Disney and Pixar aim for their eighth straight number one hit together with the latest computer animated film from the industry experts, "Ratatouille."

For those looking for a higher body count in their weekend entertainment, Fox offers the actioner "Live Free or Die Hard" which stands as the ninth sequel in nine weeks this summer. In more limited national release, Lionsgate expands its Michael Moore documentary "Sicko" while Focus opens its anti-"Die Hard" pic "Evening." This weekend’s box office champ will only have a short-lived stay at number one since "Transformers" will begin its assault on the multiplexes on Monday night attacking at 8pm.

Scurrying into its usual position atop the charts, Pixar returns to capture the family audience with "Ratatouille" hoping for what could be a long run at the summer box office. The G-rated pic tells of a lovable rat with a gift for cooking that finds itself working secretly in a famous Paris restaurant with a clumsy human boy. Brad Bird ("The Incredibles," "The Iron Giant") directs and the voice cast includes Patton Oswalt, Peter O’Toole, Brian Dennehy, and Janeane Garofalo. Not the biggest names in the biz, but this one will not be sold on the starpower of actors. It is the Pixar brand name, and to an extent the Disney logo, that will bring in paying customers. Parents and children know they are guaranteed a great time so the brand will sell itself. Reviews have also been glowing across the board which will help too.

Last summer, the Disney/Pixar team saw its "Cars" drive off with $60.1M on opening weekend on its way to a $244.1M final which by the end of the year made it the second biggest blockbuster of 2006 after "Dead Man’s Chest." "Night at the Museum"’s prolonged run into 2007 allowed it to eventually surpass "Cars." Pixar’s previous toons "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo" both bowed at the $70M mark however. "Ratatouille" will cater to the same audience, but direct competition for families will be tougher than it was with the prior pics. Though fading fast, "Evan Almighty" and the "Fantastic Four" sequel are both PG films specifically designed to appeal to kids and should steal away close to $25M combined. But the rat film should enjoy an extended stay in North American multiplexes as word-of-mouth will be very positive and moviegoers will enjoy having a new story with new characters instead of the same old sequels all the time. Launching in over 3,500 theaters, "Ratatouille" could gross about $57M this weekend.


Bruce Willis returns to his signature franchise after a dozen-year gap with "Live Free or Die Hard," Fox’s next big entry into the summer movie sweepstakes. Keeping with the new fad of tamer ratings, the fourth installment of the series keeps the action high but cuts back on extended shots of blood and foul language in order to secure the PG-13. The previous "Die Hards" were all R-rated with the last two being number one openers. Directed by Len Wiseman, who helmed both "Underworld" pics, "Live Free" co-stars Justin Long and finds Bruce’s John McClane character assigned to protect a computer hacker who holds the key to stopping a virtual terrorist from taking control of the country electronically.

Since today’s teenagers never felt the excitement of rushing out to the theaters to see a new "Die Hard" flick, the studio has worked hard to make it relevant to the most sought after demographic so they don’t think of this as their father’s action movie. The new rating, the high-tech plot, and the Mac-friendly Long could certainly help. Plus in a summer filled with super heroes and pirates, "Die Hard" gets retro with action not driven by effects, but by stunts. The audience should skew male and older. Plus there are die hard "Die Hard" fans that have been waiting patiently for twelve years that will be out upfront to see their hero return. Reviews have been good and the film actually delivers solid entertainment without being the type of creative disappointment that audiences have unfortunately become used to this summer. Opening Wednesday in 3,172 theaters, "Live Free or Die Hard" could generate about $31M over the three-day weekend and around $48M over the five-day debut period.

"Live Free or Die Hard"

Oscar winner Michael Moore turns his wrath on the health care system in his latest documentary "Sicko." The PG-13 entry comes with the filmmaker’s usual desperate need to generate controversy in order to sell tickets. The new film does not carry with it the monstrous buzz that propelled "Fahrenheit 9/11" to a surprise number one opening three years ago. Given the subject matter, "Sicko" should skew older. Lionsgate is rolling the film out slowly instead of opening nationwide on the first weekend as it should take a little longer to get people interested in buying a ticket. The distributor is hoping that last weekend’s solo New York debut, last Saturday’s sneak previews in Moore-friendly markets, and this frame’s limited expansion to a few hundred sites will get people talking as the country heads into the Fourth of July holiday week ahead. Holiday buzz would then justify a wider rollout. Expanding to 441 theaters on Friday, "Sicko" could collect about $7M and generate a sizzling per-theater average.


In the weekend’s toughest sell, acclaimed Hollywood actresses band together to define the term "chick flick" with the dying-mother drama "Evening." Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Claire Danes, and Toni Collette star in the Focus release which should see most of its business come from white adult women. The PG-13 film is trying to offer summer ticket buyers an alternative to the endless string of testosterone-fueled action sequels, but it comes up short when it comes to commercial bells and whistles. Sure there is some well-respected starpower, but comedy always sells better than drama with female-skewing pictures. And look for mothers to join their kids for "Ratatouille" which take many in the target audience out of the picture. Opening nationally in 978 theaters, "Evening" might gross about $3M this weekend.


Last weekend’s top earner "Evan Almighty" wasn’t exactly explosive out of the gate. This weekend will be a tough one as well since Pixar will steal away the family audience and John McClane will take away his share of summer moviegoers too. A 50% drop to about $15M would leave Universal with $60M after ten days.

"1408" scared up some strong sales last weekend in its debut. But fright flicks fall hard on the second weekend so a 55% decline would give the John Cusack thriller around $9.5M for the frame and a ten-day cume of $39M.

A similar fate could await "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" which tumbled by 66% in its sophomore session. Fox might drop down to roughly $9M boosting the 17-day total to $115M.

LAST YEAR: Warner Bros. flew into the top spot with the ultraexpensive comic flick "Superman Returns" which bowed to a not-so-muscular $52.5M over three days and $84.6M in its first five days. The Man of Steel made its way to $200.1M domestically and $390M worldwide which fell below industry expectations. Exceeding pre-release expectations was Meryl Streep‘s "The Devil Wears Prada" which bowed to $27.5M for Fox. The sleeper hit went on to gross a surprisingly strong $124.7M in North America and did exceptionally well overseas too with a global tally of $325M. Rounding out the top five were Adam Sandler‘s "Click" with $19.9M, the Disney/Pixar hit "Cars" with $14.6M, and Jack Black‘s "Nacho Libre" with $6.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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