A "Dino"-mite opening by Disney's "Dinosaur" should cut DreamWorks' "Gladiator" down to size this weekend.
After its two-week box office reign, "Gladiator" should fall prey to Buena Vista/Disney's opening of its PG-rated computer-animated "Dinosaur" at 3,257 theaters.
"Dinosaur's" 21% first-choice tracking doesn't really tell the whole story, according to insiders. "It's just fine, because kids' movies don't track," says one executive.
Estimates by Hollywood handicappers of just how big "Dinosaur" will open range from a cautious $25-35 million to a really exuberant $35-40 million. Making projections even more challenging is the fact that a great many "Dinosaur" tickets will be sold at reduced prices to children.
"'Lion King' did $40.9 million in its opening weekend," explains one source. "Now, it opened the end of June. Kids were out of school on Friday. If you look at just Saturday and Sunday, 'Lion King' did about $27 million. Could 'Dinosaur' do $27 million Saturday and Sunday? Let's say it only does $6 million on Friday - that's still $33 million.
"I was tempted, at first, to say that with kids in school, this movie can't get to more than $25 million; but that's not true. This movie can be in the low to mid-$30 millions. I just don't know if it has the kind of heat and appeal that 'Lion King' had, and because it's an animated movie, it's hard to track."
Even if "Dinosaur" opens at the low end, with $25-30 million, a distributor says, "They should be absolutely thrilled. To me, they're taking a chance. Disney's always been very shrewd about going with their animated movies when the kids are available. They go out in late June and at Thanksgiving. They haven't made the mistake some other companies have, by going in May or in off periods (to avoid competition), and then living to regret it.
"When they put this movie on May 19 on their release schedule, it told me they were willing to take a risk and that they felt they had a movie which would appeal to a wider audience than what's traditional for animated films. And a movie they thought would play well, that would make it into June when the kids would really be available. So I think it is a bit of a risk. If they come out of this with anything in the mid-$20 millions or higher, going into Memorial Day weekend, when their audience expands, I think they're looking good."
Other insiders are predicting "Dinosaur" will set a new record for the year's biggest opening to date. The current record holder is DreamWorks' "Gladiator," with $34.82 million the weekend of May 5-7. "It'll last about one week," says one optimist. "'Gladiator's' record only lasted two weeks. Records are made to be broken."
Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton, it features such voices as D.B. Sweeney, Ossie Davis, Joan Plowright, Della Reese and Alfre Woodard.
With "Dinosaur" stomping through the marketplace, DreamWorks' R-rated action adventure "Gladiator" (half owned by Universal, which is releasing it internationally) should fall one sword to second place in its third week. Its first-choice tracking is still a solid 28%.
With over $75 million already in hand, "Gladiator" is heading for $150 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Russell Crowe.
"If 'Gladiator' drops another 30% this weekend, as it did last weekend, it's in the $17-18 million range," predicts one studio source. "I think 'Gladiator' hangs in there. I think 'Gladiator's' first serious dent comes from 'Mission: Impossible 2.'"
Paramount's "Mission 2" - known for shorthand as "M: I-2," which officially starts Hollywood's summer season May 24, is already looming as a blockbuster with $200 million potential in domestic theatres.
"It already has a 25% first choice, and most of their TV spots haven't even run yet," points out one insider. At this point, it's a 33% first choice for males and an 18% first choice for females. "It's got 93% awareness and 13% unaided awareness. Those are big numbers. It's opening at well over 3,000 theaters."
"It's going to be huge," promises a top executive at another studio.
The original "Mission" set a record as the first film to open at 3,000 theaters when it arrived May 22, 1996, at 3,012 theaters. It grossed $56.81 million in its first five days ($18,862 per theater) and $74.91 million for its first seven days of release. "Mission" went on to gross $180.9 million domestically and $284 million internationally for a worldwide cume of $464.9 million.
"M:I-2" is expected to set a new record for opening weekend theaters. Opening at 3,500 theaters would do it, since the present record is 3,467 theaters for Miramax/Dimension's "Scream 3," which grossed $34.71 million the weekend of Feb. 4-6, 2000 ($10,013 per theater).
Third place on this weekend's chart should go to DreamWorks' R-rated youth appeal comedy "Road Trip," opening at 2,530 theaters. Its 14% first choice should put it somewhere in the $11-14 million range.
Directed by Todd Philips, it stars Breckin Meyer and Sean William Scott.
DreamWorks could also take fourth place with its opening of Woody Allen's PG-rated comedy "Small Time Crooks" at 865 theaters. But it's not likely to do big-time business given its 4% first-choice tracking and somewhat limited release.
"It is, after all, a Woody Allen movie," reminds one observer, projecting a $4-5 million opening. "No matter how much they try to sell it like it's 'old Woody Allen,' it's still Woody Allen."
Written and directed by Allen, it stars him, Tony Darrow, Hugh Grant, George Grizzard, Jon Lovitz, Elaine May, Michael Rapaport, Elaine Stritch and Tracey Ullman.
