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2009 Preview: January

January 1st, 2009

Happy New Year! If it's January 1, it must be time to take a look at this month's releases, and analyze how 2009 at the box office will compare to 2008. 2009 is looking to get off to a fast start, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. For one thing, 2008 stumbled down the stretch, which means the box office is relatively soft at the moment. Also, 2008 got off to a great start, which means it will be harder for 2009 to keep pace early on. (On a side note, if the box office is sluggish as expected, it could set the tone for the box office coverage and bad news tends to beget more bad news.) While there are a few films that are aiming for $50 million or more, none have the advance buzz that Cloverfield had, and it is unlikely that any will match its box office.

Interested in discussing these predictions? The join us in the forums.

Name: Bride Wars
Distributor: Fox
Official Site: BrideWars.com
Release Date: January 9, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for suggestive content, language and some rude behavior
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Wedding Planning and Wedding Disasters
Production Budget: Unknown - predicted at $30 to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $50 million
Notes: The term "chick flick" is generally used as an insult. This is certainly the case here. I'm not a fanatic hater of the genre. In fact, there are several such films that I quite enjoy, but after watching the trailer, I don't think this will be one of them. Additionally, if it was a good movie, why is it being released early in January? That said, both Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson have had their share of big hits, or at least mid-level hits, and they should add this film to that list. There is an issue with the competition, as there are four films opening or expanding wide on the 9th. However, none of these directly share a target audience with Bride Wars, and with the ad campaign already ramping up, it could be the biggest hit of the four. I think it will be close as The Unborn will probably win the weekend (or come the closest out the new releases) but will drop off faster. On the other hand, Gran Torino will have earned $10 million or so before January 9th rolls around, and that head start could keep it ahead in the long run.

Name: The Dark Knight
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: TheDarkKnight.WarnerBros.com
Release Date: July 18, 2008
Release Date: January 23, 2009 (re-release)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: D.C. Comics, Mental Illness, and others
Production Budget: $185 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million
Notes: Hoping to cash in on the Oscar buzz, Warner Bros. is re-releasing the film in January. There are three goals here: one, to give the film some added boast during Awards Season and perhaps turn some of Heath Ledger's nominations into wins, which would be a great tribute for an actor who died just as he was earning recognition for his immense talent. Second, to help push the film over $1 billion worldwide, and considering it is about $3 million away, that should be no problem to get to. And finally, to push it over $600 million domestically, and ahead of Titanic on the All-Time Chart. This is ferociously unlikely, but the possibility can't be ruled out entirely. Personally, I think failing to reach $10 million is more likely, but we will soon see what happens.

Name: Defiance
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Official Site: DefianceMovie.com
Release Date: December 31, 2008 (Oscar qualifying run)
Release Date: January 16, 2009 (wide)
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: World War II
Production Budget: $50 million
Box Office Potential: $20 million
Notes: The film just opened yesterday and so far there are no hints at how well it is doing in limited release. However, given the mixed reviews, I can't imagine it will be a massive hit. Assuming it does well enough to expand truly wide on the 16th, it might be able to become a mid-level hit. On the other hand, it could disappear before the 16th rolls around. The above box office potential is a weighted average of those two extremes.

Name: Frost/Nixon
Distributor: Universal
Official Site: FrostNixon.net
Release Date: December 5, 2008 (limited)
MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Source: Based on a Play that is Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Politics, News, and more
Production Budget: $30 to $40 million - reports vary
Box Office Potential: $30 million
Notes: Just a quick update from last month. I've lowered the box office potential because despite earning numerous nominations, the movie hasn't earned as much at the box office as I was expecting. (Its third weekend was particularly troublesome in my opinion.) I still expect it to grow its theater count and it could earn the $50 million I predicted at the beginning of December, but that's the high end of expectations now.

Name: Gran Torino
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: TheGranTorino.com
Release Date: December 12, 2008 (limited)
Release Date: January 9, 2009 (expansion to wide release)
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, and some violence
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Gangs, Korean War
Production Budget: Unknown - predicted at $30 million
Box Office Potential: $50 million
Notes: While this film hasn't earned the Oscar-level reviews I was expecting, and most no longer expect it to be a power player during Awards season, the film is doing very well in limited release. Also, it is showing no signs of slowing down, and should be able to expand wide on the 9th. My only concern is the competition, as there are a lot of films opening or expanding wide on the ninth. That said, I doubt there will be a January release as good as this film. In fact, I wouldn't be that surprised if not a single January release earns better than 50% positive reviews, so it does have that going for it.

