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2009 Preview: November

November 1st, 2009

October was not a month to remember, as only two films really beat expectations. (Although Paranormal Activity was the most unexpected hit during the October, it actually opened in September, so one could argue it's not really an 'October hit'.) This month we have a massive collection of potential blockbusters, some potential Oscar contenders, as well as a few unfortunate films that might be squeezed out by the competition. Compared to last November, we might have the same number of $100 million hits, assuming all movies match expectations (fat chance); we have a limited release from this month become the Awards Season darling and reach that milestone (monstrously unlikely); and we count The Princess and the Frog as a November releases (intellectually dishonest). That said, if three or four legitimate November releases reach that milestone, then 2009 will be on pace to tie or break the record for most $100 million released in one calendar year. But overall, 2009 will likely see its lead over 2008 shrink during the next 30 days.

Weekend of November 6th, 2009
The month starts off with a busy week. There are three or four films opening wide, plus another that might expand wide sometime during its run. Compared to the same week last year, the overall box office might be as strong, but it might be tough at the top, as Madagascar 2 opened with more than $60 million.

Name: The Box
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: TheBox-Movie.com
Release Date: November 6, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images
Source: Based on a Short Story
Major Genre: Suspense / Horror
Keywords: Wish Granters?
Production Budget: Reported at $35 million
Box Office Potential: $30 million
Notes: A man offers a husband and wife a chance to solve their financial problems... A chance that comes in the form of a small wooden box. It's more than that, it's a small wooden box with a button and when they press that button they will get $1 million, but one person they don't know will die. Adapted from a short story that is in turn based on a famous philosophical conundrum. The film is directed by Richard Kelly, who also adapted the script. He wrote and directed the amazing Donnie Darko, but also made Southland Tales, which was less successful. I suspect this movie will place somewhere in-between in terms of critical reception and will easily be his biggest hit at the box office. It's almost mathematically impossible that it won't. The real question is how well will it do compared to its production budget. There is a chance it could earn $50 to $60 million theatrically, which would make it a solid midlevel hit and practically ensure a profit early in its home market run, if not sooner, but I think a more modest $30 million is more likely. This will still leave it on pace to earn a profit, albeit a more modest one that takes a little longer to reach, but it should be enough to make the studio happy.

Name: Disney's A Christmas Carol
Distributor: Disney
Official Site: Disney.Go.com/DisneyPictures/AChristmasCarol
Release Date: November 6, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for scary sequences and images
Source: Re-Adaptation
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Christmas, Christmas in November, Hauntings, Time Travel, 3-D, and more
Production Budget: Reported at $175 million
Box Office Potential: $150 million
Notes: The latest motion capture animated movie by Robert Zemeckis who seems determined to champion the technology, no matter how much it costs. The first film he did using this technology was The Polar Express, which cost $170 million to make, but still earned many negative reviews due to the limitations in the technology. Specifically, the eyes seemed dead or doll-like making the characters fall into the Uncanny Valley. Beowulf showed improvement in the animation, which helped it earn better reviews, but as an animated movie aimed at adults, it struggled at the box office. This time around, both these issues should be corrected, which mean it could have the best of both worlds. That is to say, it could earn reviews that are as good as Beowulf while matching The Polar Express at the box office. Additionally, with the 3D aspect, there's a good chance to could hit $200 million at the box office. Then again, there are some rumblings of bad buzz creeping up, and there are even some that are predicting it won't hit $100 million in total. The box office potential above reflects the average of the two extremes; however, if it reaches the higher end, expect to see the movie re-released next year. And the year after that. And the year after that...

