BOXOFFICE takes a month-by-month look at the variety of films that 2009 has in store for moviegoers.

The Year Ahead

on January 02, 2009 by Amy Nicholson
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Hollywood’s release calendar is usually captured in broad strokes: Summer, Holidays and Slogs. That’s true, but not useful. Here, B OXOFFICE breaks down the schedule into months to give savvy moviegoers an early grasp on what to expect from 52 opening-weekend competitions. Which films will be the biggest hits of 2009? B OXOFFICE sifts through the calendar, crunches the numbers, evaluates the franchises and is here with answers.

JANUARY

January is a casual month for releases. Neither the dumping ground of September nor the blockbuster battalion of December, it’s a time for solid genre workhorses that will earn modest receipts to bolster the spillover from the Christmas Day smashes like Bedtime Stories and Marley & Me. Every weekend opening this month has been smartly targeted to appeal to different audiences so that no films are in direct competition for dollars. 2009 kicks off with Hellraiser and Bride Wars, motors on to release the Happy Madison production Paul Blart: Mall Cop against the canine flick Hotel for Dogs, a kiddie rescue-shelter comedy that hopes to mimic the success of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The likeliest draw of the month is Inkheart, a fantasy spectacle based on the best-selling British trilogy. The third in another trilogy, Underworld: Return of the Lycans aims to score another respectable $20-million debut like its forerunners. But before January closes with its last modest sure-thing, the smart Renée Zellweger-helmed romance New in Town, it allows itself a few surprise small-budget detours that should earn enough to keep their heads high, such as the Biggie Smalls’ biopic Notorious or the 3D remake of the D-list 1981 slasher My Bloody Valentine, which will perform better at theatres that handle it as a Midnight Movie special event.

FEBRUARY

February is for women and lovers of niche films. Two heavily promoted chick flicks, He’s Just Not That Into You and Confessions of a Shopaholic, are based on top-selling novels and want to lure in a sizeable fraction of Sex and the City ’s $150-million audience. (By luck—or more likely, design—they’re opening on concurrent weekends.)

Focus Features makes its 3D animated debut with Coraline ; the film hasn’t yet gotten much buzz, but with promotion touting it as a co-creation from writer Neil Gaiman ( Stardust, Beowulf ) and Henry Selick, the visual director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline could be a little film with long legs. Though he averages an astonishing two films a year, Tyler Perry trusts his fan base will flock to Madea Goes to Jail for another $20-million to $30-million debut. Receipts for Steve Martin’s Pink Panther 2 are less certain, but like its 2006 predecessor, it has the potential for decent opening numbers that hold steady throughout the month. Synergistically, New Line has held out for Friday the 13th to release its remake of the horror film that demonized hockey masks; by sheer force of novelty, it’s likely to score big with the teenage crowd. It’s opening against the Clive Owen and Naomi Watts political thriller The International and Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix’s odd anti-romance Two Lovers, which should split the highbrow vote. Assuming tween trends haven’t already passed them by, the Jonas Brothers hail a respectable end to the month with their 3D concert documentary.

MARCH

March enters like a lion with 2009’s first blockbuster, Warner Bros.’ Watchmen, an adaptation of the cult-hit graphic novel directed with gusto by 300 ’s Zack Snyder. Released on both standard screens and IMAX, it’s poised to be the only cash cow for much of the month, as 300 floored everyone by raking in more than $210 million stateside alone. The only wide release that dares open against it is the Sandra Bullock vehicle All About Steve, which trusts that some audiences won’t be in the mood for guts and glory. Nearly every weekend has a good comedy that—if promoted—could do well, starting with Steve, and then the biohazard comedy Sunshine Cleaning, the Paul Rudd bromance I Love You, Man Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson’s This Side of the Truth and the amusement-park adult romp Adventureland. Soldiering on, March drops in a few middleweight thrillers like 12 Rounds, A Perfect Getaway and The Box —each of which boasts at least one genuine star—and then tosses arthouses a bone with the delayed release of Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.’s The Soloist. Family audiences only have two releases to mark on their calendar: Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain on the 13th, followed by DreamWorks’ Monsters vs. Aliens, a 3D spectacle that will likely allow March to end as lucratively as it began.