Name: Hotel for Dogs
Distributor: Paramount
Official Site: HotelForDogsMovie.com
Release Date: January 16, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor
Source: Based on a Novel
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Animal Lead
Production Budget: Reported at $75 million, but that seems high
Box Office Potential: $40 million
Notes: There's usually one family film that opens each January, and while they rarely become major hits, the lack of competition helps them perform reasonably well at the box office. This year there are two such films, Hotel for Dogs and Inkheart. On the one hand, in 2002 Snow Dogs pulled in more than $80 million during its run. On the other hand, last year The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything managed less than $13 million. This film could earn anywhere between those two extremes, but given its reported production budget, the studio is obviously hoping for the higher end. Racing Stripes made close to $50 million, as did Nanny McPhee, but neither of those films had to deal with direct competition, while this film opens just a week before Inkheart does. I don't think either film will have an obvious advantage over the other, but the competition will prevent both from reaching their full potential.

Name: Inkheart
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: InkheartMovie.com
Release Date: January 23, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments and brief language
Source: Based on a Novel
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Writers, Rescue, Kidnapping, Assassin, Good vs. Evil, and more
Production Budget: $60 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million
Notes: A fantasy adventure film starring Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett (from Nanny McPhee), Andy Serkis, and others. Brendan Fraser stars as a man who discovers while reading to his daughter (Eliza) that has the ability to read characters out of books and into the real world, or read people from the real world into a book. He accidentally uses this power to unleash a storybook villain wile trapping his wife in said book. Since then he has refused to read to his daughter, while trying to find a way to rescue his wife while returning the villain back to the book he read him out of. On the one hand, this film has been pushed back a number of times before settling on January the 23rd, which is a terrible release date. Also, it is a member of a genre that has produced a number of massive bombs recently. The movie has opened in the U.K. and Germany recently to mixed results. Using the former as a guide, this film will make roughly $7 million during its opening, and less than $20 million overall. On the other hand, using the latter we get an opening of $15 million, and closer to $50 million overall. I think with Brendan Fraser's winning streak, and the better than expected reviews, the latter will be more likely. It could surprise and earn $75 million, or more, but that's on the high end of expectations. I think it could be tricky just matching its production budget, while a better release date could have been enough to help the film become a $100 million hit.

Name: My Bloody Valentine 3-D
Distributor: Lionsgate
Official Site: MyBloodyAalentineIn3D.com
Release Date: January 16, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for graphic brutal horror violence and grisly images throughout, some strong sexuality, graphic nudity and language
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: 3-D, Teenage Slasher, and more
Production Budget: Reported at $20 million
Box Office Potential: $30 million
Notes: A remake of a Canadian teenage slasher horror film, and the third such film to hit theaters in just over two years. I guess Canada is the new Japan, although I'm not sure why, as the previous films didn't exactly impress critics or moviegoers. This one has the benefit of being filmed in 3-D, but despite a number of films coming out in the format, not many theaters have decided to pay the price to upgrade. This makes it difficult to market the film, as most people won't be able to view it that way. On the other hand, there's a very good chance the 3-D is nothing more than a gimmick to an otherwise pointless remake, so it won't matter. That said, expectations will be low, and even with several films that can be considered direct competition coming out this month, it should earn enough to show a small profit by the time it reaches the home market.

Name: New in Town
Distributor: Lionsgate
Official Site: NewInTownMovie.com
Release Date: January 30, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: Culture Clash / Fish Out of Water
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $30 to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $50 million
Notes: A romantic comedy that is coming out just a couple of weeks before Valentine's day. On the one hand, this does mean it gets a jump on the competition. On the other hand, there's lots of competition with He's Just Not That Into You opening the next week and Confessions of a Shopaholic opening the week after that. And of the three, this one feels like it is the weakest. I don't like the chemistry between Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr., and these films live and die based on the chemistry between the two leads. On a side note, I like the previous name better, Chilled in Miami, because it felt less generic, and a generic name could hurt it at the box office. That said, the presence of Valentine's Day could help it earn a bit more at the box office, and I see it becoming a mid-level hit.

