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2006 Preview: December

December 1st, 2006

Looking at my calendar I see that it's March 11th. ... March 11th, 2003. This means it's time for me to get a new calendar, but more importantly, it's time for the December preview. December is an insanely busy time of year with studio release major blockbusters in hopes of cashing in on the holidays, as well as a ton of Oscar bait movies hoping to remain fresh in voters' minds by the time the ballots are handed out. On a side note, this is the first time in several years that's there not an obvious Must See movie opening during the month. Sure, there are quite a few that should crack $100 million at the box office, maybe even $200 million, but nothing like The Lord of the Rings. In addition to the ton of wide releases and limited releases scheduled to open wide this month, there are several more movies opening in limited release this month before expanding in the new year. Movies like Home of the Brave, Arthur & the Invisibles, The Painted Veil, Letters from Iwo Jima, Children of Men, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Fast Track, and Pan's Labyrinth, and possibly some others.

Interested in discussing these predictions? The join us in the forums.

Name: Apocalypto
Studio: Disney
Official Site: Apocalypto.Movies.Go.com
Release Date: December 8, 2006
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Foreign Language and End Of The World
Production Budget: $40 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: This is a hard movie to predict. There seems to be a lot of obstacles this film needs to over come. There's the film related issues like the fact that it's a foreign language film, which severely limits its appeal. Also, it's about a culture that the average moviegoer knows nearly nothing about. Anf then there's the issues surrounding Mel Gibson's tirade and the non-apology, (saying, 'Don't blame me, I was drunk at the time.' Is not an apology, it is an excuse). At the time there was a lot of speculation that the outburst might have killed his career, or at least mortally wounded it. However, things have since calmed down. Even so, the film looks like a marketing nightmare and unless it earns some Oscar buzz, it won't be one of the top earners of the month.

Name: Black Christmas
Studio: Miramax / Dimension
Official Site: BlackChristmas
Release Date: December 25, 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated - Could be PG-13 or R depending on if the stuio is courting mass audiences or gorehounds
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: Christmas, Teenage Slasher, and Surprise Twist
Production Budget: Unknown - estimate at under $20 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million
Notes: The ultimate in counter-programming, a horror film released on Christmas day. Although this is becoming a bit of a movie tradition with Darkness and Wolf Creek using the exact same release strategy over the past two years. This film is also one of several dozen horror remakes to come out over the past couple of years, and the shine has definitely come off the genre. Even the hot, young cast won't be enough to make this film a hit, but it is very likely that it was inexpensive enough to make that it will still show a profit by its initial push into the home market. Speaking of which, I fully expect an Unrated DVD to come out, but it will be 90% marketing and 10% extra gore.

Name: The Blood Diamond
Studio: Warner Bros.
Official Site: BloodDiamondMovie.WarnerBros.com
Release Date: December 8, 2006
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: War Zone
Production Budget: $70 million to $110 million - reports vary
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: First of all, why is Warner Bros. opened two wide releases during the same weekend? That just seems like a really bad idea. At its heart, this film is an action film, but there is a decidedly political tone dealing with the subject of Blood Diamonds. There have been complaints by some that the film is unfair to the industry as it deals with the past and the industry has taken steps to fix the problem. However, while the film could really hurt the diamond mining industry, I think the diamond industry as a whole is safe. After all, diamonds can be artificially created at half the cost of mining them and they can be controlled for color and clarity. A more serious problem with the film is Leonardo DiCaprio, specifically the South African accent he uses in the film. Many people have complained about his accent, but the same thing was said of Tim Robbins in Catch a Fire. I think it is just an accent that is not heard often by North American audiences so it sounds like the actor is just doing a bad British accent. However, regardless of if it is accurate, if enough people think it isn't, it could hurt the film's chances at the box office.