Name: The Fourth Kind
Distributor: Universal
Official Site: TheFourthKind.net
Release Date: November 6, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Alien Abductions, Conspiracy Theory, and more
Production Budget: Unknown - Estimated at $30 million
Box Office Potential: $20 million
Notes: Firstly, it is important to note that while the promotional material for this movie claims it is based on real life events, there appears to be absolutely no basis for that. I hate it when studios do that, because it makes it sound like the movie isn't scary unless you believe it is real. Then again, this marketing strategy works surprisingly often, so I can't blame the studio at all. It probably won't be the case this time around. First of all, the film stars Milla Jovovich, who hasn't had a real solid his outside the Resident Evil franchise. Secondly, given the nature of the film, it would have benefited from Halloween, so the fact that it was pushed back till the weekend after Halloween is a terrible sign. I could surprise and become a midlevel hit, but I think the studio doesn't have a lot of faith in the movie, so it won't market it aggressively, and that means it is more likely that it will struggle just to get noticed.

Name: Men Who Stare at Goats
Distributor: Overture Films
Official Site: TheMenWhoStareAtGoatsMovie.com
Release Date: November 6, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug content and brief nudity
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Psychic Powers, Secret Agents, and more
Production Budget: Reported at $10 million
Box Office Potential: $15 million
Notes: The first of two films opening this week that may or may not get a wide release. This one is in a better position at the box office, because it may or may not open wide. The other, Precious, may or may not expand wide. This film has an impressive cast including Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, among others. I've heard some Awards Season Buzz with regards to this film, but I'm not 100% sold. In fact, I'm not 100% sure it would be able to expand wide if it opens in limited release. Granted, its reviews are good, for a wide release, but it's right on the border of 80% positive usually needed for a limited release to have a real chance to expand wide. This is why the above box office potential is so low. If it opens truly wide, it could make that much during its opening weekend. That might be a little bullish for its opening weekend, but it should certainly do better than $15 million in total.

Name: Precious
Distributor: Lionsgate
Official Site: WeAreAllPrecious.com
Release Date: November 6, 2009 (limited)
MPAA Rating: R for child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Dysfunctional Family
Production Budget: Reported at $10 million
Box Office Potential: $5 million
Notes: The first week of November brings us a serious Oscar contender. Precious, which is based on the novel Push but Sapphire, is earning considerable praise and Oscar buzz for newcomer Gabby Sidibe, as well as Mo'Nique. That said, opening in limited release and trying to expand wide is never an easy task, hence the low box office potential. If the buzz grows, it should have no trouble topping that number. If it earns some nominations, or starts picking up some hardware, then it could become a solid midlevel hit with $30 to $50 million.

Weekend of November 13th, 2009
Just three films on this week's list, include one that is opening in limited release and may or may not expand wide later on. None of these films have a real shot at topping last year's number one film at the box office. In fact, all three combined might not make as much as that film did. This will put a lot of pressure on the overall box office to maintain pace with 2009.

Name: 2012
Distributor: Sony
Official Site: WhoWillSurvive2012.com
Release Date: November 13, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: End of the World
Production Budget: Unknown - reported at under $200 million
Box Office Potential: $125 million
Notes: On the one hand, I want to like this movie because it stars John Cusack, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and many other actors I like. On the other hand, it was written and directed by Roland Emmerich, who hasn't made a good movie since... well, I liked Stargate. His films are mostly about huge special effects shots, and I get the distinct impression that he considers characters and plot to be a nuisance that he is forced to deal with as a moviemaker. I think if he thought he could get away with it, he would spend $300 million creating a two-hour long movie that was nothing but famous landmarks being destroyed. As for the film's box officer potential, my gut told me $75 million. After all, while it has a good cast with a lot of actors I like, most of them are not known for drawing huge crowds into theaters. Con Air remains John Cusack's only $100 million hit, while most of his co-stars haven't fared much better in recent years. Also, while Roland Emmerich's average box office is amazing, most of his films open in the heart of the summer and those that don't tend to suffer. My gut told me this movie would make about $75 million, but that was before I looked at the film's budget. Some sources have claimed this film cost as much as $260 million (I assume that's with P&A). So the studio better promote the movie heavily. (There are doing so. In fact, on October 1st there was a promotion to show a 2-minute clip of the movie on TV that apparently was designed to reach 100 million people.) Given this media blitz, the film should open well, but unless the reviews are better than expected, it will likely drop-off quite quickly despite the upcoming holidays.

