thornton’s last
comedy
School for Scoundrels
which bowed to $8.6M despite playing in 773 more
theaters last September. Critics were understandably harsh.





The fantasy adventure film Dragon Wars debuted with weak results in fourth with
an estimated $5.4M from 2,269 sites for a poor $2,371 average. The PG-13 film
from Freestyle Releasing attracted poor reviews. Teen sensation Superbad spent its fifth straight weekend in the Top Five
grossing an estimated $5.2M and boosted Sony’s cume to $111.3M. MGM’s horror
redo Halloween fell 47% to an estimated $5M in its third scare and lifted its
sum to $51.3M.
 


Dipping only 27% was
The Bourne Ultimatum
which grossed an estimated $4.2M
pushing the massive cume to $216.2M. Only one 2007 release has performed better
in its seventh weekend — Wild Hogs with $4.7M in April. Overseas, the Universal
hit collected an estimated $20.8M from 4,333 theaters in 46 territories and
enjoyed number one debuts in France, South Korea, Belgium, Norway and the
Netherlands. That lifted the international total to $125M and the global tally
to $341M making it the biggest Bourne ever. Look for the $400M barrier to fall
later this fall.
 



The sports comedy Balls of Fury drooped down to eighth place with an estimated
$3.3M, off 41%, for a $28.9M total after 19 days for Focus. New Line’s action
sequel Rush Hour 3 held up well again sliding 32% to an estimated $3.3M for a cume of $133.2M to date. The family comedy
Mr Bean’s Holiday eased only 22% to
an estimated $2.7M for a $28.5M sum for Universal.
 



There was plenty of activity in the arthouses as Oscar season got underway with
strong limited launches from a handful of early contenders. Director
David
Cronenberg
‘s crime thriller
Eastern Promises
generated the best average with its
estimated $553,000 bow from 15 theaters for a muscular $36,867 per site. The
R-rated tale won the top audience prize at the Toronto International Film
Festival on Saturday boosting its industry profile and will expand on Friday to
more than 1,300 locations nationwide. This weekend’s results were almost
identical to the platform bow of Cronenberg’s last film
A History of Violence

which opened in mid-September two years ago in 14 theaters to a $515,992 frame
and $36,857 average before expanding wide the following weekend with $8.1M from
1,340 venues and a $6,047 average. Coincidentally, Jodie Foster was number one
at that time with Flightplan.



Sony’s musical extravaganza
Across the Universe
was red hot also with a debut of
an estimated $685,000 from 23 venues for a potent $29,783 average. Studio data
showed that the Julie Taymor-directed pic skewed towards young women as the
audience breakdown was 62% female and 57% under 25. Universe also widens on
Friday and will be in roughly 400 playdates.



The Tommy Lee Jones military mystery
In the Valley of Elah opened to solid
results with an estimated $150,000 from nine locations for a $16,667 average.
Warner Independent reported that the audience was more male and older. Directed
by Paul Haggis,
Elah will expand to 250-300 runs next weekend. The
distributor’s
Daniel Radcliffe drama
December Boys did not fare as well and
grossed an estimated $18,000 from four theaters for a mild $4,500 average in New
York and Los Angeles. Pic will widen to 10 theaters on Friday and will have a
tough road ahead given the avalanche of limited-release options on the horizon.



Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. New Line’s stylish
action thriller Shoot
‘Em Up
tumbled 55% in its second weekend to an estimated
$2.6M giving the Clive Owen pic only $10.3M after ten days. A $15M final seems
likely. The Nanny Diaries grossed an estimated $2.2M, off 31%, for a cume of
$24M. The MGM release should finish up with just under $30M. Paramount’s
expensive flop Stardust took in an estimated $1.4M, down 25%, for a domestic
tally of only $36.4M. With a reported production cost of $65M, the adventure
film looks to end its run with a disappointing $40M.




The top ten films grossed an estimated $61.3M which was up 9% from last year
when Gridiron Gang debuted in first place with $14.4M; but down 8% from 2005
when Just Like Heaven opened in the top spot with $16.4M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru

Two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster returns to the big screen this weekend in the vigilante thriller The Brave One which has its sights set on an easy top spot debut. The frame’s only other wide openers, the comedy Mr. Woodcock and the fantasy adventure Dragon Wars, bring with them less buzz and look to make less of a dent into the North American box office.

