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2004 Preview: December

December 1st, 2004

December is a huge month at the box office, but also a very unique one. Massive blockbusters are released side by side with smaller films with only Oscar on their minds. Another interesting feature with December, movies released this month tend to have incredible legs, last year saw films like Cheaper by the Dozen have a multiplier of more than five (multiplier is the total box office divided by the opening weekend) and Something's Gotta Give had a multiplier of nearly 8. Even box office disappointments like Mona Lisa Smile and Peter Pan had multipliers greater than four. Open with $20 million in December and you're almost guaranteed a $100 million box office.

Name: Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera
Studio: Warner Bros.
Official Site: PhantomTheMovie.com
Release Date: December 22nd
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief violent images.
Source: Based on a Musical
Major Genre: Musical
Genres: Performing Arts
Production Budget: $55 million
Box Office Potential: $85 million
Notes: This is one of several films that may or may not get a wide release in December. Right now it is likely that the film will have a slow role out and not go wide till sometime in January, but that could change. As a genre, Musicals could be on their way back lead by the massive success of Chicago. This film is not likely to reach that level of success, in fact, getting just halfway there could be the best that's in the cards, but that will probably be enough for a few more musicals to get the greenlight. One last note one the budget, there are several reports on the budget ranging from $40 million to $70 million. Given the cost of the average movie, the latter is more likely than the former, but until more information is known picking a number in the middle is the safest bet of all.

Name: The Aviator
Studio: Miramax
Official Site: TheAviatorMovie.com
Release Date: December 17th
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, nudity, language and a crash sequence.
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Genres: Biography
Production Budget: $110 million
Box Office Potential: $165 million
Notes: This film has an amazing cast and that should help draw in plenty of moviegoers and the life of Howard Hughes is certainly fascinating. This time of year has been kind to Biopics lately with 2001's A Beautiful Mind and 2002's Catch Me If You Can being the two of the biggest examples. Couple of other interesting points, firstly the film came in $5 million under budget, which is quite a feat in this day and age. And secondly, it's the acting debut of singer, Gwen Stefani.

Name: Blade: Trinity
Studio: New Line
Official Site: BladeTrinity.com
Release Date: December 8th
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong pervasive violence and language, and some sexual content.
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Action / Adventure
Genres: Vampire
Production Budget: $65 million
Box Office Potential: $100 million
Notes: The third in final installment of the Blade Trilogy looks to be the biggest of them all. This is good news / bad news for star Wesley Snipes, who is currently the highest grossing actor without a single film making $100 million. If the film does hit that milestone, that title will fall to Chevy Chase who will probably hold onto that title for a long time. Also, if the film does prove to be a hit there is talk of a spin-off with Hannibal King and Abigail Whistler. The biggest obstacle in its way is Ocean's Twelve, which opens just two days later and shares much of the same target audience.

Name: Closer
Studio: Sony
Official Site: SonyPicture.com
Release Date: December 3rd
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of graphic sexual dialogue, nudity/sexuality and language.
Source: Based on a Play
Major Genre: Drama
Genres: Artist
Production Budget: Unknown - Estimated at less than $40 million
Box Office Potential: $15 million
Notes: I fear the film will be best known for the full-frontal nude scene with Natalie Portman, or to be more specific, the fact that it was removed from the film. If the film can get past that, there's early Oscar buzz surrounding the film, if not, then this film will mostly likely be quickly forgotten. Update: Looks like the film won't be getting a wide release after all, which will hurt its chances at the box office. Update #2: Apparently all of Natalie Portman's nude scenes were removed and destroyed by the director, Mike Nichols, not just the full frontal scenes as earlier reported. Now I don't want to sound like some geek desperate to see Natalie Portman's breasts, (cause if I really wanted to see them I could just download the pictures off the Internet.) But having a movie where one of the main characters is a stripper but there's no nudity is like making a movie about Muhammad Ali where there's no boxing.

Name: Darkness
Studio: Dimension
Official Site: Miramax.com
Release Date: December 25th
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, intense terror sequences, thematic elements and language.
Source: Original Script
Major Genre: Horror
Genres: Hauntings
Production Budget: $10.6 million
Box Office Potential: $35 million
Notes: The film was release in its native Spain more than 2 years ago and has since then bounced around several release dates domestically, including being set for a direct-to-video release. Normally this would be regarded as a really bad sign, but the film landed on December 25th, a prime location for a film release. Since this film has already been released in most international markets it has already shown a profit, so anything the film makes here will be pure gravy. However, audience reaction to the film has been tepid in most cases, so it probably won't make a whole lot Stateside.