Name: The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Distributor: Fox
Official Site: FantasticMrFoxMovie.com
Release Date: November 13, 2009 (limited)
Release Date: November 25, 2009 (expansion to wide release)
MPAA Rating: PG for action, smoking and slang humor
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Talking Animals
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $40 to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million
Notes: The list for potential Oscar nominated animated films is starting to get quite crowded. Up is practically a lock for an Oscar nomination, but Coraline and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs also earned amazing reviews and in most years could be enough to secure an Oscar nomination. However, early reviews for The Fantastic Mr. Fox are even better and with the debut of The Princess and the Frog just a few weeks away, there could be five Oscar-worthy films and just three spots open. (Then again if just one or two more eligible films are released, there would be five nominations this year. So it might be a good idea for one of the studios to pick up an animated film that doesn't have a distributor right now to help get their big release a better shot at a nomination.) Of the five animated films I've mentioned here, this one will likely after the most trouble at the box office. First of all, Wes Anderson isn't well known for the medium, and even his biggest box office hit only made just over $50 million at the box office. Then again, it is an animated movie expanding wide on Thanksgiving weekend, and it could make more than $50 million during that long weekend alone. It also has the potential to struggle in limited release and never really expand wide. The above box office potential is a weighted average of those two extremes, but let's hope it finishing on the higher end.

Name: Pirate Radio (a.k.a. The Boat That Rocked)
Distributor: Focus Features
Official Site: FilmInFocus.com/FocusFeatures/Film/Pirate_Radio
Release Date: November 13, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Radio, Rock'n'Roll
Production Budget: $50 million
Box Office Potential: $30 million
Notes: Written and directed by Richard Curtis, whose only previous directorial effort was Love Actually, but who has written Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary, Bean, etc., not to mention many, many TV shows in his native U.K. This movie has already been released in a number of markets internationally, including the U.K., and has done good business, but not great business. If you just look at the film's performance in its native market and scale it up to here, it could make $50 to $60 million. However, because it does deal with real life events that took place in the U.K., it might have a little more difficulty making the transition to outside markets. This has been shown in markets like France, which is why I'm predicting about $30 million in total. That's not a bad number, but it's not a great one either.

Weekend of November 20th, 2009
This week last year, Twilight beat all expectations becoming one of the biggest November debuts of all time. This time around its sequel comes out and the studio sure hopes it will be bigger and better. But it is not the only significant release of the week.

Name: Bad Lieutenant - Port of Call New Orleans
Distributor: First Look
Official Site: BadLt.com
Release Date: November 20, 2009 (limited)
Release Date: December 4, 2009 (expansion)
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Corrupt Cops
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $20 to $30 million
Box Office Potential: $10 million
Notes: There are some who are calling this film a remake of Bad Lieutenant, others have described it as an unofficial sequel, while others still claim the two movies have nothing to do with each other, other than their names. This controversy could help at the box office, and it will likely need the help. Werner Herzog has made a lot of great movies, but he isn't exactly known for his box office numbers. Likewise, Nicolas Cage has a mixed box office history; for every National Treasure, there's a Bangkok Dangerous. Additionally, it is opening in limited release on the 20th, expanding over Thanksgiving weekend, before finally going wide the first weekend of December. Even with very strong early reviews, this might be a tricky feat to accomplish and it might never expand truly wide. On the other hand, it could make more than $10 million during its first weekend of wide release, as there could be a lot of people curious enough to want to see it in theaters.