Name: Charlotte's Web
Studio: Paramount
Official Site: CharlottesWebMovie.com
Release Date: December 15, 2006
MPAA Rating: G for General Admissions
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Talking Animals
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at over $100 million
Box Office Potential: $175 million
Notes: A high budget family film that is based on a popular book being released in the middle of December. This has blockbuster written all over it. On the other hand, I felt the same way about Lemony Snicket and that didn't pan out as well. Back to the original hand, this film is being produced by Walden Media, who made Narnia, which was one of the biggest hits of the year. This film should finish somewhere in-between those two extremes, but it will finish on the lower end. Part of the problem is the competition, but a large part has to do with the cast. There are simply too many big names in this film, most of which do not have enough experience doing voice work. This is a problem with a lot of films that rely on voice actors as movie executives seem to think that big names will equal big box office returns. However, one needs to look no further back than Ant Bully to see how wrong that is. Even so, the pros out-weight the cons and the film should have no trouble earning a profit by the time it hits the home market, if not sooner.

Name: Dreamgirls
Studio: Dreamworks
Official Site: Dreamgirls.Dreamworks.com
Release Date: December 15, 2006 - Roadshow
Release Date: December 25, 2006 - Wide release
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, some sexuality and drug content
Source: Based on a Musical
Major Genre: Musical
Keywords: Music Industry, Musicians, and R&B
Production Budget: $75 million
Box Office Potential: $65 million
Notes: The buzz surrounding this film is insane. There are some who think it will pull a Chicago and become the major winner this year. I just don't see it. At best I see it becoming a Memoirs of a Geisha with maybe a little more box office upside. Musicals just haven't been able to live up to their potential since Chicago exploded onto the marketplace. The best since then has been Phantom of the Opera, (not counting animated ones aimed at kids, which I think we can safely say are entirely different animal altogether). The producers of this movie have done a couple novel attempts at boosting the film's chances. First, they've paid all of the licensing fees for anyone interested in performing the musical in order to lift the musical's awareness. I'm not sure if this will work, but it is an interesting use of a film's P&A budget. Secondly, they are starting the film's run with a road show tour, much like what would happen during the Golden Age of Musicals. Tickets prices will be much higher, but along with the movie you will get a collectable book. I'm not sure if this will help its box office or Oscar chances, but it could raise its profile among moviegoers and voters alike.

Name: Eragon
Studio: Fox
Official Site: EragonMovie.com
Release Date: December 15, 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated - Aiming for a PG rating.
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Sword and Sorcerer
Production Budget: $55 million to $110 million, reports vary
Box Office Potential: $125 million
Notes: A Sword and Sorcerer fantasy epic that is based on a popular book. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? In all seriousness, while the film has some similarities to Lord of the Rings, there's little the two films have in common when it comes to box office potential. The books are not nearly as popular, the buzz is a mere fraction of the strength and the early word is mixed, at best. In fact, this film is being compared more to Dungeons and Dragons in terms of quality, which is a terrible sign. This won't be the biggest hit of the month, or even of the weekend, but it should perform well enough to show a profit, perhaps even enough to get a sequel, depending heavily on where the actual production budget is within the reported range.

Name: The Good German
Studio: Warner Bros.
Official Site: TheGoodGerman.com
Release Date: December 15, 2006 - Limited
Release Date: December 22, 2006 - Expansion
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and some sexual content
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Post-World War II and Neo-Noir
Production Budget: $32 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: Of the December releases, this is the first that looks like a serious Oscar contender. It is set in post-World War II 1945 and is filmed as if it was shot in 1945. Not only does this mean it is in Black & White, but the lighting, the use of sets, etc. are all from that era. This will either give the film an unmistakable style that will set it apart from its competitors, or will look like an obvious attempt to sway voters with style over substance. If it's the former, then the film could pick up nominations for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, and Supporting Actor, (and maybe a few technical nominations as well). If it does this well, look for its box office to top $100 million as well. If not, it should still draw in enough viewers to be a midlevel hit.

Name: The Good Shepherd
Studio: Universal
Official Site: TheGoodShepherdMovie.com
Release Date: December 22, 2006
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, sexuality and language
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Secret Agent
Production Budget: $100 million, give or take $10 million
Box Office Potential: $100 million, give or take $10 million
Notes: Another film battling for Oscar glory just as much as box office dollars. This film is only the second film directed by legendary actor Robert De Niro and has been his pet project for the past decade. Now that it is nearing its release, the buzz has been incredible with plenty of Oscar talk. However, there have also been talk that the similarities in names between this film and fellow Oscar favorite, The Good German, could hurt its chances, especially since The Good German is expected to do so well. It seems like a rather shallow reason for a film to not perform as well as it could, but not everything that happens during award season is based on the most substantive of reasons. However, while its Oscar chances are lower, it is an easier film to market with more mainstream appeal and should earn more at the box office.