APRIL

April is eclectic for adults and slavish toward kids. The month kicks off with Universal’s curious The Wolfman, which has the cast of a prestigious indie (Benecio Del Toro, Hugo Weaving and Anthony Hopkins star), but the tenor of a noir popcorn flick. Alongside it opens the Katherine Heigl romantic comedy The Ugly Truth, which should hold its own, as her last picture, 27 Dresses, raked in a commendable $75 million domestically. The next weekend, ticket sales from The Hannah Montana Movie are raring to outsell last year’s Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, an unhailed blockbuster that raked in an astounding $45,000 per screen on opening weekend —beating out even The Dark Knight by a cool $10K. Starring High School Musical ’s Zac Efron, New Line’s 17 Again bets that kids can convince their parents to take them to the movies two weekends in a row. As a bracing antidote to pop-culture sugar, parents are likely to return the favor on April 22 when newly formed Disneynature releases its debut feature, Earth, to parade through theatres. A co-production with the talents behind the BBC’s award-winning Planet Earth (known for the best nature cinematography to date), this mega-gorgeous spectacle will appeal to everyone who lives on its titular subject. DVD sales for Planet Earth broke Amazon sales records, which in a sweet irony should send its devotees stampeding to the theatres to gape at it on the big screen.

MAY

May is where the cash really starts flowing. The month opens big on the 1st with the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. 2006’s installment, X-Men: The Last Stand, brought more than $102 million on opening weekend, double the profits of the first film in the franchise—an upward trend Fox Studios wants to continue.

Another likely May blockbuster is Star Trek, which hopes that as a remake, not a spin-off, it can break the dwindling box office interest in the series.

Play-it-safe sequels continue to pack the month with Angels and Demons (the prequel to The Da Vinci Code ) and Bruno (the follow-up to Borat ) elbowing in for another go at their predecessors’ $30K-per-screen average. With Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation closing out May, the odds are good that many people will spend every weekend at the movies, even if the only original draw is Pixar’s Up, a 3D cartoon about an old crank who travels the world in a house transformed into a hot-air balloon.

JUNE

June is banking on comedies to carry the month with not one but two A-list pranksters helming two separate films about prehistory. Up first is Land of the Lost, in which Will Farrell stars as a former paleontologist who stumbles into a land where dinosaurs never died. Farrell’s films have recently run hot and cold—he alternates smash hits with humble flops—but with its PG bent and lack of serious opening-weekend competition, Land should be a solid draw. Two weekends later, Columbia rolls out Year One, a Jack Black caveman flick co-starring Michael Cera and David Cross as backup. Excepting Fast & Furious (which should perform modestly) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (which should kill), there’s an unusual dearth of action films. Middleweight popcorn comedies like Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal, the Las Vegas bachelor party romp The Hangover and the Eddie Murphy family fantasy Nowhereland will benefit, and could perform better than expectations with savvy promotion.

JULY

July is weaker than usual, with one magical exception. Its prime holiday weekend trusts that half of moviegoers will want to cool off with the three-quel Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (the first two each raked in a domestic total of $190 million), while the remaining ticket buyers will be in the mood for the summer’s most pedigreed big release, the Johnny Depp-and Christian Bale-helmed Public Enemies, a Depression-era gangster flick. On July 10 comes the season’s apocalypse film (a morbid, entrenched trend) with Roland Emmerich’s 2012. Emmerich hasn’t owned summer since 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow (and in truth, his one and only megahit was 1996’s Independence Day ). Still, with John Cusack in the cast, it won’t be a financial embarrassment. July 17 is poised to be the summer’s most lucrative day, when the long-delayed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will ascend as the year’s top earner. The franchise has never opened to less than $77 million, and this moody installment will earn as much by Sunday brunch. As if Daniel Radcliff has them spooked, other studios spend the next week sitting on their hands, tossing out Piranha 3-D and G-Force, a CGI cartoon about a squadron of guinea pigs that should perform about as well as Surf’s Up (which totaled $58 million). Tween sales close out the month respectably with Bandslam, a High School Musical knockoff, while adults (or adults and man-children) will favor the new Judd Apatow film Funny People over Denzel Washington’s The Taking of Pelham 123. If Apatow’s third film follows the pattern of Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it will open modestly but have legs as long as a bikini model’s.

