DreamWorks Animation’s first movie was Antz, released two months before A Bug’s Life, and thus this studio was born into incessant comparison to Pixar’s output, molded by it, becoming the snarky and sarcastic foil to its competitor’s earnestness.
DreamWorks Animation would forge most of its identity and formula on the back of one giant, smelly, green ogre: Shrek, which has generated sequels, tie-ins, theme park rides, and billions of dollars, while ensuring Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” never leaving the pop culture’s ironic curriculum.
The studio’s other franchises include Kung Fu Panda, which introduced a whole new world of visual flair and surprising emotional depth to the DreamWorks movie canon, and Madagascar, which pulled off the mega-rare feat of each movie being higher-rated on the Tomatometer than the last. At least the mainline movies. (Penguins of Madagascar 73% is lower than the 79% Madagascar 3 has, but that’s a spin-off.)
Their latest releases were Spirit Untamed and Boss Baby: Family Business, with The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish on the horizon. Now, we’re ranking all DreamWorks Animation movies by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: It's nowhere near as inventive as its off-the-wall premise might suggest, but Turbo boasts just enough colorful visual thrills and sharp voice acting to recommend as undemanding family-friendly fare.
Synopsis: Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) is a speed-obsessed snail with an unusual dream: to become the world's greatest racer. This odd snail... [More]
Critics Consensus: It regurgitates plot points from earlier animated efforts, and isn't quite as funny as it should be, but a top-shelf voice cast and strong visuals help make Megamind a pleasant, if unspectacular, diversion.
Synopsis: Though he is the most-brilliant supervillain the world has known, Megamind (Will Ferrell) is the least-successful. Thwarted time and again... [More]
Critics Consensus: With a tidy plot, clean animation, and humor that fits its source material snugly, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is entertainment that won't drive a wedge between family members.
Synopsis: George Beard and Harold Hutchins are two overly imaginative pranksters who spend hours in a treehouse creating comic books. When... [More]
Critics Consensus:Kung Fu Panda 3 boasts the requisite visual splendor, but like its rotund protagonist, this sequel's narrative is also surprisingly nimble, adding up to animated fun for the whole family.
Synopsis: Living large and loving life, Po (Jack Black) realizes that he has a lot to learn if he's going to... [More]
Critics Consensus: While simultaneously embracing and subverting fairy tales, the irreverent Shrek also manages to tweak Disney's nose, provide a moral message to children, and offer viewers a funny, fast-paced ride.
Synopsis: Once upon a time, in a far away swamp, there lived an ogre named Shrek (Mike Myers) whose precious solitude... [More]
Critics Consensus:Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.
Synopsis: This engaging stop-motion, claymation adventure tells the story of an American rooster who falls in love with a gorgeous hen... [More]
(Photo by Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection. Thumbnail: DreamWorks SKG, Buena Vista Pictures, Fox Searchlight, Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
30 Best Stop-Motion Animated Movies of All Time
Tangible and physical, stop-motion animation is the art of manipulating objects and figures frame by frame, creating the illusion of fluid movement. It’s an almost atavistic art form of ours: Instinct tells us if you have a lump of clay in your hands, start making stuff out of it. Shape a chicken and a fox, mold some pirates, heck, make a movie. It’s what filmmakers have been doing for over a century, so we’re taking a look through time with the 30 best stop-motion animated movies ever made.
In this guide, we’ll come in contact with the different materials and styles used in stop motion. Clay has led to the creation of one of animation’s most enduring man-and-canine duos, Wallace and Gromit, created by Nick Park. His films and studio, Aardman, have an outsized presence in that scene, with the likes of Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep. Paper cutout stop-motion animation is less frequently used. See it at its trippy best with Fantastic Planet, and in The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated film.
Puppet stop-motion animation has been the preferred method for venerable directors like Tim Burton (producer of The Nightmare Before Christmas), Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa), and Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox). Anderson collaborated with Nightmare-director Henry Selick to animate the marine fauna in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; afterwards, Selick set up shop at studio Laika, where he gave them their first big hit, Coraline. Laika has been a stop-motion powerhouse since, using a cutting-edge mix of puppets, clay, and computer enhancements to fuel a string of Certified Fresh films, including The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings.
We included only movies where stop motion is a majority of the presentation, which opened the way for James and the Giant Peach and Jan Švankmajer’s twisted Alice. So while we adore the individual creature effects by Ray Harryhausen in Jason and the Argonauts and the Sinbad movies, or ED-209 in RoboCop, and even the aforementioned Life Aquatic, you won’t be seeing them here. After we collected the 30 highest-rated movies, we sorted the list by Adjusted Tomatometer, which accounts for the movie’s number of reviews and release year.
Now, read on to discover the 30 best stop-motion animated movies!
Critics Consensus:Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.
Synopsis: This engaging stop-motion, claymation adventure tells the story of an American rooster who falls in love with a gorgeous hen... [More]
(Photo by Consolidated Pictures Group/courtesy Everett Collection)
80 Best Dog Movies, Ranked by Tomatometer
Dogs: Man’s best friend, movie’s most endangered hero. Seriously, how many times have we gone into a dog movie hoping we didn’t just get suckered into another one where the dog dies in the end? But some of those movies make up the classics. And some of those movies where the dog lives happily after ever, with a nice house and a bowl of kibble and a robust 401k, are also classics. And some dog movies ain’t so classic, but people love ’em anyways, so we’re including those, and all the other good boys and girls of canine cinema for our guide to the 80 Best Dog Movies, ranked by Tomatometer!
