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Darkest Before the Dawn

July 17th, 2008

One of the most anticipated films of the year opens today and The Dark Knight should be huge. Absolutely huge. In fact, there are even those who think the film will make more than the top five did this time last year, which would be a huge boost to 2008 in its race with 2007.

In 2005 Batman Begins re-booted a franchise that many were willing to write off as dead. However, that film earned excellent reviews and became a $200 million hit. Since then, there have been plenty of people looking forward to the sequel and wondering if it can improve upon the original's performance. At this point, it would be a huge surprise if it didn't. The Dark Knight will certainly break one record this weekend, as it is opening in 4,366 theaters, making it the widest opening of all time. Will this result in the biggest opening weekend of all time? Possibly, but that is still a long shot, and something I wasn't willing to even consider at the beginning of the month. Given the film's reviews, the overall buzz, the possible Oscar buzz for Heath Ledger, and more, an opening weekend of $100 million is not longer the top end of expectations, but the bottom end for most. I prefer to be cautious here and I think $110 million is a reasonable prediction. However, predictions of $120 million, $130 million, or more are not hopelessly optimistic either and there is a slim, but distinct possibility that the film will break further records over the weekend.

The next wide release of the week is Mamma Mia!, the musical based on the collective works of ABBA. Lord help us. To be fair, the movie is based on a highly successful musical that has fans worldwide. Add to that, this time last year saw the opening of Hairspray, which rode stunning reviews to a nearly $120 million total box office, so there is an obvious market for such films. In comparison, Mamma Mia! has better buzz and should opening as strong, or perhaps a little stronger. However, the reviews have taken a turn for the worse, and that will undoubtedly hurt the film's legs. It might even hurt the film's opening weekend, but that's less guaranteed. Look for an opening of $28 million, maybe a little less. And thanks to its target demographic, which tends to be a little under-served, the film still has a shot at $100 million.

Direct competition will likely hurt Hancock this weekend, but it has already made enough to make the studio happy, so this is hardly a cause for concern. Look for a drop-off of just over 50%, which would give the film just over $15 million over the weekend and close to $195 million in total. This would leave it less than a week away from $200 million and on pace to hit $225 million in total.

Likewise, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army has to deal with direct competition, but the Fanboy Effect will be greater here, despite the superior reviews. In fact, given the film's declining box office numbers during the week, a 60% drop off to just under $14 million seems likely. This does put $100 million domestically in doubt, but it should at least match its production budget domestically, which means profitability is within reach by its initial push into the home market.

Both WALL-E and Journey to the Center of the Earth should be in a tight race for fifth place. WALL-E has the advantage in reviews and historical box office patterns (films usually drop-off the most during their second weekend of release), but it also has to deal with a theater count loss of over 500. This gives Journey to the Center of the Earth a slight advantage and it should win the battle with just under $11 million compared to just over $10 million for WALL-E.

The final wide release of the week is Space Chimps, although you wouldn't be able to tell based on the number of ads running. Given its reviews, maybe the studio figured there was no point in throwing good money after bad. Critics are complaining about the weakness of the digital animation, the cheap jokes, the bad puns, etc., although the movie might still entertain the younger kids. ... But not if they saw WALL-E or Kung Fu Panda. Very few people are willing to bet Space Chimps will make its way into the top five this weekend, and $7 million over the next three days seems the most likely and with a reported $37 million production budget, this is a poor start. That said, its target audience should help home market sales and it could still eventually show a profit.


Filed under: The Dark Knight, Hancock, WALL-E, Mamma Mia!, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Space Chimps