Follow us on

2010 Preview: December

December 1st, 2010

It's the end of the year and there are certainly some question marks that will be answered over the next 31 days. Are there any monster hits left for 2010? Will 2010 manage to stay ahead of 2009? Will it actually start winning again at the box office? Unfortunately, the answer to all three of those questions might be no. First of all, of the November wide releases, only two will really match expectations, with a couple of others coming close. So December starts on the weak side. Additionally, last December saw the release of Avatar, the biggest box office hit of all time. There's no film coming out this month that will match that movie. In fact, there's a chance no movie coming out this month will match last December's second place film, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. This means that even though 2010 had a $300 million lead over 2009 just a few weeks ago, by the end of the year, 2010 might fail to break last year's record.

Weekend of December 3rd, 2010

This weekend looks so bad that I'm tempted to skip it. There's only one wide release, The Warrior's Way, and it's not opening truly wide. On the other hand, there are numerous limited releases that could be more viable at the box office in the long run. This includes the oft-delayed I Love You, Philip Morris and Black Swan, which is earning Oscar buzz. I have no idea if either of those films will be able to expand wide, but I think the latter will turn out to be the biggest hit of the weekend in the end. The bad news is it might not expand truly wide and still manage to outclass The Warrior's Way. The good news is that this time last year wasn't strong either, so 2010 might still squeak out a win, or at least not lose too badly.

The Warrior's Way

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Overture Films
Release Date: December 3rd, 2010
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Western
Keywords: Hitman, One Last Job, Revenge, Martial Arts, Culture Clash, Visual Effects, and more
Directed By: Sngmoo Lee
Starring: Dong-gun Jang, Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $40 million to $50 million
Box Office Potential: $10 million

This film is the debut for writer / director Sngmoo Lee, as well as the English-language debut for Dong-gun Jang, who has previously made some of the biggest South Korean movies of all time. These two facts make the movie an interesting one to watch at the box office, but difficult to predict. The rest of the cast doesn't really help matter either. Kate Bosworth has only had two wide releases in the past five years. One of those films, Superman Returns, did earn over $200 million, but I'm not going to give her credit for that, as the Superman name was obviously the biggest reason for the film's box office success. Meanwhile Geoffrey Rush has earned $1.5 billion in the last decade, but more than $1 billion of that came from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and almost two thirds of the rest came from Finding Nemo. Again, while he obviously has a lot of talent, his box office drawing power is not as good as his raw numbers would indicate.

The trailer does an effective job of showing the film's visual style and since it has no competition, it could open with more than $10 million and become a midlevel hit. Or its visual style could be the film's only selling point and without major studio support, it could open below the Mendoza Line. Since it is opening in less than 2,000 theaters, it could finish with barely half of that. The above box office potential of $10 million is a weighted average of the two extremes, and I do think the lower end is more likely.

Weekend of December 10th, 2010

The second weekend of December is definitely stronger than the first with two wide releases, both of which could top $100 million, and one could even top $200 million, plus there's a limited release that is scheduled to expand later in the month. The best-case scenario has Voyage of the Dawn Treader earning $300 million and returning the franchise to past glory. Even the worst case scenario has the two wide releases outperforming the films from this week last year, neither of which matched expectations.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Fox
Release Date: December 10th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
Source: Based on a Book / sequel
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Prince, Dragons, Talking Animals, Rescue, 3D, and more
Directed By: Michael Apted
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Bill Barnes, and others
Production Budget: Reported budget at $140 million, but perhaps more
Box Office Potential: $150 million

It's rare for a franchise to be dropped by one studio only to be picked up by another, but that is the case with The Chronicles of Narnia. I'm not surprised Disney dropped the franchise; the first film was a huge hit, earning nearly $300 million domestically and close to $750 million worldwide, but the second film earned barely more than half the worldwide total, despite costing $225 million to make. Walden Media wanted $140 million to make the third film, which would have made it the cheapest movie to make, but Disney still balked at that price. Fox, on the other hand, jumped at the chance, which is not too surprising, as they tried to buy the rights to the series initially in 2001. Since Disney let the franchise go, there have been numerous changes, including a change in director, a script re-write, cast changes, and the decision to go 3D. The end result is a film that isn't generating a lot of buzz, certainly not as much as it should this close to its release date. I'm not even talking about good buzz vs. bad buzz, but the silence surrounding this film is very troubling.