First, we’ve retrieved all the golden films of yesteryear, like Old Yeller, Lassie, and The Incredible Journey. Then we rescued those nearly forgotten from the kennels of history, including Wendy and Lucy, Sounder, and Megan Leavey. After that, we introduced them to the tearjerkers of today, such as Hachi: A Dog’s Tale and Marley and Me.
Because dogs can take on new dimensions of ferocity and cuteness in animation, there’s plenty to see here in this list. Take the Disney classics (The Fox and the Hound, Bolt). Add a little stop-motion (Isle of Dogs, Frankenweenie). And, of course, bring along the ones that can solve mysteries (Scooby-Doo), hold a job (Wallace, he of Gromit), and pilot their house (Snoopy, Come Home).
And we approached the dogs that could benefit from a little obedience school, like the ones in Cujo, White Dog, and its reverse friend White God. Also, because seekers of dog movies don’t necessarily mind some treacly sentiment the way critics do, we’re opening the doggie doors to some movies rated Rotten that audiences adore, like Balto and All Dogs Go to Heaven.
Finally, we took home some films that aren’t strictly known as dog movies (e.g. Umberto D, As Good As It Gets, I Am Legend) but whose (canine) stars play a significant role in the plot, and generate (human) character development.
Time to let all of them off the leash for the 80 Best Dog Movies, ranked by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus:Rock Dog is amiable enough, but its second-tier animation and uninspired story add up to a movie whose meager charms are likely to escape all but the youngest and least demanding viewers.
Synopsis: For the Tibetan mastiffs on Snow Mountain, a dog's life has a simple riff -- guard a peaceful village of... [More]
Critics Consensus: This glossy edition of White Fang shaves off the rough-hewn edges that made Jack London's epic story so distinct, but gorgeous photography and heartfelt performances make this an appealing adventure.
Synopsis: This adaptation of Jack London's wilderness tale focuses on young Jack Conroy (Ethan Hawke), who has arrived in Alaska to... [More]
Critics Consensus:Dog Days is frivolous but frothy, sporting a forgettable cast of human characters but a lovable troupe of pooches that ought to delight viewers looking for a gentle affirmation of humanity's bond with their furry friends.
Synopsis: Elizabeth is a charming anchorwoman who seeks advice from her dog's therapist. Tara is a spunky barista who dreams of... [More]
Critics Consensus: Disney's remake of The Incredible Journey successfully replicates, and in some ways improves upon, the simple charms of the original, with its cross-country animal odyssey sure to delight kids.
Synopsis: Before the Seavers leave for a family vacation to San Francisco, they drop off their pets -- Chance (Michael J.... [More]
Critics Consensus:Old Yeller is an exemplary coming of age tale, packing an emotional wallop through smart pacing and a keen understanding of the elemental bonding between humanity and their furry best friends.
Synopsis: While Jim Coates (Fess Parker) is off on a cattle drive, his wife, Katie (Dorothy McGuire), and sons, Travis (Tommy... [More]
Black Panther is clearly going to be the primary draw at the cinema this weekend — and with that in mind, Christy offers a take on how kid-friendly the Marvel movie is. However, the clearer choice for families is Early Man, the latest offering from stop-motion treat from Aardman Animations, and if that’s your bag, Christy also has three other lovely recommendations. Read on for the full list.
Rating: PG-13, for prolonged sequences of action violence and brief rude gesture.
Believe the hype: Black Panther is a game-changer. Beautifully crafted and powerfully acted, director Ryan Coogler’s film thrillingly combines blockbuster visuals with indie character sensibilities. It’s a breath of fresh air and a much-needed moment of representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it’s also quite intense and violent, which might make it unsuitable for some younger viewers. The great Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, heir to the throne of the fictional African country of Wakanda following the death of his father, the king (which we saw in Captain America: Civil War). But when he dons his high-tech suit, he becomes the powerful warrior Black Panther. And he’ll need to fight to protect both his position and his nation when another possible heir emerges in the driven and muscular Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, star of Coogler’s Fruitvale Station and Creed). There’s a ton of action here: fight scenes that are both intimate and massive. T’Challa must withstand a series of challenges to his authority: brutal and bloody sequences of hand-to-hand combat. There are also giant battle scenes featuring armies fighting with spears and swords, as well as a couple of elaborate car chases. But Black Panther is notable not only for its cast of strong actors of color, but also for the prominence of its female characters, including T’Challa’s brilliant scientist sister (Letitia Wright) and Wakanda’s fearless general (Danai Gurira). My 8-year-old son didn’t find anything disturbing – he actually turned to me halfway through the screening and whispered, “I love it!” – but he’s also seen pretty much every Marvel movie. Black Panther is indeed great, but it might be too much to handle on the big screen for kids younger than about 7.