Gunning for her third number one hit in as many years, Foster takes a darker role starring as a woman who takes the law into her own hands after her fiancé is brutally beaten and killed in the Warner Bros. drama The Brave One. The R-rated film from director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire) co-stars Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, and Mary Steenburgen and should play to an adult audience. Cross-gender appeal is strong here so this will not play out like a chick flick or a woman-in-peril film. Foster is one of very few women in Hollywood bankable enough to open pictures consistently year after year and she tends to pick projects with commercial viability in the first place. Gone are the Nell days.

The Brave One should play to the same crowd that came out for two other September thrillers led by fortysomething white women – Foster’s own Flightplan from 2005 and Julianne Moore‘s The Forgotten from a year earlier. Flightplan took off with $24.6M and a $7,193 average while Forgotten bowed to $21M and a $6,773 average. Brave carries a harsher R rating but that should not affect the grosses too much since most of the interest will come from those over 16 anyway. A more narrow release in 2,755 theaters will have an impact though. Marketing has been top notch and Foster has been making so many promotional appearances that you’d think her name were Hillary. Despite a bad title, The Brave One should still score a strong opening weekend in the number one spot and could gross about $22M over three days.




Jodie Foster is The Brave One.

Seann William Scott and Billy Bob Thornton compete over who has the best three names in the biz in the new comedy Mr. Woodcock. The PG-13 film finds a young man whose life is traumatized when his mother decides to marry his old nemesis, the junior high gym teacher. The New Line release does offer up some starpower from the two leads plus Susan Sarandon as the remarrying mom. Hopes are for a wide age range to take interest. But the buzz around the picture is not too strong and it is not exactly at the top of the must-see list at this moment for teens and young adults. The Thornton-Sarandon crowd will be hard to reach with Jodie and Russell out there with high profile flicks for mature adults. Crashing into over 2,200 locations, Mr. Woodcock could debut with about $6M.


Billy Bob Thornton is Mr. Woodcock.

The forces of good and evil go at it once again in the new fantasy adventure Dragon Wars from Freestyle Releasing. The PG-13 pic hopes to tear young males away from their PlayStations, but with zero starpower and a light marketing push the grosses and averages will not fly too high. After a big wave of good summer action movies targeted this demo, a series of bad ones went after young guys too in recent weeks. That leaves little space at the multiplexes. Debuting in a curiously wide 2,000 theaters, Dragon Wars could collect about $4M this weekend.


The Korean sci-fi/thriller Dragon Wars a.k.a. D-War

Audiences have been upbeat on the Russell CroweChristian Bale Western 3:10 to Yuma and its older skew should mean that the sophomore drop will not be too fierce. Plus competition for adult men is not very formidable. A 40% decline to $8.5M could result giving Lionsgate about $28M after ten days.

Halloween‘s freefall means it will be out of theaters by the time trick-or-treating begins. A 55% drop would lead to a $4M frame and a 17-day tally of $50M. Superbad should continue its strong run with a 40% dip to $3M which would boost Sony’s total to $109M.

LAST YEAR: The Rock‘s football drama Gridiron Gang from Sony led a batch of new films with a debut of $14.4M which was good enough to clinch first place. Opening in second and playing to a more mature adult audience was The Black Dahlia with $10M for Universal. Final grosses reached $38.4M and $22.5M. Bowing poorly in third was the baseball toon Everyone’s Hero with $6.1M for Fox on its way to just $14.5M. Sony’s teen thriller The Covenant dropped from first to fourth with $4.8M while Paramount’s The Last Kiss opened quietly in fifth with $4.6M leading to a $11.6M final.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got vigilantes (The Brave One, starring
Jodie Foster), gym teachers (Mr. Woodcock, starring
Billy Bob Thornton and
Susan Sarandon), war correspondents (The Hunting Party, starring
Richard Gere and
Terrence Howard), and
flying menaces (Dragon Wars, starring
Jason
Behr
). What do the critics have to say?

