Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Return of Box Office Bingo! (predictions for Oct 24-26)

It's been awhile since I did the whole weekend box office thing, but now that the holiday season has started more or less, it's time to return the world of meaningless predictions, boastful proclamations of accuracy, and mea culpas. Besides, history will likely be made this weekend, the question is just how much history.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year: $85 million. The general predictions are $40 million. I think they're way off (and Box Office Prophets agrees with me). Make no mistake, the above is a cautious estimate based on the math. The first two movies have been rented or viewed on The Disney Channel by something around 50 million people since 2005. The second film scored a whopping 17.2 million viewers on its debut evening back in August, 2007, by far the biggest audience in basic cable history (at $7 a ticket, that would have equaled $120 million). The franchise has sold hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars worth of merchandise and tie-in product over the last few years. For better or worse, this is Grease of the present youth generation. If cult musicals like Mamma Mia and Hairspray can do $30 million, then the sky is the limit for this one.

Hannah Montana: Best Of Both Worlds scored a $45,561 per screen average early this year on 683 screens. Let's assume (and this is a safe assumption) that anyone that showed up for the concert film will likely show up for HSM3 (to say nothing of people like myself, who genuinely liked the first film and likes quality musicals in general). So, let's have fun and do the math for this weekend's 3623 screen release.

$45,561 per screen (obviously not going to happen, but for comparison): $165.1 million
$22,760 per screen (50% off; below the top 25 all-time per screen averages): $82 million
$15,187 per screen (only 33%): $55 million

So basically, at worst it does $55 million and butchers the previous October opening weekend record (Scary Movie 3 - $48 million in 2003). But if it even approaches the per-screen average top-20, we could get something dangerously close to a $100 million weekend.

Additionally, this will be a battle between epic frontloading and the weekend matinee factor. As most people reading this site know, kids films often see a huge uptick (as much as 50% increase) on Saturday and Sunday as the matinee business surpasses the Friday evening numbers. On the other hand, this is the third film in a major franchise, so frontloading could reach Dark Knight/Sex & The City levels. Still, the former should cancel out the latter so we could see something approaching a 3x multiplier (god, I've missed this stuff).

Although this is the definition of a critic-proof hit, the few reviews that have trickled out have so far been positive, giving grownups the possible excuse needed to check it out without kids. A huge percentage of kids who saw the first two will be in the theaters this weekend. A decent amount of kids who have not seen the previous entries will be there, perhaps going with friends, or just wanting to see a (somewhat) big budget, super colorful musical. Older teens and adult women have read all about the teen stars, especially Efron and Tisdale, in their various gossip rags so awareness is covered there. And if you're a parent who just wants to take the kid to the movies and Saw V is sold out, well, it's gotta be better than Beverly Hills Chihuahua, right? Unless you're a male teen without a girlfriend (see your movie choice below) or too old for G-rated confections, you're pretty much a targeted quadrant this weekend.

So, with everything factored in, it's just a matter of how big this will be. I've been wrong before (The Dark Knight, Mars Attacks!), and I've been right when everyone else was wrong (The Mummy, Pearl Harbor). We'll see which column this goes in on Saturday morning. Let's call it at $85 million. I'd 'bet on it'.

Saw V: $25 million. Why, oh WHY, was this not moved to Halloween night? Granted, we're dealing with two big franchises with next to no overlap, but surely Lionsgate would have liked the bragging rights of a number 1 opening weekend? Every Saw film since the original has opened to number 01 (part one came in third place with $18 million, behind Ray and the second weekend of The Grudge).

Putting that aside, the series isn't exactly basking in audience goodwill at the moment. The fourth film was pretty terrible, probably worse than the first film (I'm weird in that I prefer 2 and 3 to the original). The lead character is now definitively dead, so who knows how Tobin Bell is going to return this time? The poster boasts 'you won't believe how it ends', but I'm not sure implausibility is something you want to be boasting about.

Still, this is a dependable franchise that has rooted itself in a deep, tangled story and somewhat complicated mythology. Unlike the many hard-R gore fests that followed in its wake, the Saw franchise has always boasted adult actors playing adult characters. While the acting quality may vary (Danny Glover has rarely been worse than he was in Saw, while Tobin Bell shines in Saw II), enough fans will genuinely want to know what happens next, aside from the usual gore hounds who like the blood and guts. Even if the series will never again hit $30 million on opening weekend, the series is still cheap enough that it will be profitable for years to come.

Pride And Glory: $10 million. As saddened as I was at New Line Cinema's death last winter, it's good to know that Warner Bros. has treated most of New Line's lineup with respect. Sex And The City and Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D were solid smash hits, and Appaloosa is a slow, steady earner. Despite being in release limbo for awhile, this allegedly so-so cop drama is getting a 2585 screen release. It's not gonna break the bank, but good for Warner for not gutting the New Line product that was already in place.

We'll see if my pie in the sky HSM3 prediction pans out. For the record, if the HSM3 numbers are more earthbound, that doesn't mean the film is a 'disappointment', only that I was off the mark. Updates on Saturday if there is anything out of the ordinary.

Scott Mendelson

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