Name: The Holiday
Studio: Sony
Official Site: SonyPictures.com
Release Date: December 8, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: Christmas and Relationships Gone Wrong
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $40 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: It's a romantic comedy. ... And I really don't need to say much more. Romantic comedies are one of the most predictable genres out there, in plot, in critical reception, and at the box office. I don't expect the critics to love it, in fact, I would be surprised if it scores better than 50% positive over at Rotten Tomatoes. On the other hand, it should open solidly and have very strong legs thanks in part to the holidays but also due to genre and its more mature target audience. There are a couple of concerns with the two male leads. Firstly, are people over Jude Law overload? I think so, especially playing a part like this. Secondly, are moviegoers willing to accept Jack Black as a romantic lead? I hope so, because physically I have a very similar body type as Jack Black and if he can be seen as a romantic lead, then there's hope for me yet.

Name: National Lampoon's Van Wilder Deux: The Rise of Taj
Studio: Bauer Martinez
Official Site: RiseOfTaj.com
Release Date: December 1, 2006
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive crude sexual content, some nudity and language.
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: College Life
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at under $10 million
Box Office Potential: $15 million
Notes: I'm of two minds on this film. On the one hand, I actually liked the original and I like Kal Penn as a comedic actor. On the other hand, I haven't been able to find anything positive about this film's box office chances. It's opening on the first weekend of December, which is a notoriously dangerous time to release a movie. The director has only made one previous film and it was a unmitigated disaster. And finally, Van Wilder wasn't a big hit to begin with. That said, the film was likely reasonably inexpensive to make and should do very well on the home market earning more than enough to show a profit.

Name: The Nativity Story
Studio: New Line
Official Site: TheNativityStory.com
Release Date: December 1, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG for some violent content
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Religious
Production Budget: Unknown - Some reports imply it cost nearly $100 million to make, which seems insanely high
Box Office Potential: $65 million
Notes: The story of Mary being released during December. This should be a slam dunk at the box office. However, there are a couple of issues. December is an excellent month to release a movie, except for the first weekend. The post-Thanksgiving weekend tends to be a huge letdown. Secondly there's the issue with the young star, Keisha Castle-Hughes, who had breakout success starring in Whale Rider and is certainly poised to become a major star. She is also pregnant. ... Good luck marketing this film. Films marketed at a religious audience have a few extra perils to watch out for, including offending their audience. It doesn't take much for a film to go from being championed by churchgoers to being boycotted. Look no further than End of the Spear for evidence of that.

Name: Night at the Museum
Studio: Fox
Official Site: NightAtTheMuseum.com
Release Date: December 20, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mild action, language and brief rude humor
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Living Toys
Production Budget: Unknown - Reported at more than $100 million
Box Office Potential: $125 million
Notes: Shawn Levy has made a career of creating terrible movies that have gone on to become big hits anyway. So far his best movie has been Big Fat Liar, and that film only managed reviews that were 44% positive. On the other hand, his first four films have average nearly $90 million at the box office. This film probably won't be his biggest hit to date, but it should come close, and it could be his most critically acclaimed movie as well. The trailer sold the film a lot better than I was expecting and it might earn as high as 60% positive.

Name: The Pursuit of Happyness
Studio: Sony
Official Site: SonyPictures.com
Release Date: December 15, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Rags to Riches
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $45 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: A lot of people are commenting that this film is Will Smith's attempt to branch out into more dramatic roles. However, his first big movie role was in Six Degrees of Separation, which was definitely a dramatic role. This film has the thankless task of opening during the same weekend as Charlotte's Web and Eragon, both of which likely cost over $100 million to make and both will have a massive marketing push behind them. On the other hand, this is the only film of the three that is likely to earn much critical praise. I don't expect this film to become a huge hit during its opening weekend, but thanks to the holidays and expected word-of-mouth, it should have excellent legs. Perhaps enough to cross $100 million, if, and this is a big if, it if earns some serious Oscar buzz.