Warner Bros. and Franchise Pictures' PG-13 rated sci-fi action adventure "Battlefield Earth" should round out the Top Five. "Earth" opened in second place last week to largely negative reviews. Insiders insist it's generating unfavorable word-of-mouth and will plunge to a lower second weekend orbit.
"I think it's going to have a $5 million weekend," an insider speculates. "It's going to be down 55-60%. They got it open (to $12 million) in a market with really only one movie as competition ('Gladiator') and obviously a big marketing budget and John Travolta's name, but I don't think they're going to get lucky two weekends in a row."
"It's not showing up at all (in the tracking)," says another studio source. "It's going to fall off the face of the earth. Figure at least a 50% drop off."
Directed by Roger Christian, it stars John Travolta, Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker.
Saturday night will see Buena Vista/Touchstone hold sneak previews of its PG-13-rated action comedy "Shanghai Noon" at about 1,200 theaters.
"Shanghai" opens May 26 - right on the heels of "M: I-2's" May 24 blast off - at about 2,500 theaters.
Directed by Tom Dey, "Shanghai" stars Jackie Chan, Owen C. Wilson and Lucy Liu.
Universal's PG-13-rated World War II submarine drama "U-571" should descend three fathoms to sixth place in its fifth week.
"If they're down 35%, that puts them at $3.7 million. So $3.5-4 million is where they'll fall," a distributor says.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, "U-571" stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.
Filling out lower rungs: "Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," "Frequency," "Center Stage" and "Where the Heart Is."
Lions Gate goes wide this weekend with its R-rated drama "The Big Kahuna," to about 300 theaters after three weeks of not-so-big business in limited release.
Directed by John Swanbeck, it stars Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli.
On the limited release front: Miramax Films expands its critic lly-acclaimed, R-rated contemporary version of "Hamlet" into exclusive engagements in seven more top markets following its very encouraging launch last weekend in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by Michael Almereyda, it stars Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Sam Shepard, Diane Venora, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles.
Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!
No, it's another "Spider-Man" rumor.
For nearly seven years, speculation has run rampant among comic-book geeks and genre-film fanatics about the red-and-blue building-climbing superhero. Nearly every director worth his box-office salt has been linked to "Spider-Man" at one time or another, beginning with no less than James Cameron ("Titanic") and ending with Sam Raimi ("A Simple Plan," "For Love of the Game"), who is now supposedly the front-runner for the job.
One thing's for certain: "Spider-Man," one of the most highly anticipated films in memory, is now on the fast track at Columbia Pictures. The studio wants to release the film in summer 2001, and that means a director is expected to be hired soon -- perhaps within a few weeks. At long last, Marvel Comics' biggest franchise property will get his big-budget Hollywood makeover, a privilege that, until now, has been afforded only to characters from rival DC Comics (home of Batman and Superman).
"Spider-Man definitely has the potential to be a very successful franchise," says Mirko Parlevliet, creator of the Spider-Man Hype! Web site (www.spidermanhype.com), launched in March 1999 when years of legal battles over Spidey's theatrical rights ended and Marvel and Columbia struck a deal to make the movie.
"Unlike Batman and Superman, Spider-Man is a character many people can identify with," Parlevliet adds. "Peter Parker [the web-slinger's secret identity] is a teen-ager who is always picked on for the wrong reasons." He says Spidey is more realistic and down-to-earth than his DC rivals, a positive role model and a "fun guy" to chill out with. "How can you identify with a millionaire orphan or an alien with superpowers?"
For the record, this won't be the first live-action adaptation of the arachnid-man. There was a short-lived TV series in the late 1970s starring Nicholas Hammond as a pudgy Peter Parker. The show featured neato special-effects tricks, like tilting the camera sideways while Hammond crawled across the side of a wall. There also was a Japanese "Spider-Man" teleseries in the late 1970s, in which the web slinger drove around in a cool racecar. And the infamous Cannon Group proposed a Spider-Man movie during the 1980s but, thankfully, did not follow through. There have also been numerous cartoon series over the years.
The current Spider-Man project began as Cameron's brainchild; he wanted to make the movie immediately after "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Cameron wrote a lengthy Spidey treatment and Carolco obtained the theatrical rights to the character -- or so it thought. Pretty soon it seemed like everyone in Tinseltown was suing to get a piece of the Peter Parker pie.
By the time Sony/Columbia emerged as the Spidey legal sweepstakes winner, Cameron had signed an exclusive deal with Fox that basically barred him from directing the superflick. However, Sony got the rights to Cameron's treatment, and screenwriter David Koepp ("The Lost World") was hired to fashion a screenplay out of The King of the World's outline.
For the record, the following names have been linked to "Spider-Man" since 1993:
James Cameron, Ron Howard, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Chris Columbus, Jan De Bont, Stephen Sommers, Ivan Reitman, Barry Sonnenfeld, Sam Raimi, the Wachowski brothers, Terry Gilliam and Robert Rodriguez, in no particular order, have been rumored to direct.
