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2011 Preview: September

September 1st, 2011

After a strong start, August ended on a really low note, and that's bad news for September, as it means the positive momentum we had is gone. Looking at the upcoming month, there are 18 films opening wide over five weekends (including one re-release) but only four or five of them have a real shot at being midlevel hits, and it is unlikely that all of them will get there. Worse still, there are no films opening this month that look like they will match The Town, which made more than $90 million last September. In fact, the selection of releases is so weak that the film I'm most looking forward to is a limited release that has already come out on Video on Demand, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. (It has seventeen reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and still not a negative one among them.)

Weekend of September 2nd, 2011

It's Labor Day long weekend, one of the least important long weekends of the year. There are three wide releases this weekend: a political thriller that is not opening truly wide, a found footage Sci-fi shocker, and a 3-D schlock horror film. Apollo 18 will probably win in the end, but I don't think it will be anything more than a middling hit. It should do about as well as last year's big hit, and overall the month could start on relatively even footing when compared to 2010.

Apollo 18

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Apollo18Movie.net
Distributor: Weinstein / Dimension
Release Date: September 2nd, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some disturbing sequences, and language.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Found Footage, Space Program, Conspiracy Theory, Based on an UNTRUE Story, Mockumentary, and more
Directed By: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Starring: Lloyd Owen and Warren Christie
Production Budget: Reported at $5 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

I'm of two minds about this movie. On the one hand, the trailer looks pretty effective, while it is produced by Timur Bekmambetov, who has made some good movies. On the other hand, the film is not being screened for critics, and it has had no less than six release dates. This movie could be an utter mess. That said, it could be the most commercially viable release of the week and with a reported budget of just $5 million, it won't need to make a huge amount to be considered a financial success.

The Debt

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: SeeTheDebt.com
Distributor: Focus Features
Release Date: August 31st, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for some violence and language
Source: Remake / Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Political, Foreign Language, World War II, Secret Agents, One Last Job, Non-Chronological, Foreign Language Remake, Same Character / Multiple Actors, and more
Directed By: John Madden
Starring: Helen Mirren, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

This film was originally set for a December 2010 release, the heart of Awards Season. It stars Helen Mirren, who has earned four Oscar nominations and a win for The Queen. It is directed by John Madden, who made the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love. That's a lot of good omens for the movie. However, it was then pushed back until late August / early September, which is a dumping ground. It's clear the studio doesn't have a lot of faith in this film, but given its reviews that might have been an unfair decision. On the other hand, if the studio doesn't have faith in the film, they won't give the film the marketing push it deserves, and since it is opening in less than 2,000 theaters, it could fail to generate enough buzz to be noticed by moviegoers.

Maybe it will open better than expected and maybe its word-of-mouth will help it earn some measure of box office success, but I wouldn't bet on it at this point.

Shark Night 3D

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: IAmRogue.com/SharkNight3D
Distributor: Relativity
Release Date: September 2nd, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for violence and terror, disturbing images, sexual references, partial nudity, language and thematic material.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: Torture Porn, Teenage Slasher, Animals Gone Bad, 3D, and more
Directed By: David R. Ellis
Starring: Sara Paxton, Some Sharks, and a Bunch of Victims
Production Budget: Reported at $28 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

When I first heard about this movie, I immediately thought of Piranha 3D. That movie was a goofy, exploitation horror film that offered nothing more than blood & boobs, and delivered enough of both to be entertaining in a low-expectations kind of way. However, this movie is being advertised as Torture Porn, but with killer sharks. Also, while Piranha was a good movie, it didn't make a lot of money theatrically. Finally, this film and Apollo 18 share a lot of the same target demographic and that film appears to have the bigger marketing push.

Shark Night 3D should match Piranha 3D at the box office, more or less, and depending on how much it cost to make and how well it does internationally and on the home market, it might earn a sequel as well.

Weekend of September 9th, 2011

While the weekend after Labor Day is historically one of the worst weekends of the year, that is not always the case. For instance, last year Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D opened with more than $26 million. This year Contagion is hoping to match that performance and become the biggest hit of the week. I don't think it will get there, but it should have better legs. There are also two other films opening wide this week, but neither Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star nor Warrior look like they will be a factor at the box office. The combined effort should help 2011 be competitive with 2010, perhaps even squeezing out a win.

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: BuckyLarson.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: September 9th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive crude sexual content, language and some nudity.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Porn, Delayed Adulthood, Country Mouse / City Mouse, and more
Directed By: Tom Brady
Starring: Nick Swardson, Don Johnson, Christina Ricci, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $30 million
Box Office Potential: $15 million

Nick Swardson stars as a... I believe the medical term is moron, who finds out his parents were porn stars in the 1970s. So he leaves his small town to move to Hollywood in hopes of becoming a star.

