Four new films open wide, but they may not be enough to stop the North American box office from suffering its third consecutive down weekend.

Leading the way is the Paramount sequel "Jackass: Number Two" which will enjoy the widest release by far. The rest of the films will take moviegoers back in time just as so many other recent releases have done. Focus Features unleashes Jet Li‘s martial arts epic "Fearless," MGM takes off with the World War I adventure "Flyboys," and Sony remakes the political thriller "All the King’s Men."

Four years ago, Paramount shocked the industry with the number one bow for its crude stunts flick "Jackass: The Movie" which managed to keep "The Ring" out of the top spot on the weekend right before Halloween. Its $22.8M debut and eventual $64.3M domestic take and DVD success helped to bring about a sequel, "Jackass: Number Two" which hopes to conquer the charts once again. The R-rated pic regroups the team from the hit MTV reality series including Johnny Knoxville and finds them taking part in another series of outlandish don’t-try-this-at-home antics. Males in their late teens and early twenties are the target audience here although slightly older guys who were devoted followers a half-decade ago might also be up for some nostalgia.

The first "Jackass" bowed to a muscular $9,073 average from 2,509 playdates which at today’s ticket prices would be over $10,000. "Number Two" is not likely to match that amount though. A wider launch will dilute the average a bit and the franchise has aged and is no longer at the peak of its popularity. But since Knoxville has found more mainstream success recently with films like "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Ringer," the studio is hoping that some new fans will give "Two" a try. Competition for males will be fierce with last weekend’s top film "Gridiron Gang" still playing to sports-loving boys and men while Jet Li’s new film "Fearless" will
steal away dudes who dig martial arts fighting, bones cracking, and necks breaking. Male dollars will be stretched to the limit this weekend and an already sluggish marketplace will mean that there will only be so much overall traffic. Busting into over 3,000 theaters, "Jackass: Number Two" will rank number one and may open with around $23M.


Mr. Knoxville and co. are back to cheat death and reason.

Also gunning for young men with R-rated fare is Focus Features with the historical martial arts actioner "Fearless" starring Jet Li. Already a hit at cinemas in Asia, Australia, and parts of Europe, the period pic tells the true story of a legendary fighter who inspired his nation in China at the start of the twentieth century. With a bigger star in the lead, "Fearless" is sure to perform better than Tony Jaa‘s Thai actioner "The Protector" which bowed to just $5M two weeks earlier. Li has a consistently loyal fan following that is likely to turn out especially since the marketing campaign is pushing the claim that this is his final martial arts film ever. This tactic gives the pic a level of urgency, although it should not mean much to those outside of his fan base. Crossover potential to mainstream action fans is not very likely, though the actor’s pull with urban males should not be underestimated.

Still, Li has posted some impressive numbers in his career. Each of his six films from this decade has launched with an opening weekend average of at least $5,500 with five having averaged more than $6,000. His last effort "Unleashed" bowed last summer to $10.9M and a solid $5,570 average while 2004’s Chinese blockbuster "Hero" conquered the North American charts for two straight weeks bowing to an impressive $18M and $8,865 average. Foreign language films pretty much never do that in the U.S. market. "Fearless" will not duplicate the success of "Hero" which used the "Quentin Tarantino Presents" tag to attract extra biz. Plus with "Jackass" taking away many young men this weekend, only the true followers will make it out. But reviews have been very positive (the best for any new
release) and advance buzz from overseas has been encouraging too. Kicking its way into roughly 1,806 theaters, "Fearless" might debut to about $9M.


Jet Li inviting us to his last Martial Arts flick.

World War I bi-planes are the draw in "Flyboys," a new historical action adventure being released by MGM. The PG-13 film stars James Franco as a courageous American pilot in France who devotes his life to fighting for the Allies. With a high pricetag and no proven stars that can sell in America, this is yet another risky period film packed into the slow month of September. The "inspired by a true story" description used by half of the films in the current top ten is once again in play here. With sex and bad language kept to a minimum, "Flyboys" hopes to appeal to a broad family audience so adults can bring their kids. However, the starpower and subject matter are both lacking making this a tough sell at the box office especially since the marketplace is already filled with mediocre product. Zooming into 2,033 theaters, "Flyboys" might climb to around $7M over the weekend.