Name: Rocky Balboa
Studio: MGM
Official Site: RockyTheMovie.com
Release Date: December 20, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG for boxing violence and some language.
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Boxing
Production Budget: $24 million
Box Office Potential: $125 million
Notes: I'm about to say something I didn't think I'd ever say when I first heard this movie was being made. Rocky Balboa looks good; in fact, it could be the best movie in the franchise since the original. And it could also become the biggest hit of the franchise, (not taking inflation into account). There are some pretty big obstacles, namely, are people still interested in Rocky Balboa? After all, it has been 16 years since the last installment and more than 20 years since the franchise produced a hit. Secondly, can MGM effectively market the film. The trailers have been excellent building some of the highest anticipation for any release this month, but the studio has really struggled promoting their non-franchise films. Their two biggest hits, Casino Royale and Clerks II had built in fanbases that only needed to know the movie was opening in order to get them into theatres. With this movie, they will need to convince moviegoers it is worth it to go to the theatres and that is something they've not been able to do this year. If they get it right, Rocky Balboa will be the biggest moneymaker of the month, and one of the biggest of the year.

Name: Turistas
Studio: Fox
Official Site: MySpace.com
Release Date: December 1, 2006
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic violence and disturbing content, sexuality, nudity, drug use and language
Source: Orignal Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Teenage Slasher and some Underwater
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at under $20 million
Box Office Potential: $12.5 million
Notes: Another is a long line of film that some are calling Torture-porn. This film focuses on a group of tourists stranded in Brazil after having all of their money and possessions stolen, and then bad things start happening to them. Early reports indicated that this film, while containing some gruesome scenes, also contains a fair amount of thrills and is beautifully shot. This could help it stand apart from its compatriots, but unfortunately the reviews suggest otherwise. Its theatrical release will likely be short, but it will find an audience on the home market.

Name: Unaccompanied Minors
Studio: Warner Bros.
Official Site: UnaccompaniedMinors.WarnerBros.com
Release Date: December 8, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG for mild rude humor and language
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Christmas and Family Vacation
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at under $40 million
Box Office Potential: $100 million
Notes: This film has a huge benefit of being the first family film to open in December, and it better take advantage of that fact because the next two weeks bring two more such films, each with higher awareness. The buzz on the film is not particularly strong with a lot of people complaining that it doesn't feel fresh, but with a younger target demographic this probably won't hurt the film's box office chances. In addition, the film is filled with relative unknowns, (of the kids, the biggest names are Tyler James Williams, the kid who plays Chris Rock on Everybody Hates Chris and Gina Mantegna, daughter of Joe Mantegna). While they won't be able to sell many tickets based on name power alone, it probably helped keep the budget low enough that even if it does struggle it could still make a profit. (Speaking of the cast, there are three Daily Show alumni in the cast, Lewis Black, Rob Corddry, and Rob Riggle.) On a side note, this film has a high degree of uncertainty for its box office potential. It could easily struggle during its opening weekend and bring in $75 million, or have breakout success and cruise to $125 million or more. In fact, my prediction of $100 million is less likely that either of those two extremes but reflects the weighted average.

Name: We Are... Marshall
Studio: Warner Bros.
Official Site: WeAreMarshall-TheMovie.WarnerBros.com
Release Date: December 22, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG for emotional thematic material, a crash scene, and mild language
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Football
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $40 million
Box Office Potential: $65 million
Notes: Not one of the more hotly anticipated releases this month, but it should still earn enough to be considered a success. Neither of the two main leads have a lot of box office drawing power, nor does it seem destined for Oscar glory. Because of that, it will likely slip through the cracks, but the holidays will help it earn enough to show a reasonable profit during its initial push into the home market. On the other hand, the football theme will kill its chances at the international box office.


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Filed under: Monthly Preview, Night at the Museum, The Pursuit of Happyness, Dreamgirls, Charlotte's Web, Eragon, Rocky Balboa, The Holiday, The Good Shepherd, Blood Diamond, We Are Marshall, The Nativity Story, Unaccompanied Minors, Black Christmas, Turistas, Van Wilder Deux: The Rise of Taj, The Good German, Apocalypto