My immediate thought upon seeing the trailer for the first time was, "Who thought this movie was a good idea?" Nick Swardson has been in a lot of movies, and most of them were terrible. Six of them did reach $100 million, but in all cases he was either in a minor role, or less. It's directed by Tom Brady, whose previous two films both earned bad reviews, and neither were hits. The film is opening during what is often the slowest weekend of the year, plus the other two films are earning stronger buzz.

Contagion

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: ContagionMovie.com
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: September 9th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for strong violent/gruesome accidents, and some language.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Medical, Epidemic, Doctors, End of the World, Ensemble, and more
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and a lot more
Production Budget: Reported at $60 million
Box Office Potential: $65 million

Matt Damon stars as a husband and father whose wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, returns from a trip overseas carrying a new strain of a deadly virus. It quickly becomes an epidemic, one that Kate Winslet and host of other scientists try to stop before it is too late.

Out of all of the films coming out this September, this is the one that has the best shot at being a real hit. It's director, Steven Soderbergh, has a proven track record at the box office. Its main cast includes four Oscar winners, and many more who have earned nominations. It is by far the biggest release of the week. On the other hand, it is also troubling that it is opening on such a terrible date. The buzz is good and if any film has a real shot at matching The Town, this is it. However, it could also stumble out of the gate and earn less than half that. The above box office prediction is an average of the two extremes, but there is some uncertainty here.

Warrior

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: WarriorFilm.com
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: September 9th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Dysfunctional Family, Tournament, Returning Soldier, Mixed Martial Arts, Directing Yourself, Addiction, and more
Directed By: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, and more
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy star as two brothers who were raised by an alcoholic father, Nick Nolte. They were estranged but reconnect when they both enter a mixed martial arts tournament.

This film could be the sleeper hit of the month. Not only does it have amazing early reviews, but the buzz is growing at the right time. Also, Lionsgate has had a lot of success shepherding smaller films to become mid-level hits. On the other hand, it's a weak time of year to open a film, it's not the biggest film of the weekend, plus MMA is still a marginal sport and it might be hard to sell to a mainstream audience. (Only football, baseball, and basketball are mainstream enough to really carry a movie, while boxing has a lot of movie history and that helps.) Maybe it will be able to grab $50 million at the box office, but less than half of that is also a possibility.

Weekend of September 16th, 2011

Three weeks into September and the selection of new releases is really soft. Even the new wide release with the highest box office potential, Drive, will have a hard time reaching $50 million during its theatrical run. The other two wide releases, I Don't Know How She Does It and Straw Dogs, might not earn half that amount. The most interesting release of the week is the 3-D re-release of The Lion King, but that's just a limited run, it might not open truly wide, and with the 3D Blu-ray coming out just a few weeks later, people might just wait. Compared to last year, 2011 looks particularly weak. No film opening this week has a real shot at matching The Town. I doubt any of them will earn as much as Easy A did.

Drive

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Drive-Movie.com
Distributor: FilmDistrict
Release Date: September 16th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Organized Crime, Life on the Outside, One Last Job, Movie Business, Stuntman, Heist, and more
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $13 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million

Drive is based on the 2005 novel of the same name and not the 2007 TV series. In the movie, Ryan Gosling stars as a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. He meets Carey Mulligan, who is raising her son alone while her husband is in prison. When said husband gets out of prison, Ryan agrees to do a job for the crime boss the husband owes money to, in order to clear the debt so Carey and her child will be left alone.

So far the reviews are near Oscar-worthy. Also, the cast is a great mix of up-and-coming actors plus numerous well-established character actors. On the other hand, it's a terrible time of year to open a film and this is only FilmDistrict's third release, so it is hard to judge how well they will be able to market the movie. Or for that matter, how many theaters they will be able to convince to book it. The other three releases are certainly smaller films, so it should come out on top, and with a production budget reported to be just $13 million, it should break even relatively quickly.

I Don't Know How She Does It

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: HowSheDoesItMovie.com
Distributor: Weinstein Co.
Release Date: September 16th, 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Dysfunctional Family, Corporate Life, and more
Directed By: Douglas McGrath
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, Kelsey Grammer, Pierce Brosnan, Christina Hendricks, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $30 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

Sarah Jessica Parker stars as a wife trying to balance time between her husband and her demanding job. I don't have a lot of hope for this film for a number of reasons. It's being released by Weinstein Co., which is in a slump. If it weren't for The King's Speech and Inglourious Basterds, I don't think the studio would still be around today. Douglas McGrath directed it, and the biggest hit of his career so far is Emma, which came out 15 years ago. Most of the cast have had more misses than hits in the past few years. And not to hammer this point too much, it's a terrible time of year to release a movie.

You Again, which opened this time last year, is the film that keeps popping into my mind when thinking about this film's box office potential. I Don't Know How She Does It should be better and is more dramatic, but the buzz is still weak and I'm not optimistic.