In Taxi Driver,
Robert DeNiro played a cabbie that went on a killing
spree to "protect" a teenage hooker played by Jodie Foster. Now, with
The Brave One, it’s Foster’s turn to take the law into her own hands. She plays
a talk radio host whose significant other is killed in a random attack,
triggering an impulse to arm herself and "avenge" her husband’s killing.
Terrence Howard plays a detective who’s on the trail of this vigilante. Critics
say The Brave One‘s an-eye-for-an-eye message is problematic, but the
material is slightly elevated by
Neil Jordan‘s direction and strong performances from Foster
and Howard. At 43 percent on the Tomatometer, Brave may not be one to watch.
(Check out our review from the Toronto Film Festival

here
.)




"Hi, can you guys tell me where the frozen banana stand is?"


Some couldn’t climb a rope, others got pelted with dodge balls: It’s safe to say
a lot of us have negative associations with gym class, the most Darwinian of
middle school educational pursuits.
Mr. Woodcock
taps into that feeling,
but not quite successfully, say the pundits. The movie stars
Seann William Scott
as a self-help author who’s never quite gotten over the ritual abuse he suffered
at the hands of his P.E. teacher, the sadistic Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob
Thornton); the trauma continues when he learns his mom (Susan Sarandon) is
dating his old nemesis. Critics say Woodcock lacks the energy to make the
most of its intriguing premise, and underutilizes a talented cast. At 18 percent
on the Tomatometer, Mr. Woodcock isn’t in very good shape.




"Remember when I gave your son an atomic wedgie in the locker
room?"


The Hunting Party
tells the story of two veteran war correspondents
(Richard Gere and Terrence Howard) on the trail of a Bosnian war criminal — and
the story that could make their careers. The Hunting Party isn’t the
first movie to attempt to mine bleak humor from the Bosnian conflict (the
Oscar-winning No Man’s Land also found some grim laughs in the midst of
that bitter war). But critics say director
Richard Shepard‘s follow-up to
The
Matador
is awkward at a tonal level, shifting from dark satire to serious
discussions of international politics to create an uneven film, despite the best
efforts of its game leads. At 46 percent, this Party isn’t quite as
swinging as it should be. (Check out our interview with Shepard

here
.)



Don’t hold your breath for this one.


Far be it from us to question the collective taste of the good folks in South
Korea. It’s just that Dragon Wars, which made out like gangbusters at the
Korean box office, wasn’t screened for critics in the U.S. of A. Dragon
Wars
tells the story of a TV reporter (Jason Behr) who discovers that
earthquakes around Los Angeles are not the work of plate tectonics but a dragon
possessed with the spirit of a 500-year-old warrior. No, it’s not a documentary.
Yes, you should attempt to Guess the Tomatometer.

Also opening this week in limited release:
The Great World of Sound,
a
drama about a pair of traveling music producers, is at 82 percent;
Forever
,
a documentary about Paris’s famed Pere-Lachaise cemetery, is at 80 percent;
David
Cronenberg
‘s
Eastern Promises
, starring
Viggo Mortensen as a member
of London’s underworld, is at 79 percent (check out our interview with Cronenberg and Mortensen
here);
King of California, starring
Michael
Douglas
and
Evan Rachel Wood as a father and daughter on a quest for gold, is at
75 percent; Paul Haggis
In the Valley of Elah, starring
Tommy Lee Jones
and Charlize Theron, about a war vet’s search for his missing son who recently
returned from Iraq, is at 63 percent;
Ira & Abby
, a rom-com about a
whirlwind courtship that takes a dark turn, is at 50 percent;
Across the
Universe
,
Julie Taymor‘s ambitions musical that chronicles the 1960s through
the music of the Beatles, is at 45 percent (check out our Beatles movie feature
here);
December Boys, a story of orphaned teenagers in Australia starring
Daniel Radcliffe, is at 43 percent; and
Silk, a period romance starring
Keira Knightley and Michael Pitt, is at zero percent.




"Who are we?" "The Wildcats!" "Who are we gonna beat?" "The
Wildcats!"


Recent Jodie Foster Movies:
————————————
87% — Inside Man (2006)
38% — Flightplan (2005)
77% — A Very Long Engagement (2004)
76% — Panic Room (2002)
51% — Anna and the King (1999)

Recent Billy Bob Thornton Movies:
——————————————-
59% — The Astronaut Farmer (2007)
25% — School for Scoundrels (2006)
45% — The Ice Harvest (2005)
46% — Bad News Bears (2005)
79% — Chrystal (2004)

It’s been a long time in the making, but the sci-fi fantasy Dragon Wars — reportedly Korea’s most expensive production ever — is coming to American theaters. What’s more surprising than the fact that it’s getting a U.S. release is that overseas, the $70 million film has already turned a sizable box office. Color us impressed!