The real star of "Flyboys": the CGI.

After taking a beating at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sony’s remake "All the King’s Men" enters the marketplace on Friday with more subdued expectations. The PG-13 reworking of the classic 1949 political thriller stars Sean Penn as a charismatic politician from the South who gains power and flirts with corruption in the process. The all-star cast also includes Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, and James Gandolfini. Distributors often utilize the Toronto fest to generate buzz for their Oscar contenders right before their fall commercial openings, but in this case, it seemed to have backfired with so many reviewers panning the pic. "Men" should play exclusively to a mature adult audience as teens will yawn at the premise. The marketplace has been flooded with period dramas in recent weeks with "The Black Dahlia," "Hollywoodland," and "The Illusionist" all going after the same audience. Competition will be a major factor.

Sony is not giving its usual saturation release to "King’s Men," but instead campaigning in just 1,514 theaters this weekend hoping some positive buzz will spread. The lack of screens will keep the gross in check and the bad reviews should sting even more. Last weekend, "Dahlia" found out the hard way how far a serious film for adults can go when the critics give a thumbs down. The film’s starpower is about its only major asset right now, but will it be enough to make moviegoers risk their dollars? With negative press, an abundance of direct competition, and only a moderate amount of theaters, "All the King’s Men" could find itself with only $7M this weekend and a rocky road ahead.


Sean Penn’s politician wins over his constituents, but not the critics.

In limited release, The Weinstein Co. unleashes its horror flick "Feast" in 140 theaters with special midnight shows across the country on Friday and Saturday. The latest winner from the Project Greenlight series is directed by John Gulager and finds a group of people trapped inside a bar fighting off flesh-eating creatures. Filmmaker Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") returns to the surreal with "The Science of Sleep," a new fantasy drama starring Gael García Bernal ("The Motorcycle Diaries") as a man whose dreams collide with reality. Warner Independent is opening the film on Friday in eight major U.S. markets and will expand it across the country next weekend. Miramax platforms its futuristic sci-fi toon "Renaissance" in New York and Los Angeles. Set in Paris in the year
2054, the R-rated tale is the latest film to bring the look of a graphic novel to the big screen.

Last weekend’s top film "Gridiron Gang" is sure to lose its first place ranking. The Rock‘s films never have very good legs on the second weekend as evidenced by the sophomore declines of his recent films – 48% for 2003’s "The Rundown," 46% for 2004’s "Walking Tall," and a horrendous 73% for last fall’s "Doom." While "Gang" was not a favorite with critics, it has been getting favorable responses from moviegoers so its drop this weekend may not be too bad. Competition for young males will be a factor with the dueling R pics "Jackass" and "Fearless," but younger boys may still be up for an uplifting football tale. "Gridiron Gang" might see a decline of 45% to around $8M giving Sony a reasonable ten-day cume of $25M.

Universal’s murder mystery "The Black Dahlia" was not too powerful in its opening last weekend and both critics and moviegoers are giving negative feedback. A 50% fall would leave the Brian De Palma flick with $5M for the frame and a weak $18M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: One A-list Hollywood blonde replaced another at the top of the charts. Jodie Foster‘s kidnapping thriller "Flightplan" flew to number one opening with a strong $24.6M. The Buena Vista release went on to gross $89.7M making it the top-grossing film in the September-October corridor for 2005. In second place, Warner Bros. expanded its animated film "Corpse Bride" nationally taking in $19.1M. The Tim BurtonJohnny Depp collaboration found its way to $53.4M. Reese Witherspoon fell from first to third with her comedy "Just Like Heaven" which collected $9.6M. Opening in fourth place with moderate results was the skating drama "Roll Bounce" which bowed to $7.6M on its way to $17.4M from less than 1,700 theaters. Close behind in fifth was the hit thriller "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" with $7.5M in its third round.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The Hollywood Reporter brings some rather bizarre news from the normally quite sensible people over at 20th Century Fox. Just like Universal has "Rogue" for the genre fans and Paramount has "MTV Films" for the aging slackers, Fox will soon create a Teen-Centric division that’ll focus on REALLY separating your 16-year-old from her allowance.