Straw Dogs

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Strawdogsmovie.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: September 16th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content, and pervasive language.
Source: Remake / Base on a Book
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Revenge, Writers, You Can't Go Home Again, Relationships Gone Wrong, Sex Crimes, and more
Directed By: Rod Lurie
Starring: James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, and more
Production Budget: Reported at $12.5 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth are a married couple who move back to her hometown but run into problems with some of the locals, led by Alexander Skarsgård.

I'm not sure anyone was really clamoring for a remake / re-adaptation of Straw Dogs, which is still considered a classic. The buzz for this film is quite bad, with a lot of people complaining that it won't live up to the original. It could do as well as Last House on the Left, which made more than $30 million in 2009. But the studio might just dump it in theaters with little to no publicity.

Weekend of September 23rd, 2011

The fourth weekend of September is a busy one with four wide releases, but only one has a real shot at $50 million. Moneyball is the big release in terms of star power and box office potential, but even this film will likely struggle to be anything more than a mid-level hit. Killer Elite is yet another Jason Statham film, and his filmography includes mostly low budget films that do just well enough theatrically to justify their below average production budgets. Abduction is the latest attempt to prove that the cast of Twilight have drawing power outside of that franchise. Meanwhile, Dolphin Tale tale is for families, most of whom are still trying to adjust to the new school year. The four new releases this year might not make as much as the top two films from last year, which is bad news for a box office that is already well behind last year's pace and is running out of time to make up the difference.

Abduction

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: AbductionTheFilm.com
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: September 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Mistaken Identity, Surprise Twist, and more
Directed By: John Singleton
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $40 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Taylor Lautner is the latest Twilight alumnus trying to prove he can carry a movie on his own. So far the success of his fellow cast members has been limited. Additionally, John Singleton hasn't directed a film in six years. Finally, there are a lot of people talking about the similarities between this film and Bourne. The amount of negative buzz is outweighing the positive and there is another action film opening this week, which could eat away at its target demographic. That doesn't inspire confidence.

Dolphin Tale

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: DolphinTaleMovie.com
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: September 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic elements.
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Animal Lead, Underwater, 3D, and more
Directed By: Charles Martin Smith
Starring: Nathan Gamble, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Harry Connick Jr., and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $30 million
Box Office Potential: $30 million

This movie has an Air Bud quality to it. Both films have animal leads, both are based on true stories, both are directed by Charles Martin Smith. That film was a mid-level hit when it came out in 1997, but I don't think this one will sell as many tickets. It's a family drama in 3D, which is a strange use for the technology. Granted, Underwater shots in 3D could have some really good depth to them and look great, but I think it might be hard to sell that concept to families, who might not be willing to spend the extra money. It's a really bad time of year to release a family film. Finally, it will likely be the smallest of the three films coming out this weekend. Worst case scenario: Dolphin Tale opens with roughly the same amount as Air Bud, but doesn't have the same legs. Best case scenario: it opens in the mid-teens and hangs around in theaters for a long time, as there's no direct competition for weeks. The above prediction is a weighted average of the two.

Killer Elite

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: KillerElite.com
Distributor: Open Road
Release Date: September 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Out of Retirement, Revenge, Rescue, Secret Agent, Hitmen, and more
Directed By: Gary McKendry
Starring: Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $66 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Writer / director Gary McKendry makes his feature-length debut with this film. In it, Jason Statham stars as a retired special forces agent whose mentor, Robert De Niro, is kidnapped. He's forced to take on a team of assassins, led by Clive Owen, to rescue him. Jason Statham's films normally earn about $30 million, more or less, and I see little reason to think this film will be different. There are some factors that could boost the revenue, including the cast. However, it is also being distributed by Open Road, and this is their first theatrical release. If the reports on its production budget are accurate, it might have to wait a long time to break even.

Moneyball

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: Moneyball-Movie.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: September 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Source: Based on a Book / Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Baseball, Underdogs, and more
Directed By: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $47 million
Box Office Potential: $55 million

A baseball film starring Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. He takes the advice of Jonah Hill's character to change the way they evaluate players and turns the Oakland A's from a laughing stock of a team to... a pretty good team ... at least during the regular season. Major League Baseball is very asymmetrical when it comes to team payrolls, with the wealthiest teams paying close to six times as much money on payroll as the small market teams. (This is one of the reasons I don't pay attention to the league.) By focusing more on on-base percentage and slugging percentage and less on runs batted in and stolen bases, they were able to find players that were undervalued by the other teams.

It's an interesting story, but mainly if you are into both baseball and statistics. Also, is the average moviegoer going to want to watch a movie where the team of underdogs improve, but still never come close to winning the championship? Because of this, I don't think Moneyball will have the same popular appeal as other real life baseball movies like The Rookie or A League of Their Own. It should still be the biggest hit of the week, and perhaps even the biggest hit of the month.