It’s not a peak offering from the prolific Aardman Animation, but it’s consistently entertaining fun. The latest stop-motion comedy from Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park traces not only the evolution of man but also the origins of soccer – or football, as they call it in the rest of the world. Eddie Redmayne provides the voice of Dug, a caveman who dares to lead his tribe in a soccer match against the greatest team of the Bronze Age in hopes of reclaiming their land from the evil Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). The humor is cheeky, punny and self-referential throughout. Word play and visual gags abound. But while Early Man pokes fun at our current society, there’s a gentle nature to its comedy that makes it timeless. Dug’s sidekick is a goofy boar named Hognob, and the catalyst for his team’s transformation into a contender is a talented, spirited woman named Goona (Maisie Williams). There’s a bit of harmless potty humor. Themes of teamwork, bravery and perseverance are worthwhile. Plus, the Aardman clay character design is, as always, adorable in an off-kilter way. Overall, this is a fine choice for viewers of all ages.
Early Man may not represent the height of Aardman’s creative possibilities, but if you liked the look and feel of it, here are some great examples of the kind of work the stop-motion animation house has done so well for so long. You could start with the classic Wallace & Gromit shorts like A Grand Day Out or The Wrong Trousers, about the adventures of a mild-mannered, cheese-loving inventor and his trusty dog pal, or you could plunge into any of these movies:
Park and his longtime collaborator Peter Lord co-directed this cheeky, animated take on The Great Escape. The first feature-length Aardman movie features Mel Gibson providing the voice of a cocky circus rooster named Rocky. When he accidentally arrives at an English chicken farm, he informs his new feathered friends of their fate as food, which horrifies them. He and the brave Ginger (Julia Sawalha) figure out a way to teach their fellow chickens to fly to freedom, with plenty of starts and stops along the way. The possibility of chicken death may be a bit disturbing for the very littlest kids. The chicken pie-making machine may seem ominous and the farmers might come off as a little scary. But the character design is super cute, and – as in Early Man – the idea of a ragtag band of underdog characters coming together to achieve something greater than they ever could have imagined is worthwhile. Fine for pretty much all ages.
Park also directed this film, which won the Academy Award for best animated feature. It’s sort of a Halloween movie and sort of an Easter movie, but it’s also extremely enjoyable year-round. I showed it at a movie night at my son’s school last spring and it was a big hit. This time, Wallace and Gromit run a pest control service to help their neighbors keep bunnies and rodents out of their gardens. But one of Wallace’s experiments goes horribly wrong, resulting in a giant were-rabbit that ravages the town. The bunny’s transformation into a werewolf-type monster might be slightly disturbing for the absolute youngest viewers, but he’s also oddly cute. The townspeople chase after the creature and try to hunt it down in classic monster-movie style, but it’s played for laughs. But overall, Were-Rabbit has great energy and is chock full of clever details. This is another great choice for all ages.
I am still so dazzled by this movie, even though it couldn’t be more understated. It’s pretty much totally wordless – animal and human characters alike communicate through grunts and gestures – yet this world is rich, full, and vibrant. And as always, the character design is irresistibly adorable. This feature-film version of the Shaun the Sheep TV series was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated feature. On a farm in the English countryside, a tiny sheep named Shaun is tired of the rigid schedule the farmer imposes on the animals every day. He devises an elaborate plan to make the farmer sleepy and give everyone a day off but – as is so often the case in Aardman stories – things don’t quite go as he expected. The animals wind up in the Big City in hopes of making things right and wind up in one misadventure after another. This includes some danger in the form of the mean animal control officer, whose tactics might seem cruel. There’s also a bit of potty humor and the humorous suggestion of nudity. But in general, Shaun the Sheep Movie has a wonderful sweetness about it and an infectious energy. The whole family will love it.
Halloween is coming. Perhaps you were aware of that. What better way to celebrate the holiday than with some family-friendly horror movies? Take a break from stressing out over costumes and shopping for candy with any of these great choices. Or you could just watch all eight Harry Potter movies, in order, all over again. Enjoy!
My husband and I took our son, Nicolas, to see this at the New Beverly Cinema, the Los Angeles repertory theater Quentin Tarantino owns, when he was a little over 6 years old. He laughed the whole way through – and he especially enjoyed the Invisible Man, voiced by Vincent Price. Abbott and Costello’s classic brand of slapstick comedy is perfect for kids, and the clever integration of Universal’s iconic movie monsters into their zany world will amuse grown-ups, as well.
This entire list could consist of nothing but Tim Burton movies, in theory – at least, his earlier ones. But I’m limiting myself to just a handful, and this one’s a must. Beetlejuice finds Burton in his sweet spot with a mix that’s weird and whimsical, giddy and ghoulish. The macabre details, the off-kilter humor, the Danny Elfman score: They all blend brilliantly to create one of Burton’s absolute best works. And Michael Keaton is in peak form as the title character: a fast-talking, flatulent spirit who’s been hired to scare a family of yuppies out of their new house.
This is just straight-up silly – a pure, unabashed B-movie with a ridiculous premise and cheesy special effects. If your kids are savvy moviegoers (like mine is), and they’ve grown up enjoying blockbusters with the highest of high-tech computer-generated visuals, they’ll be struck by how cheap and simplistic The Blob looks by comparison. But that’s what makes it such a blast to watch. A meteor crashes to Earth and emits a reddish, gooey ooze that starts sucking the life out of people, increasing in size with each new victim. Pandemonium ensues. It’s a hoot. And it gave Steve McQueen his first starring role.
We’re back with Burton again, this time in stop-motion animation mode. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is also a great — and popular — Halloween choice along these lines, but I’ve got a soft spot for the melancholy sweetness of this one. With an all-star voice cast led by Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, the film follows the romantic troubles of a shy young man torn between the woman his parents have arranged for him to marry and the woman who rises from the Land of the Dead and accidentally becomes his wife. It’s as gorgeous as it is poignant.
