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New Year Hangover

January 5th, 2007

The first weekend of the year is not known for producing many hits. In fact, perhaps only the first weekend after Labor Day is worse. This year is no exception: the three wide releases are not earning strong reviews, only one new film is able to crack 2,000 theaters, and none of them have a real shot at first place.

Weak competition will leave Night at the Museum in first place for the third weekend in a row but the real question is how well it will hold up during the post-holiday session. As a family film, it is expected to be hit hard, perhaps falling as much as 50%. That would give it about $18 million over the weekend, but I'm betting it will take in $20 million, lifting its running tally to $160 million or so.

Pursuit of Happyness with its more mature target audience should not see such a large drop-off. The film could fall as little as 30%, but just over 40% for a drop-off seems more likely. That would give it roughly $11.5 million for the weekend and $122 million in total.

Dreamgirls' failure to expand this weekend is a bit of a mystery. With a per theater average of $16,549 and just 852 theatres it has plenty of reasons and places to expand. However, with no expansion, it will need a little luck remaining above $10 million this weekend, and it will likely just fall below that point.

The first of the new releases is Happily N'Ever After, which is also the widest release at roughly 2,400 theaters. Unfortunately, it is also earning some of the worst reviews with just one critic out of 22 giving it a positive rating. Had the film opened during the Golden Age of digital animation, even with these reviews it would have been an easy number one opener and a $100 million movie as well. Now it will struggle to reach $10 million and likely fall short with just $8 million.

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Next up is Children of Men, which is expanding into 1,200 more theaters. So far it has made over $1 million while playing in 16 theaters. But despite earning some of the best reviews of the year, it hasn't earned much in the way of award season buzz. This will hurt the film at the box office and prevent it from reaching its full potential. However, should it beat my $7 million weekend prediction, the it should expand at least a little more over the coming weeks.

The next new release is Freedom Writers. This inspirational teacher story is earning the best reviews of any wide release this week, and they could be the best reviews of any wide release this month. However, while 60% positive is a better score than most movies earn, it's hard to see it as that much of a selling point. Add in a theater count that sits at under 1,400 and an ad campaign that has been targeted but not aggressive and the film will likely fail to reach the top five with just $6 million.

Just missing the top ten will be Code Name: The Clearer with $4 million. The film it opening in just 1,736 venues with only one positive review and with a weak ad campaign. It just seems like a movie without an audience. Although, now that I've said that, it will probably surprise me and finish first.

Finally we have Thr3e, a serial killer thriller aimed at Christian audiences. There's been a real attempt recently to build up the demand for these films, but if they keep earning terrible reviews, it won't help. And the 0% positive reviews are not because it is a Christian movie; there have been Christian films that have earned good reviews, it's just that message movies, while important, are more difficult to make than movies that are just there to entertain. On the other hand, there is a built in audience and with a theater count of nearly 500, there's a small chance it could score a place in the top ten with $5 million. On the other hand, there's also a chance it will bomb with less than $1 million. Unfortunately, the lower end seems more likely.

One last note, there appear to be no other limited releases coming out this week, so there will be no limited release column.

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Filed under: Night at the Museum, The Pursuit of Happyness, Dreamgirls, Freedom Writers, Children of Men, Happily N'Ever After, Code Name: The Cleaner, Thr3e