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2011 Preview: January

January 1st, 2011

Well, 2010 is over and while it started amazingly, it ended on a real down note. I'm not saying December was a disaster. ... Actually I am. There were only ten wide releases, and of those, eight missed expectations, some by very wide margins. Despite having a $200 million lead going into the month, 2010 still managed to lose out to 2009. The bad news continues in 2011, as Avatar made $300 million during January alone. With no strong holdovers to help power the box office, and only one or two potential solid hits among the new releases, 2011 will likely get off to a very weak start.

Weekend of January 7th, 2011

Thanks to January 1 falling on a Saturday, there are actually wide releases coming out the first weekend of the year. This is normally not the case. Opening wide is Season of the Witch, while Country Strong could potentially expand wide. There was another film scheduled to expand wide this week, but I Love You, Phillip Morris's performance so far makes that very unlikely. Meanwhile, this weekend last year was dominated by Avatar, as was the entire month, and there's little hope either release will make as much as Avatar did over the weekend. In fact, the worst case scenario has Season of the Witch and Country Strong combined finishing with less than the $50 million Avatar made this one weekend alone.

Country Strong

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Sony / Screen Gems
Release Date: December 22nd, 2010 (limited)
Release Date: January 7th, 2011 (expands wide)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Musicians, Music Industry, Addiction, Comeback, and more
Directed By: Shana Feste
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, and Leighton Meester
Production Budget: $15 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

Writer / director Shana Feste's sophomore effort. Her first film was The Greatest, which didn't live up to its name, either with critics or at the box office. In fact, Country Strong opened with more despite playing in just a quarter as many theaters. That said, I'm still not 100% convinced it will expand truly wide. Its per theater average was about the same as I Love You, Phillip Morris or All Good Things, and neither of those film were able to expand wide. Also, those other two earned better reviews than Country Strong is currently earning.

Should the film do well during its second weekend in limited release, it could expand wide and become a solid mid-level hit, especially when compared to its production budget. On the other hand, if it collapses during its sophomore stint, it might be hard to convince any theater owners to give it a try. Somewhere in the middle is the most likely scenario and the film should at least match its production budget.

Season of the Witch

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Relativity
Release Date: January 7th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Religious, Occult, Demons, and more
Directed By: Dominic Sena
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, and more
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

This film stars Nicolas Cage. On the one hand, National Treasure. On the other hand, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Wicker Man, Next, Bangkok Dangerous. Cage's track record at the box office has been erratic lately, but with more misses than hits. Likewise, Ron Perlman isn't exactly known for his box office prowess, even though he does have a rather large fanbase. Meanwhile this is Claire Foy's theatrical debut. Additionally, Dominic Sena has had only one $100 million hit, and that came out a decade ago.

There's not a lot of good news to take away from that. Add in a terrible release date and very little buzz, and the most Season of the Witch can hope for is becoming a mid-level hit. Even that might be asking way too much.

Weekend of January 14th, 2011

The second weekend of January is definitely stronger than the first with two solid releases, The Green Hornet and The Dilemma, both of which could be strong performers, at least compared to the average for a January release. The latter might even get to $100 million, which is exceedingly rare for a January movie. There is also a third possible wide release, The Heart Specialist, but since Freestyle Releasing hasn't had a wide release in two and a half years, that seems unlikely. Also of note, Rabbit Hole was originally scheduled to expand wide, but its performance in limited release makes that very unlikely now. Looking back at 2010, Avatar was still leading the way, but The Book of Eli was surprisingly strong. If either of the two new releases can match Eli's opening, I'd be willing to call it a victory. Granted, 2011 will lose ground on 2010, but at least there would be something to cheer about.

The Dilemma

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Universal
Release Date: January 14th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving sexual content.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Relationships Gone Wrong, Relationship Advice, and more
Directed By: Ron Howard
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $60 million to $80 million
Box Office Potential: $95 million

Vince Vaughn stars as a man that finds out his best friend's wife is cheating on him and doesn't know how, or if, he should tell him.

It's Ron Howard's first comedy since How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which only earned mixed reviews, but was the biggest hit of the year. Vince Vaughn's previous two films earned terrible reviews, but were both big hits. Meanwhile, the previous three films Kevin James has been in all earned really bad reviews, but all three were hits. In fact, Mall Cop is the biggest January release of all time. This suggests reviews won't be great, but its box office will likely be the best of the month. It could even hit $100 million, which is still a very rare feat for a January release.

The Green Hornet

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: January 14th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violent action, language, sensuality and drug content.
Source: Based on a Radio Drama, but the character is most famous for the TV show
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Secret Identity, Martial Arts, 3D, News, Inheritance, and more
Directed By: Michael Gondry
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $90 million
Box Office Potential: $65 million

The Green Hornet is arguably the most talked about January release, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The film has been stuck in development hell for nearly two decades with countless combinations of directors, writers, and stars. The final film has Seth Rogen playing the titular Green Hornet with Jay Chou as Kato, the role originally made famous by Bruce Lee in the TV show.