Name: The Blind Side
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: TheBlindSideMovie.com
Release Date: November 20, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references
Source: Based on a Factual Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Football
Production Budget: Unknown - predicted at $30 to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million
Notes: An inspirational sports story that is based on real life events. We practically see one of those films every single year, many of those become midlevel hits, but that's usually as good as it gets for these films. On the plus side, the film stars Sandra Bullock, who had her biggest hit of her career earlier in the year. In fact, she was able to push the abysmal All About Steve to more than $30, so she can turn even a bad movie released during a poor month into a midlevel hit. On the other hand, there is a lot of competition this time of year, and there have been more than a few similar films that have fallen through the cracks. I don't suspect this was a very expensive movie to make and even with no real chance at international success (football is not very popular outside the United States) it should still make enough to show a profit sometime during its home market run.

Name: Planet 51
Distributor: Sony
Official Site: Planet51.com
Release Date: November 20, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Friendly Alien on Earth... sort of
Production Budget: $50 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: A great twist and the friendly alien on Earth story. Here the alien is actually a human astronaut, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, who is sent on a space exploration to the titular Planet 51. It is thought that this planet is uninhabited, but when he gets there is finds it is populated by little green men (and women) living in a civilization very much like Earth's in the 1950s. At least the way it was depicted in 1950s sitcoms like Ozzy and Harriet. This movie also sends up the sci-fi movies of the 1950s, which were thinly veiled look at the cold war era paranoia. I love this set up, and this movie could be great fun. Additionally, it is coming out the weekend before Thanksgiving, which is a great time to release a family film. On the other hand, it is a crowded time of the year to release such a movie with more or less direct competition from Disney's A Christmas Carol, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Princess and the Frog all happening around the same time. Assuming the studio can promote the film as well as it did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, it could be a surprise $100 million hit. I think that's a bit much to expect from the film, but becoming a solid midlevel hit isn't.

Name: The Twilight Saga - New Moon
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Official Site: NewMoonTheMovie.com
Release Date: November 20, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and action
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Vampire, Werewolf, and more
Production Budget: $50 to $70 million - reports vary
Box Office Potential: $100 to $200 million
Notes: This could be the biggest hit of the month. It would also pull a Narnia and come crashing down compared to the original installment. I really have no idea which way it will go. The studio and fans of the movie certainly hope it will be on the higher end, but the first film didn't earn good reviews, which means it might have trouble expanding its audience beyond the fanbase that turned out for the first film. In fact, I suspect the film will open a little faster, just over $70 million instead of just under, but fall faster as well, finishing with under $190 million instead of just over. It might even struggled to make $150 million in total after a $75 million start. But even if this happens, the studio should be ecstatic and even if the film's production budget is on the high end of the varied reports, this movie will still make a boatload of money for the studio. On a side note, I've seen a lot of recent lists of the hottest young actors in Hollywood. 'Top 25 under 25' lists. Most of them are heavy on actors that appeared in Twilight and its sequel. This strikes me as a little odd, as it is hard to just the box office drawing power of an actor based on the appearance in one Fanboy (Fangirl?) film. True, some actors like Kirsten Stewart and Dakota Fanning had impressive resumes before Twilight was even greenlit, but they are the exception among the young cast. Can you really argue that Taylor Lautner is one of the biggest young stars in Hollywood? Ashley Greene? Hell, I would wait to see how Remember Me does at the box office before adding Robert Patterson to any list of the hottest young actors. (I feel the same way for the cast of Harry Potter, by the way. Until they can prove they can sell tickets outside of the franchise, they are unproven commodities and not major stars. Some of them have done this, but most of the cast have not.)

Weekend of November 27th, 2009
The Thanksgiving long weekend of last year was not a particularly strong weekend with two of the three new releases opening weaker than their respective studios would have liked. This could leave an opening for 2009 to show solid growth compared to 2008, but looking at the four films opening or expanding wide, I'm not sure any of them have what it takes to really score at the box office. In fact, it's the limited release debut of The Princess and the Frog that interests me the most.