Charlie Sheen, Corin Nemec ("Parker Lewis Can't Lose"), Michael Biehn ("Aliens," "Terminator"), Bruce Campbell ("Army of Darkness"), Jason Patric, Leonardo DiCaprio, Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey and Australian actor Heath Ledger ("10 Things I Hate About You") have all been rumored to star as Peter Parker/Spidey.
In the villain department, Jack Nicholson has been pegged as Spider-Man's arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, while Arnold Schwarzenegger could play either Doctor Octopus or Venom, according to the rumor mill. There hasn't been much talk about who might play Peter's girlfriend, Mary Jane, or his editor at the Daily Bugle, the hot-headed J. Jonah Jameson.
David Mamet, if you believe the latest word, has been secretly hired by Columbia to revamp David Koepp's screenplay.
For the uninitiated, "Spider-Man" (the comic book) is the story of Peter Parker, a high school whiz kid who is bitten by a radioactive spider during a biology experiment. The bite gives Peter some nifty powers, like the ability to walk on walls, and enhanced strength and agility, plus a "spider sense" that enables him to detect danger.
Peter is also a gifted inventor; he creates wrist-mounted "web-shooters" that spray a sticky compound resembling a spider's web, from which he swings from skyscraper to skyscraper. Peter dons a Spider-Man suit and greedily uses his powers for personal gain (he becomes quite a celebrity) until his uncle is killed by robbers and he re-dedicates his life to fighting crime. Peter becomes a newspaper photographer, using a well-placed, timer-activated camera to snap pictures of himself (as Spider-Man) in action.
One major issue that remains to be decided is whether Columbia's film will be based on the old-school, idealistic Spidey comics of the 1960s, or one of several more recent incarnations, such as comics guru Todd McFarlane's dark, moody version.
"I'd prefer to see Spider-Man done old school," said Rob Worley, Webmaster of the Comics 2 Film Web site (www.comics2film.com), which tracks (what else?) comic books optioned by Hollywood. "The thing that made Spider-Man great (the thing that current writers of the comic have forgotten) is that the character, under the mask, was so relatable. Peter Parker is an Everyman. He's not some square-jawed, iron-willed vision of perfection. He's a kid who has all the normal problems that a regular young man has, in addition to the monkey wrench of having the great power that he feels compelled to use responsibly."
Now it remains to be seen whether Spidey can escape the curse -- real or imagined -- that has plagued film adaptations of other Marvel Comics franchises in the 1990s.
Witness "Captain America," a 1992 film version of Marvel's Nazi-fighting hero, starring Matt Salinger. In this barely watchable, low-budget film (which was widely advertised for a theatrical release, then instead went straight-to-video), the Cap's evil foe Red Skull is inexplicably Italian, not German, and the villain wears an embarrassing rubber mask.
Then there is "The Fantastic Four," a $2 million epic shot by Roger Corman's (say no more) Concorde Pictures, and then suddenly shelved before release when Marvel cut a new deal with 20th Century Fox wherein Chris Columbus was to direct a new megabudget version.
"I have a sentimental attachment to The Fantastic Four, and I was heartbroken to think it might appear only as a low-budget quickie," Marvel godfather Stan Lee told Entertainment Weekly. That was way back in 1994. There has been nary a peep about the film since.
Rights have been acquired and screenplays have been written for film versions of The Incredible Hulk and Silver Surfer, two Marvel properties with amazing potential, but both have landed in development hell.
So far, the only Marvel property to get a (fairly) big-budget film adaptation is New Line's "Blade" (1998) starring Wesley Snipes. New Line is currently developing an Iron Man movie, with Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott ("The Mask of Zorro") writing the screenplay and Tom Cruise supposedly interested in the starring role as reclusive billionaire/inventor/superhero Tony Stark.
Worley says one reason that Marvel's film adaptations have mostly been low-budget has to do with poor licensing decisions made by the comic book company that gave Marvel little say in the way the movies were made.
"I recall readi g a letter from Stan Lee [in a comics trade magazine] around the time the low-budget Fantastic Four movie was due to come out. Lee said fans asked him all the time why Marvel movies sucked. He promised fans that it was due to bad negotiating on Marvel's part and ... no movies would be made from that point forward without Marvel having a say in things. So Marvel sold off their movie rights, cheap, to filmmakers who didn't get it."
Now all fanboys' eyes will be on Fox's "X-Men," due out this summer from director Brian Singer and starring Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
"In the past, it seemed the low-budget constraints hurt Marvel's superhero adaptations," says Parlevliet. The X-Men film, he says, will be Marvel's big test. "If it succeeds, the film will set the stage for many similar projects in the future. There really is no such thing as a Marvel curse. It's just hard to adapt a comic book and make it believable on the big screen."