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Will Santa Bring a Gift to Theater Owners?

November 8th, 2007

With the streak of year-to-year declines finally over, the winter holiday season is looking to start earning back some of the loses from October. The good news is, this weekend there are three films that should top $20 million at the box office compared to just one that did last year. Bad news, that one film was Borat, which earned more than $28 million and there's a chance no film will replicate that performance this time around.

We have another massive family film this weekend as Fred Claus makes its debut in over 3,600 theaters. This is more than initial expectations, but not quite up to the level that Bee Movie opened with. Additionally, the film is earning weaker reviews. However, while 32% positive reviews is nothing to be proud of, since it is a kids movie (at least I assume it is meant to be a kids movie), this will not hurt its box office chances as much. On the low end, the tracking has the film pulling in $25 million over the weekend, while on the high end, it could pull in $35 million. The low end is more likely, giving a prediction of $28 million. That would be enough for a first place finish and put this weekend on track to overtake the same weekend last year. On the other hand, if it misses the low end of expectations, it may be relegated to second place, or lower.

Both Bee Movie and American Gangster are tracking in the mid to low $20s this weekend and any sign of strength by either film could get it into the same range as Fred Claus, which would make for a surprisingly competitive race for first place. Bee Movie has several advantages, including a target demographic that tends to reward a film with longevity. However, the film also has direct competition in the form of Fred Claus. Bee Movie's better reviews should help it maintain a larger share of its audience, perhaps even scoring 70% or more. At the top end, the film could earn $28 million over the weekend, or it could be reduced to $22 million. Safest bet is just over $25 million.

American Gangster also has a number of advantages, including a higher starting point, superior reviews, and two stars that tend to have better legs than average. A 40% drop-off is ambitious, but not out of the question, and would give the film just over $26 million over the weekend, but just under $25 million is a safer bet. This is more than enough to ensure a $100 million run. In fact, it would be more than enough to ensure it becomes Denzel Washington's biggest box office hit, overtaking Remember the Titans.

Lions for Lambs is the first film released under the newly relaunched United Artists banner, and it has a lot of pressure to preform. It's been more than a decade since a wide release starring Tom Cruise opened with less than $20 million. That streak featured nine films from Eyes Wide Shut to Mission: Impossible III, but it ends this weekend. In fact, that are some who are suggesting that the film will fail to reach $10 million over the weekend, a milestone that Tom Cruise hasn't missed since Rain Man in 1988. There are a number of obstacles hurting this film, including the reviews; 29% positive is terrible and the worst reviews of any wide release this week. (Although it is close enough that that could change.) This is especially bad for a film with a more mature target audience, as these people are a lot more likely to read, and be influenced by, reviews from critics, much more so than the kids or fans of horror. Additionally, moviegoers have not supported political films this year, which will further suppress its box office numbers. The film should crack $10 million over the weekend, but it will be awfully close. And if it doesn't, Sumner Redstone will have a boatload of schadenfreude to have fun with.

Dan in Real Life and Saw IV will be in a tight fight for fifth place. In the end Dan in Real Life should win out with just over $5 million while Saw IV will miss the top five with just under $5 million.

If you are going to spend millions and millions of dollars making a movie and then millions more releasing it in more than 2,000 theaters, it is a good idea to advertise the movie. P2 is the final wide release of the week, but few analysts are predicting box office glory over the weekend. In fact, it has a better shot at a sub-$1,000 per theater average than it does of reaching the top five. The film has the smallest theater count of the three wide releases at 2,131, but ironically, it also has the best reviews. Granted, it hasn't been reviewed by many critics, but even if it maintains this edge, it won't be able to translate its critical success into box office dollars. Look for just under $3 million over the weekend and a quick exit from theaters.

Finally, After Dark's Horrorfest 2 is playing in just over 300 theaters this weekend only. Last year's festival ran in 150 more theaters but only earned over $2.3 million at the box office. The smaller theater count indicates weaker expectations and it is not very likely that the film will earn a spot in the top ten. In fact, it might not crack $1 million. As for a prediction, I'm going with $1.3 million.

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Filed under: Bee Movie, Fred Claus, Saw IV, Dan in Real Life, Lions for Lambs, P2, American Gangster, After Dark's Horrorfest 2007