Name: Not Easily Broken
Distributor: Sony
Official Site: SonyPictures.com/Movies/NotEasilyBroken
Release Date: January 9, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual references and thematic elements
Source: Based on a Novel
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: African-American, Relationship Advice, and others
Production Budget: Unknown - reported at $8 million
Box Office Potential: $20 million
Notes: There are four films opening or expanding wide on January 9, and at least one of them will be squeezed out at the box office by the competition. It is very likely that this film will be one of them. It is the smallest of the four films, and it will likely have the lowest P&A budget. It could surprise and become as big of a hit as the average Tyler Perry film, but that seems like a bit of a longshot. Regardless, it should do well enough to show a significant profit during its initial push into the home market. In fact, it could top its production budget during its opening weekend, which would make the studio very happy.

Name: Notorious
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Official Site: FoxSearchlight.com/Notorious
Release Date: January 16, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, and for drug content
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Biography, Musicians, Music Industry, Rap / Hip-Hop, and more
Production Budget: Unknown - Predicted at $20 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million
Notes: I'm not entirely convinced this film will open truly wide, as Fox Searchlight is known for limited releases. Almost all sources say it will open wide, but that could mean as few as 1,000 or so theaters, which I'm taking into account when coming up with a box office potential. I'm not sure this film has enough box office potential to warrant a truly wide release. After all, while Christopher Wallace was a very influential rap star who helped re-invent East Coast rapping, it hasn't been that long since he died, or for that matter, it hasn't been that long since he started recording. Okay, maybe that won't be an issue at the box office, and maybe it's just sour grapes that this movie is coming out in a few weeks and the James Brown BioPic is stuck in development hell. But I have this gut feeling it will struggle, but since I can't eliminate the possibility of sour grapes, which would tend to make me underestimate the film's box office potential, I'm going with the higher end of expectations.

Name: Outlander
Distributor: Third Rail
Official Site: Not available
Release Date: January 23, 2009 (limited)
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Alien vs. Alien
Production Budget: Reported at $47 million
Box Office Potential: $5 million
Notes: Just a quick note on this film: there are mixed reports regarding this film's release dates, with most saying it will open in limited release on the 23rd. If this happens, there is little chance of it expanding wide, as this is not the type of film that thrives in limited release, and in that case, even $1 million seems terribly optimistic. On the other hand, if it opens truly wide, it could make more than $10 million during its opening weekend and close to $30 million overall. The former is far more likely than the latter. As for the quality of the film, I've seen plenty of reviews online, nearly all of them in German. However, what I can gather is not exactly positive with most in the "five stars out of ten" range. No one should mistake this Alien vs. Viking film for high art (no one should go into an Alien vs. Viking film looking for high art) but it will likely be entertaining enough to be worth checking out on the home market.

Name: Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Distributor: Paramount
Official Site: PaulBlartMallCop.com
Release Date: January 16, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, and language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Oraginized Crime, Heist, Hostage, Rescue, and more
Production Budget: Reported at $25 million
Box Office Potential: $40 million
Notes: Kevin James' first starring role after being in several $100 million hits. However, I don't think anyone would say he was the primary draw for 50 First Dates, Hitch, or even Chuck and Larry. Here, he is the biggest name and the primary draw. I'm not sure if he will be able to carry this film; in fact, I would be surprised if more than one in three critics gave this film a positive review. I don't have a lot of faith in this movie partially because it is a January release, and that's never good. But mainly because it's a Christmas movie, and it is a January release. There's no way that's a good sign. If there is some good news, the reported production budget is low, and there's no real direct competition for the movie for the entire month, so it has a decent shot at showing a profit eventually. However, I think it will have to wait until the home market before it finds its audience.

Name: Possession
Distributor: Yari Film Group
Official Site: PossessionMovie.com
Release Date: January 23, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, some sexuality and language.
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Suspense
Keywords: Possessed? Or is that too obvious?
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $20 million
Box Office Potential: $5 million
Notes: I've mentioned this film previously on a monthly preview, and little has changed in terms of its box office potential. If anything, it has gotten lower because the odds of opening wide have been reduced. Not only has this movie has been pushed back so many times I'm starting to think it doesn't exist and is just an elaborate practical joke. But recently its distributor, Yari Film Group, declared bankruptcy, so there's little chance it will have any serious ad campaign backing it up. Maybe if it came out when it was originally scheduled to (Fall of 2007) it could have been a mid-level hit, but the Asian horror remake fad is officially dead, and there are too many films opening this month with the same target audience for this one to survive.