Name: Ninja Assassin
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Official Site: Ninja-Assassin-Movie.WarnerBros.com
Release Date: November 25, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Martial Arts, Assassin, Revenge, and more
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $40 to $60 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million
Notes: Stephen Colbert is going to be pissed. For those who don't know, Stephen Colbert has a 'rivalry' against Rain who stars in this movie. The rivalry exists because Rain's fanbase has proven to be just as fanatical of Stephen's and in a couple of online polls Rain has come out on top. In the movie he plays a ninja that is an assassin. (This is why I get paid the big bucks. To come up with in-depth analysis like that.) This ninja assassin seeks revenge against the ninja clan that trained him. Don't expect a lot of substance, but the film could have a lot of cool action and that's all that matters in this case. On the other hand, Rain is not very well known in North America, so this film will likely only become a midlevel hit, but no more.

Name: Old Dogs
Distributor: Disney
Official Site: Disney.Go.com/DisneyPictures/OldDogs
Release Date: November 25, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Unexpected Families
Production Budget: Reported at $35 million
Box Office Potential: $105 million
Notes: I've seen this trailer numerous times and every time I hate it, but I'm not surprised. I was never really a fan of John Travolta and I don't like his acting style, which has a lot to do with my opinion on his work. Additionally, while I do like Robin Williams, a lot of his recent movie choices have been quite bad. Finally, the movie is directed by Walt Becker, who previously made Wild Hogs, which was loathsome. On the other hand, John Travolta had three $100 million movies in the past two years, while Robin Williams had four $100 million in the past four years. I think this will be a terrible, terrible movie, but it has a better than 50% chance of hitting $100 million at the box office. The two leads have recent success at the box office, as does the director, and it is opening on Thanksgiving weekend, which is one of the best weekends of the year for box office numbers. And quite frankly, there's little correlation between reviews and box office revenue.

Name: The Princess and the Frog
Distributor: Disney
Official Site: Disney.Go.com/DisneyPictures/PrincessAndTheFrog
Release Date: November 25, 2009 (exclusive)
Release Date: December 11, 2009 (expansion to wide)
MPAA Rating: G for General Admissions
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Musical
Keywords: Secret Magic, Princess, African-American, Curses, etc.
Production Budget: Unknown - Predicted at $100 million
Box Office Potential: $225 million
Notes: The first 'traditional' animated movie to come out of Disney since Home of the Range. I put 'traditional' in scare quotes because while it is 2D like hand animated films and not the normal style of 3D rendered computer animation like Toy Story, it is still animated on a computer. Also of note, this the first Disney Princess movie to feature an African-American as the lead. As for the film's box office chances, it will likely be a huge hit. The studio announced that they were shutting down there hand animation division back in 2004 and going back on that means they have a lot of pressure to make sure it scores, otherwise it will have been a huge, and costly, mistake. Because of this, John Lasseter, who is producing, will make damn sure the story will be top-notch story, because that's the most important part of a film's success, and he knows that well. I expect amazing reviews, lots of positive buzz, and even a possible Oscar nomination.

Name: The Road
Distributor: Weinstein Co.
Official Site: TheRoad-Movie.com
Release Date: November 25, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images and language
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Post Apocalypse, Road Trip, etc.
Production Budget: Unknown - reported at $20 to $30 million
Box Office Potential: $15 million
Notes: This movie may or may not open wide on Thanksgiving weekend. If it opens in limited release, its reviews suggest that it has a chance to expand. In fact, it reviews suggest it could have some play during Awards Season. This is not that surprising, since the book it is based on won a couple major awards. In the movie Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee star as father and son in a post apocalyptic world who are traveling across the country looking for food, shelter, and fellow survivors. Even with the good reviews, I doubt pure mainstream success is in the film's future, but Viggo Mortensen could have another solid Indie hit to compliment his post-Lord of the Rings career.


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Filed under: Monthly Preview, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Blind Side, Precious (Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), The Fourth Kind, The Box, Disney's A Christmas Carol, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ninja Assassin, The Road, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Planet 51, Old Dogs, The Boat That Rocked, The Princess and the Frog, 2012