Name: Fat Albert
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Official Site: FatAlbertTheMovie.com
Release Date: December 25th
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated - Expected to be PG
Source: Based on a TV Series
Major Genre: Comedy
Genres: Live Action Cartoon
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $45 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: Wow, I haven't been this lost when it comes to judging a film's chances at success since Team America: World Police. (Ok, that wasn't that long ago.) Live Action Cartoons have had a very bumpy track record with major hits like How the Grinch Stole Christmas to bombs like Josie and the Pussycats. This film does have an inventive premise going for it, but that doesn't always translate into big box office success. It's also one of the few straight up comedies being released this month, and that should help. However, the biggest factor is the popularity of the source material, and that is an enigma at best. It doesn’t have the popularity of Scooby Doo and if the pre-sales of the upcoming DVD set are any indication, the film could struggle. But it is Christmas, and the family friendly nature of the film should help out immensely and it could become this year's Cheaper by the Dozen and easily top $100 million.

Name: Flight of the Phoenix
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Official Site: FlightOfThePhoenix.com
Release Date: December 22nd
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language, action and violence.
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Action / Adventure
Genres: Marooned
Production Budget: Unknown - Estimated at $75 million
Box Office Potential: $70 million
Notes: It's been a bad year for remakes and it's while this film should do better than the average, it is unlikely to earn enough to be consider a major success. The movie features an ensemble cast lead by Dennis Quaid, who is coming off the biggest hit of his career. There is a warning light flashing due to the number of scheduling changes with four different release dates, but on the upside, the date they settled with is relatively free from competition.

Name: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Studio: Paramount
Official Site: UnfortunateEventsMovie.com
Release Date: December 17th
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, scary situations and brief language
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Action / Adventure
Genres: Unexpected Families and Inheritance
Production Budget: $100 million
Box Office Potential: $250 million
Notes: This film has had a bit of trouble getting into theatres; the efforts the keep the film's budget around $85 million resulted in the lost of one of the producers and in the end they failed on that front anyway. But that should have a minimal effect on the box office. Jim Carrey is one of the hottest actors today and this looks like a role he was born to play, add in the popularity of the books and the excellent marketing campaign and this should be the biggest hit of December. I don't think it will be nearly as strong as last December's biggest hit, but if it made it to $300 million I wouldn't be too surprised.

Name: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Studio: Disney
Official Site: LifeAquatic.com
Release Date: Limited Release December 10th and goes wide December 25th
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some drug use, violence and partial nudity.
Source: Original Script
Major Genre: Black Comedy
Genres: Dysfunctional Family
Production Budget: $50 million
Box Office Potential: $40 million
Notes: This film has a lot in common with director Wes Anderson's previous film. Same genre, much of the same cast, even a similar release schedule. Perhaps too similar in fact, as the film might suffer from a 'been there, done that' feeling, which will most likely hurt its box office potential. On the other hand, if the film generates some serious Oscar Buzz then add $15 million to its box office potential.

Name: Meet the Fockers
Studio: Universal
Official Site: MeetTheFockers.com
Release Date: December 22nd
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference.
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Comedy
Genres: The In-Laws
Production Budget: Unknown - estimated at $60 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million
Notes: In the end, I think it will be said that Meet the Fockers is to Meet the Parents as Analyze That was to Analyze This. While the original film had a good premise than was executed well, there are just too many ways to messed up the sequel, and the little I've seen from the ad campaign doesn't suggest they've managed to avoid those pitfalls. That and four of the five previous Ben Stiller flicks this year have been hits so he's due for another bomb.

Name: Ocean's Twelve
Studio: Warner Bros.
Official Site: Oceans12.WarnerBros.com
Release Date: December 10th
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language
Source: Sequel
Major Genre: Action / Adventure
Genres: Heist
Production Budget: $85 million
Box Office Potential: $200 million
Notes: The original was a big hit back in 2001, and this one looks to do just as well, if not a little better. The reason for this is simple, the main cast is back with a couple high profile additions, it has the same director, and the same feel. And it made for a lower budget as well, so the studio must be very happy so far. The only real concern is they bungled the script, or they will bungle the ad campaign, but those are not likely at this point. On other hand, if the make another film in the franchise, it will most likely suffer from the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Name: Spanglish
Studio: Sony
Official Site: SpanglishMovie.com
Release Date: December 17th
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and language.
Source: Original Script
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Genres: Language Barrier
Production Budget: Budgeted at $65 million, final cost $75 million
Box Office Potential: $75 million
Notes: It looks like Adam Sandler could be entering is in his, 'Gotta get me an Oscar' phase, or at the very least he's trying to be taken more seriously as an actor. Many comedians have gone through this phase, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, for example. Bad news, Serious Sandler is a lot more difficult to sell than Silly Sandler. Good news, while this is a decidedly more mature role for Adam Sandler, it is still a comedy and that should help the box office. Good news, director/producer/writer, James L. Brooks, has an amazing track record with decades of hits in film and Television. Bad news, this film will likely be the third choice in a very busy weekend. Overall the good outweighs the bad and the film should become a mid-level success.


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Filed under: Monthly Preview, Meet the Fockers, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Aviator, Blade: Trinity, The Phantom of the Opera, Fat Albert, Spanglish, Closer, Darkness, Flight of the Phoenix