There's also the issue with the distributor. Fox hasn't released a single $100 million hit this year. Granted, this time last year they released Avatar, which is the biggest movie ever made, so they are not exactly hurting for cash and they will be able to spend a lot on advertising. But so far this year, the closest they've come to the century mark was with Date Night, and every single one of their summer tent-pole releases struggled to find an audience. Hell, every single film they released this year that had an above average production budget missed expectations. That's a losing streak that is hard to ignore.

That said, I have a hard time imagining Dawn Treader will make less money than Prince Caspian. In fact, with the winter release date and the 3D ticket prices, it could make as much as the original while still selling far fewer tickets. On the other hand, there are some who are predicting it will continue the franchise's decline, albeit by a much smaller margin. If it fails to top $100 million by a significant degree, it will kill the franchise. Even if it makes $150 million, it might kill the franchise if it cost too much to make (the $140 million production budget was before 3D conversion). On the other hand, anything more than $200 million will likely result in another installment.

The Fighter

Trailer: Coming Soon
Official Site:
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: December 10th, 2010 (limited)
Release Date: December 17th, 2010 (wide expansion)
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.
Source: Based on Real Life Events
Major Genre: Drama
Keywords: Boxing, Underdog, Biography, Dysfunctional Family, Addiction, and more
Directed By: David O. Russell
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $40 million
Box Office Potential: $55 million

Mark Wahlberg stars in this biopic about a blue-collar boxer, Mickey Ward, who had to deal with career setbacks and a family who was more than a little beyond dysfunctional. His brother was also a boxer whose biggest accomplishment was once lasting ten rounds against Sugar Ray Leonard, but has since become a drug addict and minor criminal. His mother is his manager, but is more concerned with draining him of every dollar he can earns, regardless of how much punishment he takes in the ring.

There was some early Awards Season buzz for the film, and while there are too few reviews to judge its chances, I remain cautiously optimistic. As for its box office potential, I also remain cautiously optimistic. Boxing movies have a strong tradition at the box office, and all four of the cast members either have a history of Awards Season success or box office success, or both. If it does start picking up awards, it could be a serious hit. There's also a chance it will flame out in limited release, and go nowhere the following week.

Fortunately, the former seems more likely.

On a side note about the production budget. Given the cast, the director, etc., $40 million is quite a reasonable estimate. However, it was reported that Mark Wahlberg took a pay cut to make sure this movie was made, so there is some uncertainty with that estimate.

The Tourist

Trailer: Coming Soon
Official Site:
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: December 10th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and brief strong language.
Source: Remake
Major Genre: Thriller
Keywords: Organized Crime, Mistaken Identity, Romance, Surprise Twist, Foreign Language Remake, and more
Directed By: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Starring: Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and others
Production Budget: Reported at $70 million to $90 million
Box Office Potential: $105 million

There's a lot going for this remake. Firstly, it stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, both of whom have a history of box office success. Plus the movie cost quite a bit to make and the studio has said they are committed to pushing it hard. Also, there's not a whole lot of direct competition for the film throughout the whole month of December. As a Romantic Thriller, it should pull in a more mature audience than Faster did, for instance.

The more mature target demographic is both a blessing and a curse. It does mean that it will likely have better legs, but at the expense of its opening weekend. Also, it means its reviews will be more important. Here's where things get complicated. On the one hand, the film had a troubled production with numerous delays and cast changes. On the other hand, it was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose previous film was The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as countless other awards worldwide.

