Following a sluggish fall season, November kicks off with a bang this weekend with two high profile films both reaching for the number one spot while appealing to vastly different audiences. Paramount and DreamWorks target kids with the animated comedy Bee Movie from Jerry Seinfeld while Universal goes after adult audiences with its crime drama American Gangster which pits Denzel Washington against Russell Crowe. With little overlap in business, the overall North American box office should surge and finally beat out year-ago levels leading to a solid kickoff for the holiday movie season.

A decade after conquering the television world, Jerry Seinfeld aims to take over the land of film with Bee Movie. The PG-rated toon tells the story of a bee that must try to save his world from those nasty humans that take their honey. Also lending vocal talents are Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey, and Chris Rock who snagged the coveted ‘and’ credit for what amounts to about 60 seconds of dialogue. Timing for the Paramount/DreamWorks release is as good as it gets. Not only is early November a hot time for kids movies to score at the box office but the marketplace has suffered a virtual drought when it comes to family-friendly entertainment this fall with The Game Plan being the only major contender. Parents are dying to take their kids to something else, anything else.

Bee Movie falls into the lucrative category of digitally animated comedies about talking creatures featuring the voice of a popular comedian. Last November’s Happy Feet with Robin Williams opened to $41.5M, the previous year’s Chicken Little bowed to $40M, and 2004’s Shark Tale debuted with $47.6M. Bee has the slick animation and funny situations that kids like but also features humor that adults will enjoy too so it will play to a broad audience. And the millions of Seinfeld fans that have had nothing but DVD box sets every Thanksgiving will finally have some new material they can check out from their favorite comic. Critics have not been very kind but that should not affect the grosses that much. The studio’s marketing blitz will be enough to make children demand a trip to the local megaplex. With a highly commercial product, no competition for the family audience, and an ultrawide launch in over 3,500 theaters, Bee Movie could win the box office battle this weekend and gross about $42M.


Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie

Boasting a much higher bodycount this weekend is Ridley Scott‘s American Gangster starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe which will shoot up some solid numbers from adult audiences. The R-rated drama tells the true story of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas who built up a mammoth empire selling heroin. Crowe plays the detective out to shut him down. Starpower from the three names, all of whom have won or been nominated for Oscars multiple times, will be the driving force at the turnstiles. Universal’s $90M+ production also has garnered strong reviews which will help the cause and has been backed by an effective marketing push. The running time of nearly two hours and forty minutes will cut back on the amount of times each auditorium can play the film. Even multiplexes that double-screen the picture will probably run out of seats on Friday and Saturday nights.

Gangster should play out like a Denzel movie more than anything else since his box office track record is the strongest and has more consistency than those of Scott and Crowe. Having scored ten career number one openings to date, Washington has seen his top bow come from last year’s Inside Man which debuted to $29M and a $10,275 average. Last fall’s organized crime hit The Departed opened to $26.9M and a $8,912 average and makes for a good comparison given its genre, starpower, acclaim, rating, and length. Gangster will attract a larger African American audience than Scorsese‘s award winner did so an opening north of $30M seems likely. Appeal to men and women will be equally strong. Many adult dramas have struggled at the box office this fall but American Gangster has the firepower to go out there and pull in paying audiences. Plus the weekend’s other major offerings will not eat into its customer base by too much. Heading into 3,054 theaters, American Gangster might debut with around $34M this weekend.


Washington and Crowe in American Gangster

After starring in the year’s second highest grossing horror film 1408, John Cusack hits the big screen again in the family drama Martian Child. The PG-rated film finds the actor playing a writer whose adopted son claims to be from Mars. Parents looking for a movie that they can see with their kids this weekend will be lining up for Jerry and his insect pals so Child will face an uphill battle. New Line hopes that there will be room in the marketplace for a live-action pic for kids but even The Game Plan in its sixth session will be a force to be reckoned with. Invading over 2,000 theaters, Martian Child might take in roughly $6M.


John Cusack in The Martian Child

Following its strong top spot launch, the horror flick Saw IV is sure to fall hard on the second weekend. Sophomore drops amounted to 47% for Saw II and 56% for Saw III and the decline should get even larger for the fourth installment. A 60% plunge would give Lionsgate about $13M for the frame and a ten-day cume of $51M.

Look for a better hold from Steve Carell‘s dramedy Dan in Real Life. The Buena Vista title enjoyed a solid average and has generated good word-of-mouth. The weekend’s new releases may not provide too much competition so a decline of 35% could result. That would put Dan at around $7.5M for a total of $22M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: Crashing into multiplexes on a tidal wave of buzz was the raunchy comedy Borat which only debuted in 837 theaters but scored a potent top spot bow of $26.5M for a sizzling average of $31,607. The Fox blockbuster was the only film in 2006 to hit number one while playing in less than 2,000 venues. Final grosses reached $128.5M domestically and over $260M worldwide. Two new kidpics split the family audience and followed in second and third. Disney’s Tim Allen sequel The Santa Clause 3 bowed to $19.5M on its way to $84.5M while Paramount’s animated comedy Flushed Away debuted close behind with $18.8M before finishing with $64.5M. Falling to fourth was Saw III with $14.8M for Lionsgate while the Warner Bros. crime thriller The Departed rounded out the top five with $7.7M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com,

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