This may not seem like the most traditional pick. But if you’ll recall, a crucial scene in E.T. takes place on Halloween night: when the boys smuggle their alien friend out of the house by pretending he’s Gertie, dressed as a ghost for trick-or-treating. As always, Steven Spielberg works wonders with perspective here, as an awestruck E.T. surveys the landscape of ghouls and goblins and struggles to make sense of it all. And come on – this is one of Spielberg’s greatest films ever. Any excuse to watch it will do.
Tim Burton reminds us of why we love Tim Burton with this feature-length version of the 1984 short that revealed early glimmers of the veteran director’s darkly humorous style. The story of a little boy who brings his beloved, deceased dog back to life felt like the purest expression of Burton’s ethos that we’d seen in a while. His love of classic monster movies is infectious. And it’s just gorgeous in crisp black and white. I recently showed this to my son and I cried all over again, and he made fun of me for crying, so a good Friday night was had by all.
You could watch either version – the original or this summer’s remake with a cast of stellar comediennes. But I’d steer you and (more importantly) your kids toward this one first, for cultural perspective, if nothing else. You know what it’s about: It’s Ghostbusters. A group of scientists try to explain and eliminate a paranormal invasion that’s terrorized New York City. A comedy classic starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, but one with some genuine scares and thrills, too.
A really fun big-screen version of the R.L. Stine Goosebumps books, starring Jack Black as the real-life author. If your kids love the books, they’ll have a blast watching this – but even if they’re not familiar with the series (as my son wasn’t when he saw the movie), they’re still in for some thrills. A teenager moves to a new town and finds his next-door neighbor is the creepy and reclusive Stine. Soon afterward, the monsters trapped inside Stine’s bound books spring to life and wreak havoc. Some of the images here may be a bit too scary for very young kids, but the tone is mostly playful.
THE Halloween classic, of course. You’ve probably seen it a million times and can recite Linus’ Great Pumpkin speech right along with him. But if it’s been a while, or if your kids have never seen it, this is a great one to watch together – regardless of their age. Charlie Brown’s trick-or-treating lament – “I got a rock” – never gets old. And Linus’ unshakable faith that the Great Pumpkin not only exists but also will rise up and bring presents to all the good boys and girls has a charming innocence.
Another dazzling example of stop-motion animation – in the same year, as Corpse Bride, no less – from the geniuses at Aardman. Mild-mannered Wallace and his trusty dog, Gromit, come to the rescue when a mutant rabbit attacks a village right before its annual vegetable competition. Winner of the Academy Award for best animated feature, Curse of the Were-Rabbit is irresistibly sweet and slyly subversive. A great choice for viewers of all ages and an excellent entry into the Wallace & Gromit world.
Ever since 1998 and into this Friday’s release of Kung Fu Panda 3, DreamWorks Animation has emerged as one of the dominant forces in animated storytelling worldwide, whose blend of state-of-the-art tech and raucous contemporary humor has carved their own identity in our current cartoon renaissance. Kung Fu Panda 3 inspires this week’s 24 Frames gallery, in which we explore the nearly two-decade history of DreamWorks Animation.
Good news, Wallace and Gromit fans: Aardman will soon be bringing the duo back to a (small) screen near you.
Variety reports that Aardman’s Nick Park will begin production on the 30-minute adventure Wallace & Gromit: Trouble at’ Mill in January, with an eye toward a Christmas 2008 debut on BBC1. From the article:
In “Mill,” Wallace and Gromit open a bakery but Wallace becomes sidetracked by a love interest, Piella Bakewell. With his master distracted, Gromit is left to solve a murder.
“I love making films for the cinema, but the production of ‘Chicken Run‘ and ‘Curse of the Were-Rabbit‘ were virtually back to back, and each film took five years to complete. ‘Trouble at’ Mill’ will be so much quicker to make, and I can’t wait to get back into production,” Park said.
“It’s nice to be out of that feature film pressure now,” Park told the BBC. “I’m making this for myself again and the people who love Wallace and Gromit.”
For more on Trouble at’ Mill — including a short film — be sure to visit the Wallace and Gromit website at the second link below!
"The Cat Burglars" — Described as "Wallace & Gromit" meets "Ocean’s 11" AND as "family-friendly Tarantino," this one will be about, you guessed it, a team of feline felons. (And clay-mated, not CG animated.)
"Pirates" — Aardman co-founder Peter Lord will helm this action comedy about … pirates! (Based on the series of stories by Gideon Defoe.)
"Operation Rudolph" — From one of the "Borat" screenwriters … I’ll let Variety describe this one: "The Christmas movie shows the North Pole operation as an exhilarating ultra-high-tech military procedure on a massive scale, revealing how Santa and his huge army of combat elves get around the whole world in one night." Sounds cool.
Alas, Aardman presently has no plans to deliver a "W & G" sequel. These new ones sound pretty cool though.
Much ink was spilled on how disappointing the "Flushed Away" box office was, and when DreamWorks bailed on their Aardman contract a few months later, a lot of animation fans in North America went "Aw, man. Not cool." Well now it’s Sony Animation to the rescue, as they’ve signed a deal with Aardman to bring a few of their new projects to American cinemas. (And one of those new ones might be another "Wallace & Gromit" adventure!)