It will likely have to play second fiddle to Dawn Treader on opening weekend, but hopefully it will stick around long enough to cross $100 million domestically.

Weekend of December 17th, 2010

This is the weekend that's most exciting to me, as it is the weekend Tron: Legacy comes out. There is a chance this will be the biggest hit of the month and the studio is certainly going to give it a marketing push fitting of a monster hit. However, it is not the only wide release coming out this week and there's a chance all three films will reach $100 million domestically. Or it is possible that one film will earn $200 million to $300 million while the other two bomb. As for comparisons to last year, they no longer matter. This time last year is the weekend Avatar came out, so there's nothing, and I mean nothing that will allow 2010 keep pace with that film. The only question is whether or not 2010 has a large enough lead on 2009 to finish the race on top. I'm not sure that's the case. (Also opening this week is Rabbit Hole, but it is opening in limited release and doesn't expand wide until January 14th. We will get to that film next month.)

How Do You Know?

Trailer: Coming Soon
Official Site:
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: December 17th, 2010
MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Source: Original Screenplay
Major Genre: Romantic Comedy
Keywords: Romance, Baseball, Dysfunctional Family, Relationship Advice, and more
Directed By: James L. Brooks
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, and others
Production Budget: Officially $90 million, but reports have it higher
Box Office Potential: $95 million

Of the three films coming out this week, this is the one that's most likely to be squeezed out by the competition. However, you can't write off the film's chances at reaching $100 million. It's not like the cast has never had a film reach the century mark. Reese Witherspoon was in Four Christmases, which made more than $100 million this time of year back in 2008, despite being an awful movie. Owen Wilson also had a $100 million hit this time in 2008 with Marley & Me. Jack Nicholson has only made four films since 2003, but three of them made more than $200 million and the fourth came very close. Paul Rudd has had four $100 million hits in the past five years, although all were in ensemble or animated pictures. Additionally, while James L. Brooks doesn't direct often, when he does he usually has solid hits. As Good as It Gets made close to $150 million, and that was 13 years ago.

I don't expect this film to be a huge hit during its opening weekend, but I think it will have good reviews and very long legs thanks to the holidays. It could struggle to be a midlevel hit, like Spanglish, or it could become James L. Brooks' biggest hit with more than $150 million. Let's hope it is on the high end of that range.

Tron: Legacy

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Disney
Release Date: December 17th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.
Source: Original Screenplay / Sequel
Major Genre: Action
Keywords: A.I., 3D, Virtual Reality, Video Games, Rescue, Delayed Sequel, Visual Effects, Same Actor, Multiple Roles, and more
Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, and others
Production Budget: Reported at more than $170 million
Box Office Potential: $225 million

This is the make it or break it film for Geeks. If this one bombs, then all three Geekfest films of the year will have bombed, and I don't think many studios will be interested in making more of these movies in the coming years. There's almost no chance the film won't earn more than Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgram earned combined; in fact, there's a chance it will open with more than those two films made combined. On the other hand, it's going to need to make $400 million worldwide, and that's hardly a sure thing.

First of all, it has been nearly 30 years since Tron first came out, and while that film has a dedicated following, it wasn't a massive hit when it first came out. Also, this is the director, Joseph Kosinski's, first film, so there's no previous films to compare, either in terms of quality or box office potential. The main cast members are not exactly box office powerhouses. Jeff Bridges has starred in a lot of really good movies over his 40-year career, but only two crossed the $100 million milestone. Olivia Wilde hasn't reached that milestone in her career, while Garrett Hedlund hasn't been in a $100 million movie since Troy, and that movie was a box office disappointment. Bruce Boxleitner is mostly known for his TV work, while most of Michael Sheen's recent box office success has come from two films, in neither of which was he the main draw.

Also, while Disney has released two $1 billion movies this year, none of the rest of their releases has reached $400 million worldwide. (That could change with Tangled.)

