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Scary Amounts of Competition

October 1st, 2009

There should be six new films in the top ten this weekend, or rather three new films, two re-releases, and one film expanding into the top ten. However, while there is a lot of activity, only one of these films is opening in more than 3,000 theaters while the others are opening in less than 2,000. Because of this, there's not much doubt about which film will top the chart, but there is a question of by how much. There is also a question of when the overall box office will be able to keep up with last year.

Zombieland, which opens in 3,036 theaters, is the only saturation level release of the week. It is also the best reviewed of the new releases with a Tomatometer Score that has crawled up to 90% positive. That said, it's a horror / comedy and these are notoriously hard to market. The lack of major star power could also be an issue. Granted, Woody Harrelson could see his career box office hit $1 billion over the weekend thanks to this movie, but the best box office average out of the four leads is held by Abigail Breslin. Best case scenario has the film earning a per theater average of more than $10,000, which would put it ahead of the number one film from last year. It could also earn less than half of that, which would mean Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs could complete the hat trick on top of the charts. I think first place with just under $20 million is the most likely scenario, which is likely more than it cost to make.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will be relatively close behind with $16 million over the weekend and a total of $81 million after three. It will have to deal with direct competition, so it won't hold on as well as it did last week, but even if it drops by closer to 50%, it will still be on pace to reach $100 million during its run.

Speaking of direct competition, Toy Story 3D - Double-Feature will be that competition. It has been ten years since the previous installment opened in theaters, and in that time digital animation has gone from once a year event pictures to a dime a dozen. Will this temper people's interest in these movies? Possibly, but since they are being re-rendered in 3D, I don't think this will be an issue. What will be an issue is the ticket price / running time. Since you only need to buy one ticket to see two movies, the box office will in effect be sliced in half. (Or you could treat the movie as a three-hour long movie, meaning there will be half as many showings each day.) This will likely leave the film in third place with $12 to $13 million. This might be enough to make Disney and some other studios think about re-releasing other digitally animated films with a 3D makeover.

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, Whip It, has so far impressed critics, but will it win over moviegoers? That seems unlikely for a few reasons. First of all, it is only opening in 1,720 theaters, which is fewer than the Toy Story 3D - Double-Feature. Secondly, it is about Roller Derby, which is not a mainstream sport. Thirdly, it is being released by Fox Searchlight, which does not have a good track record when it comes to opening films wide. They've only had one film open with $20 million, and only five opened with more than $10 million. This film might bump that list to six films, but fourth place with $8 million is more likely. That said, it could have stronger than average legs, and it will likely do well on the home market. I expect this will not be the last film Drew Barrymore's directs.

After a weaker than expected opening, Surrogates will likely see its weekend haul cut in half this time around. That would leave it with just $7.5 million over the next three days for a ten-day total of $26.5 million. With a production budget of $80 million, this is unacceptable. Unless it is a massive hit internationally in comparison, it won't be showing a profit any time soon.

Capitalism: A Love Story expands into just under 1,000 theaters on Friday, which should leave it just out of the top ten with $6 million. This is wider than Bowling for Columbine ever played, and if it does make $6 million, it will be more than Sicko made in any one weekend. This bodes well for the film's long-term chances and a total of $25 million to $30 million is possible. Even if it only earns $4 to $5 million, it will still be one of the best documentaries of all time at the box office.

Finally there's The Invention of Lying, which has seen its box office potential slip over the past few days. Not only is the film opening in just 1,707 theaters, its reviews have dipped to just 59% positive. Granted, 59% positive is great for a wide release, but it's not enough to overcome its low theater count. It could surprise and finish in fourth place, but it will likely struggle to just reach seventh place with $5 million. Hopefully it will find a more receptive audience on the home market.

One last note, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince finally reached $300 million on its 77th day of release. That is one of the slowest journeys to that milestone, but I don't think Warner Bros. will mind.

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Filed under: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Capitalism: A Love Story, Zombieland, Surrogates, The Invention of Lying, Whip It