Weekend of September 30th, 2011

This year, September has five weekends. That's just what we need. 2011 is behind 2010's pace by more than $300 million, and now we have to deal with five weekends in one of the worst months of the year. The final weekend of September this year isn't bad for this time of year. In fact, it might actually be stronger than the same weekend last year. Last year's new releases were led by The Social Network with just over $22 million, while the three wide releases combined opened with $33 million. I think we can beat that this year. Dream House could open with that much, while the top three new releases should easily make more than last year's batch. (I'm not 100% sure Courageous will open truly wide.) Hopefully this will mean we can end September / start October on a winning streak.

50/50

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: 50-50TheMovie.com
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: September 30th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Black Comedy
Keywords: Terminal Illness, Medical and Hospitals, and more
Directed By: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sugar Lyn Beard, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a man who is diagnosed with cancer and only given a 50/50 chance to live. He gets by with the help from his best friend, Seth Rogen, and his therapist, Anna Kendrick.

I don't have high hopes for this film for a number of reasons. Firstly, the film has been pushed back, had a name change, lost its original star, etc. It's been through a lot and that suggests some serious problems. It's a little too similar to Funny People; not only do they both deal with cancer, but Seth Rogen is in both. And Funny People wasn't a big hit to begin with. Summit's track record in theaters isn't great. Finally, it's not the biggest release of the week. It might not even be the second biggest release of the week.

On the other hand, it has Sugar Lyn Beard in it, so I hope it's a big hit.

Courageous

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: CourageousTheMovie.com
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: September 30th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and drug content.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Dysfunctional Family, Religious, Directing Yourself, and more
Directed By: Alex Kendrick
Starring: Alex Kendrick and others
Production Budget: Reported at $1 million
Box Office Potential: $15 million

This film is strictly aimed at churchgoers and may or may not open wide. If it does, it could be a surprise hit. After all, its director, Alex Kendrick, also directed Fireproof, which made more than $30 million at the box office. On the other hand, many similar films have been made in the meantime, many of which bombed. This film could open in a few hundred theaters and end its run with less than $1 million. Or it could open in more than 2,000 theaters and improve upon Fireproof's ticket sales.

Dream House

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: DreamHouseMovie.net
Distributor: Universal
Release Date: September 30th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: Mental Illness, Faulty Memory, Surprise Twist, and more
Directed By: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $50 million to $60 million
Box Office Potential: $55 million

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz star as a husband and wife who move with their two daughters to a new house in a small town, only to learn the previous family that lived there was murdered. Everyone thinks the father did it and that he got away. While he investigates the crime, with the help of a neighbor, Naomi Watts, he learns the father was held in a mental institution and was recently released. And in the biggest twist in movie history, it was him. His was the survivor of the murders and his wife and daughters are dead and only exist in his imagination. And no, I'm not being a huge bastard for revealing that. It's given away in the trailer. Hopefully there are more twists to the movie than that, otherwise the marketing for this film could be the worst I've seen in a long time.

This film should be one of the bigger hits of the month, perhaps even the biggest hit of the month. It has a good cast and it's release date is relatively close to Halloween. On the other hand, this time last year, two horror films opened and they both bombed. I really don't think that will happen. Best case scenario: The film opens with more than those two films made in total (say $30 million) and remains in theaters past Halloween, finishing with $75 million. That's a little too bullish for me, but matching its product budget domestically is within reach.

What's Your Number?

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site: WhatsYourNumberMovie.com
Distributor: Fox
Release Date: September 30th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: Relationships Gone Wrong, Relationship Advice, Gratuitous Cameos, and more
Directed By: Mark Mylod
Starring: Anna Faris, Chris Evans and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $20 million to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million

Anna Faris stars as a woman who learns that if a woman has more than 20 sexual partners, there's a greater than 90% chance she'll never be married. She's on number 19. She's determined not to have sex with anyone else, unless she's convinced he's the one. Meanwhile, she meets Chris Evans, who is trying to avoid his current girlfriend. They make a deal. He will help her track down all of her past boyfriends, to see if any of them were the one. And she will help him get rid of his current girlfriend. And in the end they will end up together. (That's not a spoiler, but an educated guess. Romantic comedies tend to be predictable in that regard.)

I like both of the lead actors and I do like the genre, so I'm cautiously optimistic. However, very few romantic comedies become major hits and most struggle just to become mid-level hits. There's not a lot of direct competition this month, so that could help, but if the studio was bullish about its chances, I don't think they would release it in September.


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Filed under: Monthly Preview, Straw Dogs, The Debt, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, Warrior, Dolphin Tale, Abduction, Contagion, Dream House, What's Your Number?, Drive, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Moneyball, Killer Elite, I Don't Know How She Does It, Apollo 18, Shark Night 3D, Courageous, 50/50