On the other hand, no other December release is generating this much buzz, while Disney has been pushing the marketing into overdrive for the past month, and then some. Add in the 3D ticket prices, and we could have a $300 million hit on our hands. That would put it at the same level as the The Lord of the Rings films, and slightly better than the first Narnia film, so it is not unprecedented, but it will be tough. Given the buzz, $150 million domestically is on the low end of expectations. Neither extreme is very likely, but between $200 million and $250 million is a very reasonable goal.

Yogi Bear 3D

Trailer: Coming Soon
Official Site:
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: December 17th, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor.
Source: Based on a TV Show
Major Genre: Adventure
Keywords: Animal Lead, Talking Animals, Live Action Cartoon, Movie Business, and more
Directed By: Eric Brevig
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Christine Taylor, Thomas Cavanagh, Anna Faris, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $50 million to $70 million
Box Office Potential: $50 million to $250 million

I really have no clue on this one. On the one hand, Alvin and the Chipmunks. On the other hand, Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The movie tells the story of three bears that live in Jellystone Park: Yogi Bear, the leader; Boo-Boo Bear, his sidekick, and Cindy Bear, his love interest. Yogi and Boo-Boo always run afoul of Ranger Smith while trying to steal picnic baskets. The plot involves a documentarian, Rachel, who comes to film the 100th anniversary celebration of Jellystone, but of course Yogi will use this as a way to get picnic baskets.

Two things struck me as I was watching the trailer. Firstly, when Thomas Cavanagh shouted, "Yogi!" he might as well have said, "I'm doing this for the paycheck." Secondly, I kept thinking, "Did Alvin and the Chipmunks look this bad?" Going back to the December of 2007 preview and the answer appears to be yes. I predicted that film would make $65 million, in total, while suggesting it could be the biggest bomb of the month. Because I was burned by a similar film in the past, I am hesitant to make a similarly dire prediction here, even though a lot of analysts are doing just that. The buzz around the trailer when it was first released last summer was mostly negative, and now the buzz is far too quiet for a film that opens in just a couple weeks. It has to deal with direct competition from Narnia the week before and Gulliver's Travels the week after. I think the negatives outweigh the positives by a large margin, but I have been wrong before.

Weekend of December 24th, 2010

The final weekend of the year brings us a selection of three films, all of which have widely different target audiences. This could prove advantageous in maximizing their box office potential, and like last week, in an ideal scenario, all three could reach $100 million, which was the case this time last year. Then again, like last week, one film could suck up all of the potential box office dollars and reduce the other two to flops. The most likely monster hit this week is Little Fockers, while True Grit and Gulliver's Travels might not make as much in total as Avatar made during its second weekend of release.

Gulliver's Travels

Trailer: Coming Soon
Official Site:
Distributor: Fox
Release Date: December 22nd, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action.
Source: Based on a Book
Major Genre: Adventure / Comedy
Keywords: Modern Adaptation, Writers, 3D, War, Romance, Royalty, Relationship Advice, and more
Directed By: Rob Letterman
Starring: Jack Black, Billy Connolly, Jason, Emily Blunt, and others
Production Budget: Estimated at $100 million or more
Box Office Potential: $50 million to $250 million

I really have no clue on this one. On the one hand, Night at the Museum. On the other hand, Land of the Lost.

(Thank goodness for Cut and Paste.)

Those two films do seem to give a solid upper and lower limit to this film's chances at the box office. Given the film's production budget, which is likely very high, it will need to finish on the high end at the box office. However, there's a lot of factors that make me think the low end is a lot more likely. For instance, when the trailer was first released the reaction was less than enthusiastic and since then the buzz has gone from weak to non-existent. In fact, this film has flown so far under my radar for so long that I completely forgot about it. If a small independent film escapes my attention, that's one thing, but a $100 million movie is another. Someone in marketing has really dropped the ball on this one.