Aardman chief Stephen Moore couldn’t resist taking one last shot at DreamWorks while celebrating his new Sony deal: "The thing that attracted us to Sony is that they have a very broad taste, and they are distributing 20 movies a year around the world … their desire to restrict us was much less, so we can make movies that follow Aardman’s instinctive style." In other words, as Variety points out, Sony will probably let the Aardmaneers do their own thing, whereas DW was a lot more "hands-on" than the filmmakers would have liked.
Apparently Jeffrey Katzenberg is convinced that the decidedly British Aardman attitude simply doesn’t sell well enough in the U.S., but hey, the guys have made three damn good films, regardless of box office, so this new Sony deal is good news all around.
Jagshemash! Here in U.S and A., what do critic say about "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan?" They like! In fact, the scribes are almost universally pleased with the film, and some are going as far as calling it one of the funniest comedies ever. Part satire, part shockumentary, "Borat" follows the gleefully sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic title character (Cohen) on a cross-country trek to learn more about our strange nation; along the way he dredges up the seamy underbelly of American prejudice and ignorance. At 95 percent on the Tomatometer, "Borat" is not only Certified Fresh, it’s the best reviewed wide release of the year, topping such acclaimed movies as "Dave Chappelle’s Block Party," "The Departed," and "United 93." That’s a good thing, since Borat himself has said if the movie doesn’t do well, he will be execute.
Borat loves the U.S. and A.
It doesn’t sound like the most auspicious subject for a film: mice and rats are flushed down a toilet, where they find a bustling municipality in the sewer. However, in the hands of Aardman Productions, the endlessly imaginative company responsible for "Chicken Run" and "Wallace and Gromit," anything is possible. And so it is with "Flushed Away," which tells the upstairs-downstairs tale of a coddled mouse who finds action and adventure after a trip through the plumbing. Critics say that while "Flushed Away" may not achieve the dizzying heights of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (which scored 95 percent on the Tomatometer), it’s an eccentric, inventive family film with plenty of laughs. At 76 percent on the Tomatometer, "Flushed Away" is critically sanitized for your viewing pleasure.
Dive in! It’s fresh!
"The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," was barely screened for critics, much like star Tim Allen‘s last flick, "Zoom." The big difference is that "Clause" at least has a couple good reviews, whereas "Zoom" had none. The story of Santa’s duel with Jack Frost for control over Christmas, "Clause" hasn’t exactly enchanted the critics who have seen it; they say the movie is labored and mostly mirthless. It’s currently at 29 percent on the Tomatometer.
Yes, Virginia, there is a "Santa Clause 3."
Also opening this week in limited release: "Commune," a documentary about the Black Bear Ranch in California, is at 100 percent; "Romantico," a heartbreaking documentary about a musician working illegally in the U.S., is at 100 percent; Pedro Almodovar‘s "Volver," starring Penelope Cruz in a complex tale of womanhood, is Certified Fresh at 90 percent; "Wondrous Oblivion," the story of a boy and his neighbor who bond over the game of cricket, is at 60 percent; "Death & Texas," a death penalty satire, is at 60 percent; the twisty thriller "Unknown," starring Greg Kinnear, is at 29 percent; "Shottas," a based-on-true-events Jamaican crime flick, is at 20 percent; and "Zerophilia," a gender-bending rom-com, is at 18 percent.
Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz take a spectral walk down memory lane with "Volver." Check out our retrospective of the Spanish director’s work here.
Finally, we’d like to bestow props upon the whimsically monikered killthemall4444, who correctly predicted that the equally whimsical "Saw III" would wind up with a Tomatometer of 28 percent. Congrats, ktm4444.
A pair of new family films aimed at kids will duke it out for the top spot this weekend while a bumbling reporter from the former Soviet Union will cause a commotion for a more adult crowd.
Disney unleashes "The Santa Clause 3," Paramount counters with its own kidpic "Flushed Away," and Fox lets loose its outrageous comedy "Borat." Together, the three new releases should provide some zing to the North American box office.
Kris Kringle takes on Jack Frost in Disney’s latest family pic "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" which the studio hopes will win the weekend’s battle of the kidpics. With a tame G rating, the Tim Allen film finds the former "Home Improvement" star trying to get back to his winning ways at the box office with a new chapter of his most successful franchise. Martin Short joins the cast as Frost. Allen crapped out at the multiplexes this past summer when his kidpic "Zoom" crashed and burned with only $4.5M on opening weekend. He needs to prove that he can still sell tickets.
The studio has had great luck with its "Santa Clause" franchise and its launching pad of early November. The first film in 1994 bowed to $19.3M on its way to $144.8M while the 2002 sequel opened to $29M heading to a $139.2M final. The gimmick just isn’t as interesting anymore. However, this time of year is typically active for the family audience and there could be room for both new pics to find their audiences. Still many of the same people will be torn between the two and will not have time to see both. Disney and Paramount would have been wise to open their films at least a week apart instead of on top of each other. Opening in more than 3,000 theaters, "The Santa Clause 3" could debut with about $22M.
Tim Allen is back for a third "Santa Clause."