"Fox Filmed Entertainment chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos have appointed Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice to run a new division for teen and young adult audiences intended to tap into the lucrative genre film market.

Rice, who also will continue running Searchlight, the studio’s specialty films unit, has signed a new five-year contract with FFE.

The new division he will head — which has not yet been named — will produce and acquire six to eight films a year in genres including action, thriller, comedy and drama.

The new division also will create new-media content for mobile devices, the Web and emerging technologies.

"Young audiences have their own aesthetic," Rothman said, adding that new media would primarily be used to create marketing opportunities for the division’s films. "Both the movies and the marketing will have a pretty radical aesthetic. We’re going to try to be bold," he said."

"Bold and radical", eh? Sounds like someone got a little overzealous after the annual bring-your-daughter-to-work day. Personally, I think 20th Century Fox is the very best of all the big studios, but why not just focus on the individual projects instead of creating an ultimately pointless ‘label’? Do high-school kids base their weekend movie selections on the logo screens? "Hey, let’s go see the new Sony Pictures Classics movie!"

If there’s one upstart funnyman who’s busier than Steve Carell these days, it’d have to be Mr. Will Arnett. Best known for his painfully hilarious work in Fox’s "Arrested Development," Arnett’s been signed to at least five movies over the past several months, and know he’s got a starring role in New Line’s "Jeff the Demon."

According to Variety, ""Jeff the Demon" centers on a pair of high school losers who find a book that allows them to summon a power from the netherworld. The demon, Jeff, helps them win every battle and right every wrong in their lives, but they quickly find that further problems ensue.

"Jeff the Demon" marks the second recent New Line comedy deal for Arnett, who’s signed to star in "We’re the Millers."

Arnett’s completed work in Sony’s "RV" alongside Robin Williams and Carsey-Werner’s "You Are Going to Prison." He’s attached to "Dad Can’t Lose" and "Get ‘Em Wet" for Paramount and "Most Likely to Succeed" for Universal."

Hanh Nguyen of Zap2it.com brings some new casting notices for the third entry in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise, which is scheduled to begin shooting in Japan fairly soon.

Bow Wow, "the 18-year-old rapping actor will fulfill his need for speed with "The Fast and the Furious 3," the latest installment of the popular street-racing film franchise.

"Me and Lucas Black are actually starring in that movie," says Bow Wow. "’Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo.’ It’s gonna be hot and different. My first action movie, so it’s gonna be great."

Directed by Justin Lin ("Better Luck Tomorrow"), the story revolves around a not-so-ugly American who flees to Tokyo to avoid prison for his illegal racing ways. He discovers the next level in rubber-burning adrenalin rushes: drift racing. The underground motor sport challenges drivers to accelerate through hairpin turns and then spin out of them, making for hair-raising races through city streets.

"It starts filming in the first week of October," says the rapper. "After [promoting ‘Roll Bounce‘] I go to Europe for a week and then I’m back over here for three and a half months. Then we’re over in Tokyo and Japan for three and half weeks."

Disney’s airplane thriller "Flightplan" had little problem snagging the #1 spot at the weekend box office, but for the first time ever, two September releases managed to cross the $20 million mark in same frame. "Flightplan" hauled in an estimated $24.6 million, while Tim Burton‘s "The Corpse Bride" netted $20.1 million.

Settling in at third place was Reese Witherspoon‘s rom-com "Just Like Heaven," which made $9.8 million in its second weekend, while newcomer "Roll Bounce" pulled in $8 million from just over 1,800 theaters. (Fox promised to donate ten percent of that tally to Katrina relief.) Still hanging on in fifth place was the horror/drama "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," which added another $7.5 million to its $62 million piggy bank.

Next weekend sees the debut of three new wide releases: Joss Whedon‘s sci-fi adventure "Serenity," the young-adult underwater thriller "Into the Blue," and the Disney sports drama "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

For a closer gander at the weekend numerals, make a stop at the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office page.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight is prepared to donate 10% of the "Roll Bounce" opening weekend tally to Operation USA for Hurricane Katrina.

"Also, on Thursday, the night before "Bounce’s" theatrical opening, Searchlight will partner with DirecTV to screen the film at more than 80 shelters in the Gulf Coast region.