Name: Revolutionary Road
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Official Site: RevolutionaryRoadMovie.com
Release Date: December 26, 2008
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Relationships Gone Wrong
Production Budget: Unknown - predicted at $40 to $60 million
Box Office Potential: $20 million
Notes: This film got off to an amazing start, and it should have little trouble expanding enough to earn a slice of mainstream success. That said, its reviews are merely good, and nowhere near the level one would expect from a major player during awards seasons. Because of this, I've lowered its box office potential somewhat. I still think it will expand enough to earn some mainstream success, but I'm not expecting it to win many awards, and thus it won't be able to earn as much as I previously expected.

Name: Taken
Distributor: Fox
Official Site: TakenMovie.com
Release Date: January 23, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Kidnapping, Rescue, Secret Agent, Corrupt Cops, Organized Crime, and more
Production Budget: 30 million Euro or about $40 to $45 million
Box Office Potential: $30 million
Notes: A French thriller starring Liam Neeson as a former CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped by an Albanian crime syndicate, who are planning on selling her and her friend as sex slaves. This film was written and produced by Luc Besson, which does give me some reason to be optimistic. After all, he wrote, and directed, Leon, La Femme Nikita, and many other great films. Even his less critically-acclaimed films, like the Transporter trilogy, at least have high entertainment value. Reviews suggest this movie will fall under the latter category, but that won't hurt its box office potential too much. So far the film has done relatively well on the international scene, earning $66 million with a few more markets left to debut in. This would indicate a domestic run of $30 to $40 million; I'm going with the lower end simply because the release date is quite poor. But I'm cautiously optimistic that is will surprise.

Name: The Unborn
Distributor: Universal
Official Site: TheUnbornMovie.net
Release Date: January 9, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, thematic material and language including some sexual references
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: Possessed
Production Budget: Unknown - Predicted at $20 to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $30 million
Notes: I don't have high hopes for this movie for a number of reasons including its rating, its director, and its release date. PG-13 horror can work: you don't need to look any further than 1408 to see that. However, usually PG-13 horror is not horror that is built on mood and tension. It is R-rated horror that has been neutered to get a PG-13 rating in order to boost its box office potential. This rarely works. Secondly, while I like David S. Goyer as a screenwriter (he wrote the Blade trilogy, for instance) his transition to the director's chair has not been exactly smooth and his last film made barely $20 million at the box office. Finally, there's the release date. January 9th is among the worst release dates a film can be stuck with. There is quite a bit of buzz surrounding the film, but it is mostly due to the poster, which has Odette Yustman in her underwear. I'm sure this will help sell tickets, but I don't know if it will be enough to make it anything more than a mid-level hit. I'm not even sure it will get that far.

Name: Underworld 3 - Rise of the Lycans
Distributor: Sony
Official Site: EnterTheUnderworld.com
Release Date: January 23, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence and some sexuality
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Vampire vs. Werewolf
Production Budget: Unknown - predicted at $40 to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $50 million
Notes: The third, and most likely final installment in the Underworld franchise. This one is a prequel that looks at the origins of the war between the vampires and their former slaves, the Lycans. Because it is a prequel, most of the main cast from the first two films will not return, which could hurt ticket sales. Also an issue, it is set in the Dark Ages, which means it's a period piece and more expensive to make than a movie set in contemporary times. Finally, it is being released in January, which is a terrible month to release a movie, and it does have a lot of direct competition. That said, it is one of the bigger films coming out this month, and should benefit from one of the bigger ad campaigns. It could become the biggest hit of the franchise, or at the very least it should earn comparable box office to the previous two films.

Name: The Uninvited
Distributor: Paramount
Official Site: UninvitedMovie.com
Release Date: January 30, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, thematic material, sexual content, language and teen drinking
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: Mental Illness, Hauntings, Surprise Twist, Evil Stepmother, and more
Production Budget: Unknown - predicted at $20 to $40 million
Box Office Potential: $40 million
Notes: Emily Browning (from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Arielle Kebbel star as two sisters the former of which has just returned from a mental institute after the tragic death of her mother. But when she returns she have to deal with her new step mother, and the ghost of her mother, who warns her that her new step mother has evil intentions. There are four horror films coming out this month, including another Asian horror remake. With this level of competition, there is little hope that all of these films will reach their box office potential. It is more likely that all four films will bomb than all four will become hits. I don't think this film will be the worst of the four, but it might struggle just to become a mid-level hit.

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Filed under: Monthly Preview, The Dark Knight, Gran Torino, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Taken, Hotel for Dogs, Bride Wars, My Bloody Valentine, Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans, The Unborn, Notorious, Defiance, The Uninvited, Revolutionary Road, Frost/Nixon, Inkheart, New in Town, Not Easily Broken, Outlander, Possession