Parents looking for another kind of battle this weekend can pick the claymation film "Flushed Away" which presents a pampered pet mouse against a slimey sewer rat having fun in each other’s world. The PG-rated film is produced by DreamWorks and released by its new parent Paramount. Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Kate Winslet provide their voices. "Flushed Away’s" biggest challenge, of course, will be from stiff competition from the opening of an established franchise film like "Clause 3." Reviews have been quite good so the studio is hoping that many adults will find "Flushed" to be the more original and entertaining choice and choose it instead. DreamWorks scored a $16M bow last fall for the critical darling "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and could approach the same territory here. The marketing push for the new film has been stronger, but the competition will cancel out that added benefit. Opening in roughly 3,250 locations, "Flushed Away" might debut to about $16M.
Hugh Jackman provides the voice of Roddy in "Flushed Away."
Sacha Baron Cohen hits theaters on Friday in one of the season’s most-talked-about films, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Box office expectations are all over the map for Fox’s R-rated comedy and it’s anyone’s guess how it will play out as there is no real film in history it can be compared to. The studio has executed a brilliant marketing campaign over the past several months with teaser posters of the fake journalist sparking curiousity with those not familiar with the character from Britain’s "Da Ali G Show" which has also found a home in the U.S on HBO. The Toronto International Film Festival screening brought the buzz to a whole new level with its outrageous red carpet premiere, projector snafus, and overwhelmingly warm response. Publicity stunts this fall with Kazakh government officials also helped "Borat" leap from the entertainment page to the front page reaching an audience that would otherwise be tough to reach. Reviews have been glowing with many critics calling it the funniest film in years.
The studio is releasing "Borat" in moderate national release with 837 theaters hoping to keep the product limited in the beginning. Sell outs combined with the expected positive word-of-mouth should fuel even more excitement justifying an expansion next week. The "Ali G" crowd will be out in full force so strong business should result from young men. That means that the second weekend of "Saw III" will provide some tough competition. Reports indicate that awareness is not too high in the middle of the country, but that should not be the case with the college crowd. Young adults want bold envelope-pushing films to see like the "Jackass" pics and "Borat" will play to much of that crowd. But is this only a blue-state film? Some thought that would be the case for 2004’s "Fahrenheit 9/11" before it opened to a surprising first place finish with $23.9M from only 868 theaters.
A scene of cultural learnings in "Borat."
"Borat’s" humor has the potential to go beyond the immature set and play to CNN-watching adults. Many will be offended and will never be converted. But a very strong average is assured this weekend and long-term success is likely too since there will be no other movie out there that comes close to resembling this picture. For the opening weekend, "Borat" might gross around $11M for an average north of $10,000.
"Saw III" should be the only holdover likely to still put a dent into the box office. Second weekend declines for the previous installments in the franchise were 39% for the first pic and 47% for last year’s "Saw II." Even with no competition for the horror crowd, a hefty drop should occur. Look for the third torture flick to get sliced in half which would give it around $17M for the frame and $61M in ten days.
LAST YEAR: Disney led the frame with its non-Pixar digital toon "Chicken Little" which debuted to a cool $40M. The animated film went on to gross $135.4M. Opening with strength in the runnerup spot was Universal’s war drama "Jarhead" with $27.7M on its way to $62.7M. "Saw II" dropped to third with $16.9M in its second weekend. Fourth place went to "The Legend of Zorro" with $10M while Meryl Streep‘s "Prime" rounded out the top five with $5.1M.
Blood will flow and screams will be deafening at North American multiplexes this weekend when the horror sequel "Saw III" buzzes its way into theaters. While there will be no fight for the number one spot, the rest of the top ten will see new films and holdovers scrambling for high positions.
The political thriller "Catch a Fire" opens on Friday in moderate national release and the comedy "Running with Scissors" expands into major markets after an impressive debut in limited release last weekend. Meanwhile, star-driven pics "The Prestige" and "The Departed" will try to remain popular choices with adult moviegoers.
If it’s Halloween, it must be "Saw." That’s the tagline that Lionsgate hopes will keep horror fans coming back for a third helping of pain for the newest chapter in its highly profitable fright franchise, "Saw III." The R-rated film finds Jigsaw returning to terrorize another set of young people. Once again, the formula of no stars plus extreme brutality unleashing its fury on the weekend before the pumpkin holiday remains intact. Now a major player in the horror genre, Lionsgate opened its first "Saw" in 2004 to the tune of $18.3M and grew its audience over the following year, especially with DVD, to propel the sequel to a $31.7M bow. Over the last 15 months, no other R-rated film has opened better. Now, a marketplace without many exciting choices for the 17-30 age group will embrace a film, though familiar, that appeals to young adults.
Another unfortunate dude opens "Saw III."
This month has already seen a pair of horror franchise pics open weaker than their predecessors which bowed in mid-October of recent years. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" debuted to $18.5M, down 34% from the $28.1M of 2003’s "Massacre," and "The Grudge 2" launched with $20.8M, a steep 47% less than the Gellar original. But "Saw III" is in a different situation. "Beginning" was a prequel three years later with not much new to offer while "Grudge 2" was no longer a star vehicle. "Saw III" promises more of what its fans want – brutality, gore, and torture – so it stands on almost equal footing when compared to the last installment. The fan base has probably not grown much in the last twelve months and some might even drop out thinking it’s just the same offering yet again. But with competing fright flicks fading fast, "Saw III" will basically be the only horror film in town for those getting ready for Halloween. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, "Saw III" might cut up around $30M.