If you are in the same boat, here's a little refresher. Jack Black stars as Lemuel Gulliver, a writer looking for a big break. It appears he gets that break when he's given an assignment to investigate the Bermuda triangle, but instead of a big story, he gets sucked into a vortex of water and lands on the island of Liliput, which is populated by tiny people. And by tiny I mean six inches tall. In the original book, this is a political allegory about the court of King George I, but I'm quite sure this part will be scrubbed from the movie for a couple of reasons. Firstly, being political tends to limit audiences. Secondly, how many people today would even understand the allegory? How many people even know who King George I is? (Is he the one that went mad?) Instead, the movie is about a man learning to reach his full potential, a coming of middle-age story, if you will. There's also a B-plot with royal romance, but Jack Black is the big selling point here.

On the one hand, he does seem to be a great fit for the roll, while his total box office earnings are at $2 billion, more or less. On the other hand, we come back to the lack of buzz. Also, there's a lot of competition from Dawn Treader and Yogi Bear. There is a chance all three films could bomb, but there's almost no chance all three will be hits. I think this one will be a miss.

Little Fockers

Trailer: Click to Play
Official Site:
Distributor: Universal
Release Date: December 22nd, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content.
Source: Original Screenplay / Sequel
Major Genre: Comedy
Keywords: Mid-Life Crisis, Dysfunctional Family, In-Laws, Twins, and more
Directed By: Paul Weitz
Starring: Ben Stiller, Teri Polo, Robert De Niro, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $100 million to $125 million
Box Office Potential: $200 million

It's been six years since Meet the Fockers and a decade since Meet the Parents debuted. The first film was a critical hit and earned an impressive $300 million worldwide. The second film earned much weaker reviews, but managed to pull in $500 million worldwide. However, there are a few warning signs that this film won't do as well at the box office. First of all, six years is a pretty big gap between installments. Secondly, there are a few reports that the film's quality is much closer to the second film than the first. In fact, Dustin Hoffman initially balked at the chance to reprise his role and it took some tough negotiating just to get him in the handful of scenes he's in. Thirdly, the film was pushed back from the summer to a Christmas release, partially because of the new scenes with Dustin Hoffman that needed to be shot. The behind-the-scenes could turn out to be more interesting than the movie itself.

On the other hand, Ben Stiller's career has been hot this past decade, and the film reportedly cost more than $100 million to make, so the studio should be pushing it hard. That advertising could be the edge the film needs to score at the box office.

I don't think it will top Meet the Fockers, but it should outperform Meet the Parents.

True Grit

Trailer: Coming Soon
Official Site:
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: December 22nd, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images.
Source: Remake / Based on a Book
Major Genre: Western
Keywords: Revenge, Bounty Hunters, Addiction, and more
Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and others
Production Budget: Reported at $50 million to $70 million
Box Office Potential: $65 million

A remake / re-adaptation of True Grit. The original is considered a classic of the genre and was the film that finally won John Wayne an Oscar. On the one hand, it's excellent source material. On the other hand, it could be hurt by comparisons. Even if the film is Oscar worthy, some will still call it an inferior imitation. It is also a long shot to reach $100 million, as Joel & Ethan Coen have never managed to reach that milestone in their career, despite making some amazing movies. Granted, they usually make independent films with relatively small budgets, while this film has a substantial budget and the full support of a major studio. True Grit could come closer than any of their other films and if it does win some Oscars, it might actually get there.

On a side note, I've seen Hailee Steinfeld appear on a few "Top 25 under 25" lists. This strikes me as odd, because True Grit is her theatrical debut. Maybe she will be one of the biggest stars of her generation, but I think it is premature to offer that possibility before her first movie comes out.


Filed under: Monthly Preview, Little Fockers, Gulliver's Travels, The Fighter, Tron: Legacy, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Yogi Bear, How Do You Know?, True Grit, The Warrior's Way, Black Swan, The Tourist, Rabbit Hole