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Weekend Preview: Ghost Rider Tries to Hold on to Pole Position

February 22nd, 2007

Another busy week for wide releases with three or five such films, depending on how you define wide. Only three of the new releases have a theater count of 2,000 or more, which is a higher threshold than most require to call a movie wide, but probably the most accurate definition. On the other hand, there are two other films opening in just under 1,000 theaters and both have a shot at entering the top ten.

Despite this deluge of new releases, Ghost Rider has an excellent shot at retaining the top spot at the box office this weekend. I'm looking at the film to have a similar run as fellow Marvel B-lister, Daredevil. So far, midweek numbers are promising and even though Ghost Rider earned weaker reviews than Daredevil did, and despite stronger competition, it should still finish first. It is tracking between $18 million and $20 million and while the lower end is a tad more likely, that should still be enough for the film to reach $100 million before the end of its theatrical run.

The most successful wide release of the week should be Number 23. The Jim Carrey suspense / thriller has an excellent premise, but a very flawed execution. What's worse, the ad campaign has done little to convince moviegoers otherwise. There is certainly weakness in the film's tracking and it will likely finish the weekend with $17 million overall. However, that is close enough to Ghost Rider's prediction that it could score first place if it shows any strength. Oh, and if it earned $23 million during the opening weekend, expect a lot of conspiracy theorists to freak out.

Bridge to Terabithia tries to ride the best reviews of the year to a strong sophomore stint. Tracking has been strong and most are looking for a 40% drop-off this weekend. That would give the film $13.5 million over the weekend and $45 million in total. And without much direct competition for a while, it should have good legs for quite some time.

Reno 911: Miami may be the most difficult film to predict this weekend. As an adaptation of a TV show with cult appeal, it should be a mid-level performer. Early reviews are better than average and an opening weekend total of $12 to $13 million should be enough to keep the studio happy. Then again, it could easily miss the top five with $7 million or so, and just as easily pull a Borat and win the box office race with $20 to $30 million. Since, "I don't know" isn't really a prediction, I'm going to go with fourth place and $13 million.

The final new wide release is The Astronaut Farmer, which is Billy Bob Thornton's attempt to rehabilitate his box office image before killing it again with Mr. Woodcock. The film is earning the best reviews of any new release of the week. On the other hand, the ad campaign has not been nearly aggressive enough and the film could fail to reach the top five. I think it will make it there, but with $8 million it will be close.

On a side note, did anyone else mis-read the title the first time they saw it? I interpreted, "astronaut farmer," as someone who, you know, farms astronauts. What? I thought it was some Philip K. Dick Science Fiction film. Like A Scanner Darkly makes any sense when you first hear it.

Two other movies are opening in just under 1,000 theaters: The Abandoned and Amazing Grace.

The Abandoned appears to have the upper hand in the battle for 10th place with a decidedly more populist feel. Early reviews are better than most horror films and the ad campaign has been very moody and effective. On the other hand, it just hasn't been aggressive enough. Add in an estimated theater count of just shy of 1,000 and the movie will have trouble reaching past 10th place with between $3 million and $4 million.

Finally we have Amazing Grace, a biopic about abolitionist William Wilberforce. This is the latest in a long line of films aimed at churchgoing Christians, but unlike most of the rest, this one is not a niche market film. While the movie has Christian themes and is about a Christian activist, it was made to appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike. This was a wise move that resulted in reviews that are head-and-shoulders above its contemporaries. This should help it at the box office as well, but more in terms of strong legs. It's opening is less rosy but should still grab a per theater average somewhere between Facing the Giants and One Night with the King and that would give the movie between $2 million and $3 million. I'm expecting the high end here, and that might be enough for a spot in the top 10, but I wouldn't bet on it.

One last note, Wild Hogs has sneak peaks on Saturday in just over 800 theaters. Check your local listings.

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Filed under: Wild Hogs, Ghost Rider, Bridge to Terabithia, The Number 23, Reno 911!: Miami, The Astronaut Farmer, The Abandoned, Amazing Grace