AUGUST

August is gunning to make its first weekend carry the month with the release of GI Joe: Rise of Cobra on the 7th. Twenty-two years have passed since Hasbro last marched the sandbox hero into theatres; the casting is risky—Dennis Quaid, Sienna Miller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt aren’t box office draws—but director Stephen Sommers’ Mummy pics both opened at No. 1, and Joe’s main rival, Julie & Julia, is targeted to women and gourmets. Warner Bros. also throws Shorts in the mix, a family comedy from Robert Rodriguez, whose Spy Kids series averaged a theatrical take of $100 million. The rest of the month, audiences are going to have to be actively lured away from their TiVo by convincing them that they really do want to see disposable releases like the quarterlife-crisis comedy The Post Grad Survival Guide and the thrillers District 9 and Rob Zombie’s: Tyrannosaurus Rex. Failing that, exhibitors’ best bet is to prod filmgoers about all the lingering blockbusters they haven’t yet seen, or hope the novelty of Final Destination 4 in 3D will attract people to the mid-range franchise.

SEPTEMBER

September isn’t wildly better, but it’s a fine month for dramatic pulse-racers. Game has the largest ensemble of the year —John Leguizamo, Ludacris, Kyra Sedgwick and supermodel Amber Valletta head up a cast of 12 B-list names that won’t add up to more than a B-list moneymaker. It’s up against the spaceship-suspense flick Pandorum, which also is likely to be greeted with mild enthusiasm. Furthering the modest thriller trend are Kate Beckinsale’s Whiteout, Laurence Fishburne’s Armored, Bruce Willis’ The Surrogates and a remake of George A. Romero’s The Crazies. Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant has prestige appeal, but only his Ocean’s films ever open bigger than $30 million; the rest of his résumé has earned better reviews than revenues. The remake of 1980’s Fame hopes to break big with a new generation of teens. Beyond that, the only films not squabbling over the same spine-tingled audience are the 3D cartoon of the kids’ classic storybook Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the Weinsteins’ Nine, a remake of the Fellini classic that stars every top actress from Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench to Kate Hudson and Penélope Cruz. Though it opens the same week of September as 2008’s The Women (which earned a mere $26 million in theaters), Nine boasts a better ensemble and script and should handily earn as much in its opening weekend.

OCTOBER

October  is the official end to the post-summer blahs. The re-release of Toy Story in 3D will dominate the first weekend—the first two films racked up $900 million worldwide—and whet appetites for Toy Story 3 slated for June 2010. Against it, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island will reel in the fine-wine audience who, Nine excepted, haven’t been catered to in months. As always, the buildup to Halloween means theatres are flooded with disposable horror flicks, including remakes of Sorority Row and The Stepfather. Saw VI should win the fright fans’ cash in a rout—theatres savvy enough to run a marathon of the franchise before the midnight debut of Saw V sold a lot of popcorn. Still, Cabin in the Woods might hold its own as writer-directors Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have Lost addicts slavering for their next project. Rounding out the month is Amelia, a Hilary Swank-starring biopic about the famous aviatrix that’s devoted more to earning Oscars than a box office windfall.

NOVEMBER

November’s first weekend appears to divide family sales between the release of Disney’s A Christmas Carol and the cartoon The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the latter will attract solid sales from adults with good promotion touting it as the latest film from cult favorite Wes Anderson. Still, Carol will use star Jim Carrey to edge out Fox as he continues to be one of Hollywood’s cash cows. (His most recent film, Dr. Horton Hears a Who, gobbled up $45 million opening weekend.) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a less certain bet; still, he’s got two films successively released on the 13th and 20th, The Tooth Fairy (which skews young) and Planet 51 (which skews teen). New Moon, the sequel to Twilight, should do some damage when it's released on the third Friday of November, just like its predecessor. Also paired up on the 20th is a double-header of vintage remakes with the Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges competing against Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Financially, it’s a toss-up: The Farrellys make most of their money in DVD sales, and Ritchie is more famous than lucrative, though his star, Robert Downey Jr., has been riding high since Iron Man. Finally, the Robin Williams and John Travolta vehicle Old Dogs is 2009’s attempt at luring in the audience that made Wild Hogs a smash hit.

DECEMBER

December has only committed to a few films, but the ones already selected are backed by enormous studio trust. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel is scheming to be another underestimated hit like its predecessor, which wildly exceeded expectations with $217 million in ticket sales. An as-of-yet-untitled Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker romance is a guaranteed earner, as is The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s fifth 3D release of the year. 2009 closes out with what might be the most anticipated blockbuster in a decade: James Cameron’s Avata r, a flashy sci-fi flick that’s the director’s first fiction film since 1997’s Titanic. If Cameron’s Avatar sells even half the seats of his last juggernaut, exhibitors will have a very merry Christmas.

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