Tim Robbins plays an elite South African leader and Derek Luke stars as an oppressed everyman in the apartheid drama "Catch a Fire." Directed by Phillip Noyce ("Patriot Games, "Clear and Present Danger"), the PG-13 political thriller tells the true story of a man captured and tortured by his government, only to become a radical freedom fighter for his people. Focus is likely to attract an audience similar to the one it saw last fall with another African-set political pic, "The Constant Gardener." The Ralph Fiennes–Rachel Weisz film boasted a similar level of starpower and screens when it bowed to $8.7M over three days from 1,346 locations for a solid $6,444 average.
Derek Luke in the inspirational "Catch a Fire."
Reviews for "Fire" have been generally positive, but it will not be an easy sell at the box office. Robbins is the top star here and his track record selling tickets is spotty when it comes to films where he is the solo anchor. Plus the marketplace is filled with pictures targeting mature adults like "The Departed," "The Prestige," and "Flags of Our Fathers" so a crowded field will make it tough for "Fire." Using the ‘based on a true story’ angle in the marketing is always a helpful thing and Focus will soon see how much mileage it can get from it. Attacking 1,305 locations, "Catch a Fire" might capture about $6M over the Friday-to-Sunday session.
Annette Bening‘s dysfunctional family pic "Running with Scissors" enjoyed a strong platform debut last weekend with a scorching $28,263 average from only six sites. This Friday, Sony hopes to build on its bow by expanding the R-rated film into 586 theaters across North America. Critics agree that "Scissors" is not the next "Little Miss Sunshine." Reviews have been unflattering which will limit the commercial potential of a film that will mostly play to upscale adult audiences. A weekend take of around $3M could result diluting the per-theater average down to the neighborhood of $5,000.
Annette Bening and Brian Cox in "Running With Scissors."
Arthouses continue to get more crowded with fall films hoping for critical buzz and possible awards attention. Paramount Vantage packs the most starpower with its Brad Pitt–Cate Blanchett drama "Babel" which took home Best Director honors at Cannes this year for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Amores Perros," "21 Grams"). The R-rated tale trots across the globe from Morocco to Mexico to Japan with four interweaving stories about people from around the world who have no idea how connected their lives are. "Babel" opens in just six locations in New York and Los Angeles, most of them major multiplexes, and expands nationally in November. Reviews have been solid.
Brad Pitt, in the oscar-buzz grabber "Babel."
With Election Day around the corner, President George W. Bush stars in two documentaries that will try to stir up some controversy in order to get audiences running to their local theater. Newmarket Films releases "Death of a President," a docudrama about the fictional assassination of Bush in October 2007 and its aftermath. The R-rated whodunit was one of the hottest films at the Toronto Film Festival last month and hopes to capitalize on its buzz when it invades over 100 theaters this Friday. Also trying to wage a Red State vs. Blue State rivalry is "Shut Up & Sing" which examines the hardships that The Dixie Chicks faced recording their new album after their public outcry against the current Commander-in-Chief. The Weinstein Company opens the film in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding to much of the country on November 10.
Among holdovers, the period thriller "The Prestige" and the mob drama "The Departed" should remain popular contenders in the top five. "Saw III" should not detract from either pic too much and the frame’s other new films will not play wide enough to offer significant competition in the rankings. "Prestige" swiped the top spot last weekend and is well-liked by moviegoers. A 40% drop would give Buena Vista about $9M and a ten-day total of $28M. "The Departed" has been holding up superbly so another 30% dip would leave Warner Bros. with around $9.5M which could be good enough for a third consecutive weekend at number two. The cume would rise to $90M.
LAST YEAR: Doing what its predecessor couldn’t do, "Saw II" opened triumphantly at number one and grossed a sturdy $31.7M for Lionsgate on its way to $87M continuing its most popular horror franchise. Sony countered with its family friendly adventure sequel "The Legend of Zorro" which debuted in second place with a decent $16.3M. The pricey Antonio Banderas–Catherine Zeta-Jones pic went on to reach just $45.4M domestically. Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman quietly bowed in third with the comedy "Prime" which opened to $6.2M from less than 2,000 theaters. Universal found its way to a $22.8M final. The horse flick "Dreamer" held up well in its second jump taking in $6.1M while fellow kidpic "Wallace & Gromit" rounded out the top five with $4.3M in its fourth weekend. The fourth new wide release of the frame, Nicolas Cage‘s "The Weather Man," got rained out collecting a mere $4.2M leading to a wimpy $12.5M finish.
Hollywood sure loves to dwell on yesteryear. Another wave of historical films hits the multiplexes on Friday led by the World War II drama "Flags of our Fathers" directed by Clint Eastwood.
Going back another half-century is the Hugh Jackman–Christian Bale thriller "The Prestige." Kirsten Dunst rewinds even further to the 18th century playing the title role in "Marie Antoinette." Moviegoers who want to stick to the today’s times get to ride the family film "Flicka" which also is added into the mix this weekend. Overall, the North American box office should simmer down after two weeks of red-hot action thanks to a quartet of new releases that does not seem to be exciting the public too much.
What happens when two-time Oscar winners Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg join forces to produce a film? You get the DreamWorks/Warner Bros. production "Flags of our Fathers" which chronicles the famous battle at Iwo Jima and the notoriety that followed for the soldiers photographed hoisting the American flag. The R-rated film is low on starpower boasting a cast featuring Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, and Jesse Bradford. Clearly it will be subject matter and the director that will draw in audiences. "Flags" is likely to become the oldest-skewing film in the marketplace. Young adults should not show too much interest and female appeal will be limited as well for this war story. Competition for adult men will be tough given the start of the World Series and the continuation of all sorts of live football all weekend long on television.
