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2011 Preview: May

May 1st, 2011

Summer is officially upon us and after a depressing start to the year, we finally have some reason to be optimistic. April produced a few films that were stronger than expected and the last three weekends have produced wins in the year-over-year comparison. Granted, 2011 is a long way from matching 2010's pace, but if we can earn a few more wins this month, we could be in good shape going forward. In comparison with last May, the month starts off slowly this year, but comes on really strong by the end and looks much healthier overall. In fact, last May there were only three films to make more than $100 million at the box office. (Granted, two others came very close.) This year there are four films that might open with more than $100 million. Right now 2010 has about a $500 million lead on 2011, but hopefully by the end of the month that lead will be down to $300 million.

Weekend of May 6th, 2011

The first weekend of May is all about Thor, even though there are two other wide releases to talk about (not to mention quote a few limited releases). Thor has monster hit written all over it. Unfortunately, this weekend last year saw the release of Iron Man 2, which was the biggest hit of the month and one of the biggest hits of the year. Because of that, the month is going to get off to a rough start. As for those limited releases, there are a number worth keeping an eye on. The Beaver makes its debut, with a plan to expand wide a couple weeks later. Hobo with a Shotgun went from personal insult, to a contest-winning fake trailer, to a feature-length movie. Finally, Daydream Nation is earning a lot of positive indie buzz, plus it has Kat Dennings competing with herself at the box office.

Jumping the Broom

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: JumpingTheBroom-Movie.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: May 6th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: African-American, Romance, Wedding Planning, In-Laws, Cross-Class Romance, Ensemble, and more
Directed By: Salim Akil
Starring: Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $30 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Paula Patton and Laz Alonso star as a couple about to be married. The only problem is, they haven't met each others' family yet. And since she comes from a wealthy background and his family is more working-class, there's sure to be conflict.

This is one of two films trying to play counter-programing to Thor. The film is aimed at an African-American audience, which could help it stand out, but it is also opening in less than 2000 theaters. It does have a large cast with many talented actors, but it is the feature-length debut for Salim Akil, the director, who is best known for his sitcom work. Finally, its reviews are very weak so far. That adds up to soft counter-programing, but not likely an outright bomb.

Something Borrowed

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: SomethingBorrowedMovie.WarnerBros.com
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: May 6th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, and some drug material.
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Relationships Gone Wrong, Romance, and more
Directed By: Luke Greenfield
Starring: Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, Colin Egglesfield, and more
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million

A Romance centered on a love triangle between best friends, Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin, who are both in love with the same guy, Colin Egglesfield. The film is based on a popular book, but the director is mostly known for his TV work, while the three leads are not exactly reliable box office draws. I've only seen a couple reviews so far, but they are both negative.

There's not a lot of good news to focus on and I think it will struggle just to be a midlevel hit. On the other hand, it is opening wider than the other romantic film of the weekend, and it will likely have a lot more marketing behind it. Because of this, I'm giving it a slight advantage at the box office.

Thor

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Thor.Marvel.com
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: May 6th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence.
Source: Based on a Comic
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Marvel, Gods, Banishment, Culture Clash, Romance, Dysfunctional Family, Academics, and more
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tim Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, and more
Production Budget: $150 million
Box Office Potential: $175 million

One of two big Marvel comic adaptations coming out this summer in preparation for 2012's The Avengers. When Captain America opens in July, nearly all of the main characters will have been introduced. Success for these two movies is therefore even more important than just starting a franchise of their own, as The Avengers could be the biggest hit of next summer. Unfortunately, there are some obstacles ahead.

Firstly, Thor is a second-tier comic with less name recognition than Hulk had before its recent theatrical releases. It also stars a relative newcomer in Chris Hemsworth, whose only previous experience with box office success was playing a small part in Star Trek. Finally, when it opened in Australia last weekend, it earned less than Fast Five did, and by a pretty significant margin.

On the other hand, Thor matched Iron Man's opening in that market. Also, as a comic book character, Thor has about the same name recognition as Tony Stark did before that movie opened. Meanwhile, the buzz is growing and at the perfect time. Finally, the film is earning some of the best reviews for a comic book movie... ever. Right now the film's Tomatometer Score is 94% positive, which is on par with The Dark Knight's reviews.

I really want this film to succeed for a number of reasons (the first comic I ever owned was the issue of Thor that introduced Beta Ray Bill, I'm a huge fan of Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings, etc.) and if you want to something to succeed, you are more likely to focus on evidence that suggests it will. There is a slim chance it will do as well as Iron Man did. However, there's also a chance it will barely match either Hulk movie. My gut tells me $200 million to $225 million is the most likely range, but I'm worried that my gut is just telling my inner Fanboy what it wants to hear, hence the lower prediction above.