Dragon Wars, or D-War as it was originally titled, is a Korean film set in Los Angeles, financed with Korean money and helmed by a Korean director (former comedian Hyung-rae Shim), starring a largely American cast. Its plot revolves around TV reporter Ethan (Jason Behr) who discovers that L.A.’s recent earthquakes aren’t just natural plate tectonics but the awakenings of a giant ancient serpent — a Korean serpent — that he is fated to battle because, well, the 500-year-old spirit of a warrior lives within him. He’s charged with finding the reincarnated version of that warrior’s soulmate, now a hot girl named Sarah (Amanda Brooks), and defeating the serpent before it becomes a dragon, destroys L.A., wreaks havoc on the world, etc.



Giant Korean serpents threaten Los Angeles in Dragon Wars

We first laid eyes on Dragon Wars at its modestly attended Sunday afternoon panel at Comic-Con. In all honesty, I hadn’t meant to sit in on the presentation at all, but a friend was watching and there were plenty of free seats. Producer James Kang sat onstage with three of his leads, Behr, Brooks, and Craig Robinson; they ran a CGI-heavy clip full of bombastic action (Explosions! Screaming humans!) and digitally drawn Imugis (giant snakes of Korean lore who long to become dragons) mostly slithering about. People applauded, but it looked on par with a really cool snake fighting video game, or your average Sci Fi channel monster pic.

So unmoved was I then that I stepped up to the audience microphone to spice up my Dragon Wars panel-watching experience. Mostly, that was to say “Hi” to Robinson, who plays second fiddle to Behr in the film (as his wisecracking cameraman). Fans of good comedy know Robinson from dropping a few performance gems, as the warehouse foreman Darryl on The Office and as the brutally honest bouncer in Knocked Up; I dare say he was my favorite part of the Dragon Wars presentation.

I also asked producer Kang to explain why they were changing the film’s perfectly ridiculous Korean title, D-War, to the more serious, spelled out Dragon Wars for American audiences. His response was something along the lines of “the digital age” we live in now — fine, whatever, but why even bother using such staid and grammatically accurate verbiage for something that would benefit from playing up a more playful angle? Especially when all of the film’s promotional materials highlight giant serpents eating cars, creatures flying above a metropolis, a showdown atop a skyscraper helipad — remarkably reminiscent of Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent, in which an ancient Aztec serpent-god terrorized Manhattan from high atop the Chrysler Building.



Dragon War character poster; Q: The Winged Serpent

Don’t get me wrong — I have absolutely nothing against the idea of a sci-fi/fantasy dragon flick. I tore through Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series as a young, bookish nerd. I was excited about Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey’s Reign of Fire all the way despite its dubious science. And I will certainly give Dragon Wars a fair viewing before officially passing judgement.

Regardless, it was a tad surprising to hear that D-War (as I shall refer to it in the context of its non-U.S. dealings) has raked in massive earnings in its South Korean run — $20 million in its first five days, and over $40 million total in the two weeks since. Since August 1, a reported 6.14 million tickets have been sold in South Korea, which means roughly one out of every eight of the nation’s 49 million people have seen the film.

Pundits predict that at this pace, D-War will easily match the record-breaking run of another well-performing South Korean monster movie: last year’s The Host, which currently holds the all-time Korean box office title and got the patronage of nearly a fourth of the country’s populace while in theaters. That film’s commercial success, however, was bolstered by critical praise (the tale of a Loch Ness Monster-type creature is Certified Fresh with a 92 percent Tomatometer). It’s uncertain, but seems unlikely, that D-War will get similar honors. While most critics stateside have yet to review the film (excepting Variety‘s Derek Elley), a flurry of debate has erupted in South Korea over the film’s artistic value, with one critic deeming it “unworthy of criticism.”

You’ll be able to decide for yourself come September 14, when Freestyle Releasing is scheduled to let Dragon Wars loose on American soil. By then, every man, woman, and child in South Korea may have seen the flick. We’ll see how it goes over here.

Watch the Dragon Wars trailer.