Clint Eastwood’s WWII epic "Flags of Our Fathers."
But loyal Eastwood fans will probably find the time for "Flags" this weekend and some reviews have been good. Critics have not been giving the type of support this time that they gave in recent years to "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River" giving it a lesser sense of urgency. Plus a fall season full of period films really doesn’t need more of them. A narrow release will curtail box office potential too. This weekend, it could turn out to be a rematch where Eastwood will square off against Martin Scorsese whose "The Departed" is proving to be an exciting option, set in modern times, for ticket buyers.The New York-based filmmaker wants revenge after losing to Dirty Harry at the Academy Awards a year and a half ago. "Mystic River" opened wide in October 2003 to an average just north of $7,000. Paramount’s "Flags of our Fathers," which debuts in roughly 1,800 locations, could reach the same vicinity and collect about $13M this weekend.
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play dueling magicians at the turn of the 20th century in "The Prestige." The current Caped Crusader reteams with director Christopher Nolan in this PG-13 period drama which co-stars Scarlett Johansson as, you guessed it, the beautiful young woman both men desire. Michael Caine also appears in another Alfred-like role. The Buena Vista film’s biggest challenge will be to convince audiences that this is not that Edward Norton film they just saw a few weeks ago. While "The Illusionist" was not a big blockbuster, it was very well-liked by moviegoers and has had some of the best legs of 2006. Those who paid to see it may not be in the mood for another one so soon. Just ask Mr. Capote. Starpower in "The Prestige" is good, but the two leads do not usually sell well outside of their comic book flicks. "The Departed" and "Flags of our Fathers" will steal away adult audiences providing ample competition, but "The Prestige" does have more female appeal than Clint’s war tale so adult couples that have seen Leo vs. Matt already might give Wolverine vs. Batman a try. Opening in over 2,000 theaters, "The Prestige" could debut with around $10M.
Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman, in that other 19th century magician movie.
The weekend’s only family offering comes on horseback in the form of "Flicka." 27-year-old Alison Lohman stars as a stubborn 16-year-old girl who befriends a steed against the wishes of her dad on a scenic Wyoming ranch. The PG-rated film should mostly appeal to girls and play to the same crowd that spent $9.2M this weekend a year ago for the bow of another girl-and-her-horse flick, "Dreamer." Business will be stronger in the heartland than in large urban centers. Fox is giving "Flicka" the widest release by far of any of this weekend’s new openers so the sheer size of the distribution will give it some traction, even if the average limps a bit. "Open Season," which is still strong going into its fourth hunt, will be the only real threat to business. While bad girls might line up for "Marie Antoinette" this weekend, the good girls will get to ride with "Flicka" which will gallop into over 2,000 more theaters. Opening in 2,876 sites, the horse flick could take in around $10M this weekend.
Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw in "Flicka."
Spidergirl Kirsten Dunst tosses on a fancy wig to play the famous queen of France in "Marie Antoinette," written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Booed last May at the Cannes Film Festival, the PG-13 film is a biopic aimed squarely at teenage girls and young women with a story of a bold gal with a strong head on her shoulders, for most of the time. The studio is marketing the film in a hip way hoping to appeal to young people. "Marie" should skew heavily female as interest from guys will be weak. Dunst will have a chance to test her starpower as the only big-name actor in the cast. Her date movie "Wimbledon" did not fare too well in the Fall of 2004 with a $7.1M opening from over 2,000 theaters. Reese Witherspoon‘s "Vanity Fair" bowed to $4.8M from just over 1,000 playdates by appealing to a similar audience. "Marie Antoinette" will launch in only 859 theaters on Friday limiting its box office potential. A weekend gross of about $5M could result.
Kirsten Dunst is "Marie Antoinette."
Last weekend’s box office champ "The Grudge 2" has seen its audience get frightened away during the week as the Sony thriller dropped to second place on Monday and third on Tuesday. A hefty tumble of 55% could result giving the spookfest about $9M for the weekend and a ten-day sum of $33M.
On the other hand, Warner Bros. has been enjoying great legs from its mob thriller "The Departed" which eased only 29% in its second mission. "Flags of our Fathers" and "The Prestige" will eat into its adult audience, but the Martin Scorsese hit should continue to remain a very popular moviegoing option. A 30% fall to about $13M might lead "The Departed" back into the top spot this weekend unless one of the newbies breaks out. Regardless, that would push the cume to a stellar $76M.
LAST YEAR: The Rock cooked up a number one opening with his sci-fi actioner "Doom" which opened with $15.5M. Universal’s video game-inspired flick fell apart quickly and found its way to only $28M. Debuting in second place was the less expensive family film "Dreamer" with $9.2M on its way to a stronger $32.8M final for DreamWorks. The Spielberg studio also claimed the third spot with the leggy kidpic "Wallace and Gromit" with $8.6M, off only 26% in its third weekend. Sony’s horror pic "The Fog" fell from first to fourth with $6.7M. Warner Bros. saw a weak opening for its Charlize Theron drama "North Country" which grossed just $6.4M. Cume reached a mere $18.3M.