Weekend of May 13th, 2011

The second weekend of May is historicaly the weakest of the month and that's certainly the case this year. Usually, there's a potential blockbuster that the studio is unsure of, but still has a shot at $100 million, plus one or two films acting as counter-programing. Last year, Robin Hood was the potential blockbuster and it just barely made it to $100 million. In 2008 it was Speed Racer. Sometimes they beat all expectations (Star Trek) but usually they struggle. This year, the counter-programing film, Bridesmaids, might make more than the potential blockbuster, Priest. Unless Thor opened better than high end expectations, plus shows the kind of legs its reviews suggest are possible, there's no way 2011 will keep pace with 2010. When you are relying on holdovers for victory, you know it's a slow week.

Bridesmaids

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: BridesmaidsMovie.com
Distributor: Universal
Release Date: May 13th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for some strong sexuality, and language throughout.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Wedding Planning, Judd Apatow Buddy Comedy, Ensemble, Delayed Adulthood, Bachelor Party, Relationships Gone Wrong, and more
Directed By: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $55 million

Another movie coming out this month from a director best known for his TV work. In fact, Paul Feig is probably best known as an actor for roles like Eugene Pool on the first season of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. He also helped create Freaks and Geeks and directed several episodes of The Office, so while his track record at the movies is light, I'm cautiously optimistic about the film's chances.

Also helping out is the amazing cast. Kristen Wiig leads the way as Annie, a woman whose life hasn't exactly turned out like she had hoped. She is coming off a failed business venture, is dealing with a dysfunctional relationship, etc. With everything going wrong in her life, her best friend, Maya Rudolph, announces she's getting married and wants her to be her maid of honor. Of course, that's before she knows what a maid of honor has to do, and that's before she meets Maya's other friends.

In addition to the pedigree on both sides of the camera, the film's early reviews are excellent and the buzz is really growing. It likely won't open in first place (Thor will likely repeat as champion) but it should be the bigger hit of the two wide releases of the week and finish as a solid midlevel hit.

Priest in 3D

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Priest-TheMovie.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: May 13th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language.
Source: Based on a Comic
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Religious, Vampire, Kidnap, Revenge, Government Corruption, Dystopia, War, Returning Soldier, 3-D, and more
Directed By: Scott Charles Stewart
Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Christopher Plummer, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Directed by Scott Charles Stewart, who previously made Legion, which also starred Paul Bettany. In this movie, he plays a priest / soldier who fought in the previous Vampire War, but when his niece is kidnapped, he teams up with her boyfriend / sheriff and a fellow ex-warrior to rescue her. However, to do so he must disobey the order of the Monsignor, who sends other priest / soldiers to catch him, dead or alive.

The film is based on a comic from Korea and has been in the works since 2005. After spending a few years in development hell, it started filming in 2009 with a planned 2010 release date. That didn't work out. It was then "upgraded" to 3-D with a planned January release, before being pushed back till the second weekend of May. When the studio decided to move the film to January, most people assumed they had a dud on their hands. Now that it is getting a summer release, I'm not sure it will do any better. In fact, it might under-perform compared to Legion, and that film made just $40 million at the box office.

Weekend of May 20th, 2011

The weekend before Memorial Day is one of the best times of year to open a monster hit, and this year Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has the weekend all to itself. Well, mostly. Unfortunately, even without any real competition, there's almost no chance this film will do as well as its predecessors. Fortunately, it won't have to to help 2011 top last year, which saw both new releases miss expectations. Because of that, 2011 should get back on the winning streak after a couple of slow weeks.

The Beaver

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: TheBeaver-Movie.com
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: May 6th, 2011 (limited)
Release Date: May 20th, (expands wide)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Dysfunctional Family, Relationships Gone Wrong, Mental Illness, Directing Yourself, and more
Directed By: Jodie Foster
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas Stewart and others
Production Budget: Reported at $20 million, more or less
Box Office Potential: $15 million

Mel Gibson plays a man whose marriage is falling apart and then starts talking through a puppet. That's a rather unique premise, but not one that screams commercial success. Additionally, it's opening in limited release with a planned expansion two weeks later, which is never an easy task. And, it is opening in limited release during a very crowded week. Finally, the early reviews are good, but not great. For a limited release, a Tomatometer Score of 67% positive is usually not good enough.

Actually, that's not finally. There's one more point to discuss, and that's Mel Gibson's troubles. At one time, Mel Gibson was arguably the biggest box office star in the world. However, at the moment he's more infamous for his drunken rants than he is famous for his acting. He hasn't had a major hit in nearly a decade, and his last wide release missed expectations. I think he will really need to work at rehabilitating his reputation, but I've also not seen evidence that he's willing to do so. When Edge of Darkness came out, he was asked by a reporter if he thought his anti-Semitic outburst would hurt his box office numbers, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask, but he responded by asking the reporter if he had a dog in the fight. How subtle. Now he's claiming Oksana Grigorieva used editing to make the audio tapes seem worse than they actually were. Unless she was able to splice together individual syllables to make it appear that he said the N-word, this is a flimsy excuse.

