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The Writing is on the Wall (or should that be Blackboard?)

July 27th, 2007

One of the most important and anticipated films of modern times opens in theaters this weekend. The Simpsons Movie looks to change how we look at culture and perhaps change the very way we humans interact. OK, probably not, but it should make a boatload of money at the box office this weekend.

A film 20 years in the making, The Simpsons Movie has been eagerly anticipated since it was first rumored many, many years ago. However, while anticipation is good to a point, the high anticipation also breeds high expectations and high expectations can kill a film. The first few trailers did little to calm people's fears. Let's face it, 30-second teaser trailers by their very nature don't give enough information to let you know if the movie is worth checking out. The longer trailers also kept most of the details secret, so it wasn't until this week that most people started hearing and solid word about the movie. And the word was good. Very good. 87% positive reviews puts the film in the top ten wide releases for the year (possibly even the top five, depending on where you draw the line on wide releases).

Strong reviews, a loyal fanbase, and a lot of hype should result in a massive opening. Nothing compared to the big three May releases, but The Simpsons should have little trouble opening in the top ten for the year so far, perhaps with over $50 million. I'm not entirely convinced it will make it there, but it will be close enough that the studio might fudge the numbers this Sunday during its estimates but come Monday it will have to settle for $49 million.

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Last week's winner, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, will have a lot of direct competition from The Simpsons Movie, and that will hurt its sophomore stint. So will the awful reviews. On the plus side, Adam Sandler films tend to have better than expected legs and a drop-off of 50% or less is expected and with a 7-day total of more than $70 million, that will make a $100 million total academic and make $150 million within reach. Look for just over $17 million over the weekend and $70 million in total.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix looks to bounce back from last week's 57.84% drop-off. The competition from the final book will have subsided as a lot of people will have finished reading it already; in fact, these people may want to check out the film again, which would help it this weekend. A sub-50% drop-off could be in order, which would give the film just over $16 million for the weekend and just over $240 million during its run. On a side note, the film overtook The Player on the Combined Star Chart and at the moment five of the top six films are from that franchise. The only reason The Half-Blood Prince and The Deadly Hallows haven't joined them at or near the top is because we don't have confirmation of the cast members. If even half the regulars are back, they will have no trouble reaching high on that chart.

Up next is Hairspray, maybe. After the film's surprisingly strong opening, it could take a step to becoming a cultural phenomenon like fellow musical, High School Musical. Given the film's reviews, this is a real possibility and some are predicting a sub-40% drop-off, which would give the film second place with $17 million. That seems a tad generous, but fourth place with just under $16 million for the weekend would give it $60 million after 10 days and that is still a great run.

The second wide release of the week is No Reservations, which is earning excellent reviews... at least for a romantic comedy. This is not a genre that is well known for impressing critics as they tend to be very predictable and hitting about 50% positive is generally out of reach for these films. So a score of 43% positive should not hurt the film significantly at the box office. What could hurt the film is the lack of star power as neither Catherine Zeta-Jones nor Aaron Eckhart has a reputation for packing them in at the multiplexes. That said, it should reach the top five during its opening with just over $12 million while earning just under $40 million in total. Not overly impressive numbers, but good enough for counter-programming.

There are two other films opening in wide release, at least at the low end of wide release. Both I Know Who Killed Me and Who's Your Caddy are opening in barely more than 1,000 theaters and neither were screened for critics. At least I Know Who Killed Me has a lot of publicity, even if most of it dealt with Lindsay Lohan's arrest. One, or even both of these films could miss the top ten, especially if the expansions of Rescue Dawn and Sunshine do better than expected. That might be asking a bit much of the limited releases, but I expect them to finish within striking distance of the wide releases with I Know Who Killed Me taking in just under $4 million, Who's Your Caddy earning $3 million, and Rescue Dawn and Sunshine taking in $2 million.

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Filed under: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Simpsons Movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Hairspray, No Reservations, I Know Who Killed Me, Who's Your Caddy?, Rescue Dawn, Sunshine