Set to bow in more than 1,700 theaters, the PG-13 "Bounce," a 1970s-set coming-of-age comedy starring Bow Wow, Chi McBride, Mike Epps and Nick Cannon, is tracking well with audiences and could earn $8 million-$10 million in its opening frame."

This week at the movies brings a twisted tale of love from beyond the grave ("Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride"), a paranoid thriller at 40,000 feet ("Flightplan") and a nostalgic look at the days of roller disco ("Roll Bounce"). Which of these films will pass muster with the critics?

Ahh, Tim Burton. We’re so glad to have you around. At a time when movies get tamer and less original, there you are, making a twisted, sweet joke out of mortality, and using stop motion animation when everyone else is using computers. "Corpse Bride," co-directed by Mike Johnson and featuring the voice talents of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, tells the delightfully twisted tale of a reanimated woman who demands love from an already engaged commitment -phobe. The scribes say it’s a modern fairy tale, filled with wondrous, phantasmagoric images and a poignant, elusive love triangle. At 84 percent on the Tomatometer, this is one beautiful "Bride." And although it may be a notch below Burton’s other stop motion triumph, "The Nightmare before Christmas" (91 percent), it slightly surpasses his other recent outing, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (at 82 percent). It’s one of the best reviewed wide releases of the year.

Man, are people afraid of flying or what? First "Red Eye," and now "Flightplan," a thriller starring Jodie Foster. A sort of "Bunny Lake Is Missing" meets "The Lady Vanishes," the plot involves a widow whose daughter goes missing aboard a transatlantic flight, and who must prove to the crew and her fellow passengers that her daughter exists at all. While many of the critics say it’s good to have Foster back on the screen, they’d like her in a more coherent plot that doesn’t require an emergency landing at the end. Still, there’s plenty of suspense, and at 52 percent, "Flightplan" is probably better than your average in-flight movie. It’s a notch below Jodie Foster’s overall Tomatometer score of 71 percent, though.

Admit it: You love the 1970s. You love disco. You used to love to roller skate. And although you might not love "Roll Bounce" more than any of those things individually, the scribes say the film is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale with likable characters and an infectious soundtrack. The critics say that although the plot won’t win any originality contests, at 60 percent on the Tomatometer, this one’s a pretty sweet "Roll."

Recent Tim Burton Movies:
———————————
82% — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
77% — Big Fish (2003)
46% — Planet of the Apes (2001)
72% — Sleepy Hollow (1999)
47% — Mars Attacks! (1996)

Recent Jodie Foster Movies:
———————————-
78% — A Very Long Engagement (2004)
76% — Panic Room (2002)
76% — The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys (2002)
53% — Anna and the King (1999)
79% — Contact (1997)

As expected, the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy "Just Like Heaven" handily snagged the #1 spot at the weekend box office, grossing an estimated $16.5 million from 3,500 theaters. Based on the early returns from Ms. Witherspoon’s last vehicle, "Sweet Home Alabama," the tally is seen as somewhat of a disappointment, but hey, first place is still first place.

Slidiing to second place in its sophomore weekend was the occult drama "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," which added about $15 million to its $52 million total. Debuting in third place was Nicolas Cage‘s action flick "Lord of War," which commanded $9.2 million from 2,800 theaters.

Fourth place went to the sleeper hit "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," which added almost $6 million to its bank, giving it a total of just over $90 million. Rogue Pictures’ "Cry Wolf" broke into the top five with a $4.5 million tally from nearly 1,800 theaters. (And considering the thing cost just over a million bucks to make, 5th place ain’t half bad.)

The only other "semi-wide" release this past weekend was Dimension’s horror flick "Venom," which pulled in a rather paltry $501,000 from just under 500 theaters.

Tim Burton‘s "Corpse Bride" debuted on five screens and made about $411,000 on each of ’em, which means next weekend’s wide release should bring in some copious cash indeed. Also opening wide on Friday are Jodie Foster‘s "Flightplan" thriller, and Fox Searchlight’s "Roll Bounce."

As always, you’re invited to get a closer look at the weekend numbers by visiting the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page.