When Seth Rogen was cast in 2007, he had just come off his first starring role in Knocked Up, which was a massive hit. However, since his last few movies have under-performed at the box office, there's some concern about his ability to lead an action movie like this. This has kept the film under a cloud of weak buzz for more than a year now. The studio might have concerns of their own, as they pushed the film back from a December 22nd release date, which is prime real estate, to January 14th, which is a dumping ground. Perhaps the 3D ticket prices and the lack of direct competition will help, but it will need to beat expectations by a wide margin to pay for that production budget.

Weekend of January 21st, 2011

There's one film that's likely to open wide this week, No Strings Attached, and two others that may or may not open wide. Not only does this uncertainly make a huge difference for those two films, it also affects the one known wide release, as the level of competition will vary dramatically. Fortunately for No Strings Attached, there's a better than 50 / 50 chance neither The Way Back nor The Company Men will be playing wide this weekend, and almost no chance that both will be playing in more than 2,000 theaters. This could help Strings maximize its potential, but there's almost no chance 2011 will keep pace with last year.

No Strings Attached

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: January 21st, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug material.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: Romance, Relationship Advice, Ensemble, and more
Directed By: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $40 million to $60 million
Box Office Potential: $45 million

Directed by Ivan Reitman, who previously made Ghostbusters, which is widely regarded as one of the best movies of the 1980s. It stars Natalie Portman, who is considered the odds on favorite to win an Oscar this year for Black Swan. And it also stars Ashton Kutcher, who... who hasn't been in a movie that earned overall positive reviews, ever. The buzz surrounding this film is nearly universally negative, while some are going so far as to call it Natalie Portman's Norbit. I don't think it's going to be that bad. On the other hand, I don't think it will be that profitable either. Ivan Reitman hasn't had a hit in more than a decade, roughly two thirds of Natalie Portman's career box office numbers are still from Star Wars, while Ashton Kutcher's two biggest hits have both been ensemble films.

Perhaps if the film were opening closer to Valentine's Day, it could have used the romance to become a mid-level hit. But opening in January it might struggle to top Leap Year's performance from the same month last year.

Weekend of January 28th, 2011

January ends with two wide releases, The Mechanic and The Rite, plus two films that may or may not open wide, From Prada to Nada and Ip Man 2. The former, a modern adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, has a better shot than the latter, despite Ip Man's impressive run internationally. However, if neither open wide, then Ip Man 2 has a better chance of finding an audience on the home market. As for the two wide releases. ... At least February starts next week. This is also the last week where we have to deal with Avatar's domination of last year's chart, but the damage could already be done. If 2011 starts 20% lower than 2010, then that could be the story we hear for the next several months. Every release that misses expectations will add to the "Is the movie industry in trouble?" conventional wisdom.

The Mechanic

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: CBS Films
Release Date: January 28th, 2011
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: Hitmen, Revenge, and more
Directed By: Simon West
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, and others
Production Budget: Reported $40 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

Jason Statham plays a hitman whose boss is killed, so he takes on his boss's son as a protege and trains him to get revenge. Unless there's a massive surprise twist at the end, this plot has little to do with the 1972 original with Charles Bronson.

I like Jason Statham, but even his most diehard fan would have to admit he isn't exactly a powerhouse at the box office. Granted, The Expendables earned more than $100 million at the box office, but that was an ensemble movie. His previous four films combined barely made more than that one film did. Finally, The Mechanic is being released by CBS Films, and that distributor hasn't had a hit yet. Granted, this is only its fourth film, but its track record is still troubling.

On the other hand, there won't be a lot of direct competition in theaters (I expect The Green Hornet to be losing theaters by this point) and it likely didn't cost too much to make. Perhaps if it can beat expectations, it could earn enough theatrically that it will show a profit sometime during its home market run.

The Rite

Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: January 28th, 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated - Likely going for PG-13
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Horror
Keywords: Religious, Exorcism, Possessed, Inspired by a True Story, and more
Directed By: Mikael H�fstr�m
Starring: Colin O'Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $30 million to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $25 million

Mikael H�fstr�m's, previous film was 1408, which was also a horror film of a similar nature. That movie earned very strong reviews and was extremely profitable. I'm not nearly as bullish about this film's chances for a number of reasons. First of all, it's opening in January. Secondly, its star, Colin O'Donoghue, is an unknown commodity, while Anthony Hopkins hasn't had an unqualified hit in close to a decade. Finally, this is yet another demonic possession movie, and there have been far too many of those lately.

The buzz surrounding this movie has been weak to non-existent, but perhaps as the end of the month and its release date draw closer, people will begin talking about it.


Filed under: Monthly Preview, The Green Hornet, Season of the Witch, From Prada to Nada, The Company Men, The Rite, The Mechanic, Rabbit Hole, The Way Back, Country Strong, No Strings Attached, Ip Man: Legend of the Grand Master, The Heart Specialist