This doesn't mean the film can't do well in limited release and expand wide, but it will be difficult. The name recognition of the stars should help it opening weekend, but I'm not sure the word-of-mouth will be there to support it during its sophomore week of release. If its per theater average drops too much, other theater owners might not be willing to book the film the following weekend.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Disney.com/Pirates
Distributor: Disney
Release Date: May 20th, 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated (The rest of the franchise were PG-13.)
Source: Based on a Ride / Sequel
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Pirates, Zombies, Visual Effects, and a lot more
Directed By: Rob Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $200 million
Box Office Potential: $250 million

As the latest release in one of the biggest franchises in the world, one should expect this movie to be a massive hit with potential to earn $1 billion worldwide. However, there are some issues that are keeping expectations in check. Firstly, the previous installment missed expectations both at the box office and with critics and a lot of people were going through pirate fatigue, including many of the people who help make the movies successful. The studio did decide to continue with the franchise, but with a new director and several changes in the cast.

The director, Rob Marshall, is not exactly synonymous with visual effects laden blockbusters and is best known for musicals. Losing Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom will probably not have a major impact in terms of box office drawing power, as outside of franchise films, neither one is an A-list draw. On the other hand, losing them could hurt the chemistry the cast has. Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are being added to the cast, but it is too soon to tell if these changes were for the best.

Matching its substantial production budget is almost guaranteed, but it is also almost as likely to be the weakest installment in the franchise.

Weekend of May 27th, 2011

Memorial Day long weekend could be a goldmine compared to last year, as both new releases missed expectations, and they weren't expected to be monster hits to begin with. This year, both Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Hangover 2 could make more during their opening weekends than either of last year's new releases made in total. Let's hope so, because a crushing victory on Memorial Day could really change the buzz from "Will there be double-digit declines at the end of the year?" to "Could we have a massive comeback?"

The Hangover 2

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: HangoverPart2.WarnerBros.com
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: May 26th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images.
Source: Original Screenplay / Sequel
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Animal Lead, Bachelor Party, Faulty Memory, Narcotics, Pass-Out Drunk, Wedding Planning, and more
Directed By: Todd Phillips
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $40 million to $60 million
Box Office Potential: $250 million

The Hangover was one of the biggest surprise hits of 2009 and almost no one expected it would make more than $250 million. In fact, I'm sure the studio would have been very happy with half that, given its low production budget. In fact, the studio was so sure the inexpensive comedy would be profitable that they asked the writing team to start working on a sequel before it was even released. By the time the opening weekend numbers were in, that sequel was given the greenlight. When the film's legs turned out to be as long as they were, they must have been barely able to contain their excitement at this film's potential.

Unlike its predecessor, The Hangover 2 won't be a surprise hit, as it is one of the most anticipated films of the summer and it is practically impossible for the film to top expectations in a similar fashion. The Hangover 2 could make more during its opening day than The Hangover made during its opening weekend and it would only be slightly better than expected. If it doesn't make more during its opening weekend than the first film made during its opening week, it will be seen as a disappointment. Granted, opening weekend will be inflated by the holiday and the Sequel Effect, but its legs will be far shorter for these same reasons. Additionally, I fear its reviews will not be as strong and there's a chance its Tomatometer Score will be half what The Hangover earned. The buzz surrounding the film's trailer is mostly great, but there are those complaining about a sense of deja vu. Cutting a 2-minute trailer is easy, but if the movie is too much of the same thing, it will wear out its welcome far quicker.

That said, unless this film was unreasonably expensive to make and it really misses expectations, it will show a profit before it reaches the home market.

Kung Fu Panda 2

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: KungFuPanda.com
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: May 26th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.
Source: Original Screenplay / Sequel
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Martial Arts, Animal Lead, Talking Animals, Revenge, 3D, Ensemble, and more
Directed By: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $150 million
Box Office Potential: $275 million

Kung Fu Panda was a big hit back in 2008, it earned amazing reviews, as well as several major nominations. A sequel was practically inevitable. The fact that the buzz for the sequel is so strong is a pleasant surprise. In fact, it arguably has the strongest buzz of any movie opening this month, and given the competition, that's saying a lot.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic. For instance, it's the first big family film of the summer and the first big family film since Rio. It's a 3-D film with the enhanced ticket prices that go along with that. It's opening on one of the busiest weekends of the year. And, it has nearly a full month till Cars 2 opens, which is the next big family film to come out. If it can earn 75% positive reviews, then it should be able to match the prediction above. Even if it only earns 60% positive reviews, it should match the original movie at the box office. If it can match the original's reviews, it might crack $300 million.


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Filed under: Monthly Preview, Thor, The Hangover Part II, Priest, Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Bridesmaids, The Beaver, Daydream Nation, Jumping the Broom, Something Borrowed, Hobo with a Shotgun