It looks like tough sledding for Hollywood this pre-Christmas weekend, according to distribution executives with an eye on tracking study data.None of the three new wide releases appears likely to open impressively.
"It doesn't look too exciting in terms of the openings," said one studioexecutive. "The first choice on 'Bicentennial Man' is running only like 8%. Now, admittedly, it's (only mid-week) but I would think they would like to have been in double digits by now."
Buena Vista/Touchstone and Columbia Pictures' PG-rated sci-fi fantasy "Bicentennial Man," directed by Chris Columbus and starring Robin Williams, opens Friday at about 2,200 theaters.
While 2,200 theaters is certainly a wide break, it's not as wide as last weekend's theater count for "Toy Story 2" (3,257), "The Green Mile" (2,875), "The World Is Not Enough" (3,063), "End Of Days" (2,652) or "Sleepy Hollow" (3,065).
"It's plenty wide enough to get you to a $15 million or, even, $20 million opening, if the picture is there," a distributor observed. "These additional runs that have been added from 2,000 to 3,000 are, for the most part, rather marginal runs.
"They're not going to keep you from getting $20 million, if you've got the goods. But 'Bicentennial Man,' from this tracking now, is nowhere near $20 million. It's lucky to crack double digits."
"'Anna' is only a 6% first choice," the executive added. Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Anna and the King," directed by Andy Tennant and starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, arrives Friday at about 2,000 theaters.
"'Stuart Little's" like a 5% first choice, but it's a kids' movie, so who knows?" he said. "It could certainly be $8-10 million, which would put it there with 'Anna and the King.'"
Typically, films targeted to kids do not track well because the research does not generally reflect children's moviegoing plans. "Stuart Little," Columbia's PG-rated family comedy directed by Rob Minkoff and starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki, kicks off Friday at more than 2,800 theaters.
"It's hard for me to believe that 'Bicentennial Man' doesn't at least get into the low teens (in millions of dollars opening weekend)," he said. "I've got to believe the tracking is just low at this point.
"It's a Robin Williams movie. If they don't crack $12-13 million, even that would be a disappointment."
A big factor in how well the new films do is how well Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar's blockbuster "Toy Story 2" continues to hold. The G-rated computer-animated sequel is expected to have $200 million through New Year's, on its way to $250 million to $275 million or more in domestic theaters. Directed by John Lasseter, "Toy 2" features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey.
"If 'Toy Story' takes the same percentage drop (of 34%) it took last weekend, it will do $12 million," he noted. "If 'Green Mile' is down 38%, it's $11 million. If it's down 35%, it's $12 million. I think both 'Toy Story' and 'Green Mile' are somewhere in the $11-12 million range. Then 'Bicentennial Man,' maybe, gets above that. But those three could be right in there together (fighting for the top spot on the chart)."
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated prison death-row drama "The Green Mile," written and directed by Frank Darabont, stars Tom Hanks. "My hunch is 'Toy Story' out grosses ' Green Mile,'" a close observer of the marketplace commented. "I think 'Green Mile' is going to take a 35-40% hit. 'Toy Story' is hanging in there well."
Family-appeal films will get some help, a distributor said, because, "Beginning this Monday, a lot of kids are out of school for the two-week holiday break. That's very favorable to Sunday's business for any movie that gets a family or kids audience. Of course, that means 'Toy Story' and 'Stuart Little' and 'Anna,' to some extent. That will mean a strong Sunday for those movies.
"I think 'Toy Story' probably beats 'Green Mile.' The question is, can 'Bicentennial Man' get up there enough to beat 'Toy Story 2' But, I think, 'Toy Story' does no worse than No. 2 this weekend. And, maybe, 'Green Mile' is third. Then, it's between 'Anna' and 'Stuart Little' and 'Deuce Bigalow' for that $7-9 million range, probably."
Buena Vista/ Touchstone's R-rated youth-appeal comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" opened to a brisk $12.2 million last weekend. Directed by Mike Mitchell, it stars Rob Schneider. It has an advantage in that its young adult and teen-age audience is more available to do pre-Christmas moviegoing than the adult audience is.
Filling out the lower rungs of this weekend's Top 10 will be holdovers such as MGM's PG-13-rated James Bond epic "The World Is Not Enough," directed by Michael Apted and starring Pierce Brosnan; Universal and Beacon Pictures' R-rated supernatural thriller "End of Days," directed by Peter Hyams and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; Paramount's R-rated period action-drama "Sleepy Hollow," directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci; and Universal's R-rated thriller "The Bone Collector," directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
Looking ahead to the next weekend, there are encouraging signs for both Warner Bros.' drama "Any Given Sunday," directed by Oliver Stone and starring Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz, opening Dec. 22 at about 2,500 theaters; and Paramount's drama "The Talented Mr. Ripley," written and directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett, opening Christmas Day at about 2,200 theaters.
"I've heard reports from exhibitors who have seen 'Any Given Sunday' that they liked the movie," says one studio executive. "They're a reflection of their audience. What's particularly making it look stronger is that (Universal's) 'Man On the Moon' is not screening (well)." Directed by Milos Forman, "Moon" stars Jim Carrey as the late comedian Andy Kaufman. It opens Dec. 22 at about 2,000 theaters.
"The same exhibitors who were optimistic about 'Truman Show,' even though it wasn't a traditional Jim Carrey vehicle (but) just because they liked the movie, seem to be skeptical about 'Man On the Moon," an insider said. "I think the conventional wisdom is now that the best hope for that movie is to open on the strength of Jim Carrey because after that initial week or so, it's going to go south.
"I think 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' could have a similar problem in smaller markets in the South and in the Midwest after 10 days. But 'Ripley,' I think, will hold in there well in the big cities. 'Ripley' is sort of a chick flick, and 'Any Given Sunday' is definitely a man's movie."
Overall, he concluded, "I think 'Ripley' and 'Any Given Sunday' are looking very strong right now for an adult audience over the holidays and into January in what is generally perceived now as going to be a weak Christmas, certainly weak compared to Thanksgiving.
"Exhibitors are saying they are anticipating a soft Christmas both because of the calendar, with Christmas being on Saturday, but also because of the product, which, by and large, they've seen now."
When Christmas falls on a Saturday, it hurts Friday night business because Christmas Eve is traditionally a night that many people stay home rather than go out to see movies.
Looking at the weeklong Christmas-New Year's period, he added, "For that Saturday and Sunday, 'Ripley' and 'Sunday' have a chance to be No. 1, but for the seven days from Christmas to New Year's, I believe 'Toy Story's' No. 1. Once you get into that holiday week, every day's just another $5-6 million. It just cranks out on the cash register. 'Toy Story' is a family movie that adults are willing to see, and that's important, as we saw over Thanksgiving."
It also helps that "Toy Story 2" runs about only 90 minutes and can have more performances per day than a number of other holiday season releases with running times of 2-3 hours.
"It makes a difference, particularly once you get to Christmas," says one distribution expert. "There's so much film out there that in a lot of megaplexes where at Thanksgiving pictures could be playing on two or three screens (because there was less product in the marketplace) and you'd get the staggered showtimes, by the time you get down to Christmas week, a lot of those movies will be down to one screen.
"This is a problem for 'The Green Mile' (which runs 3 hours) because 'The Green Mile' needs as 'Titanic' needed those double screens for the staggered showtimes. But because they opened Dec. 10 and depending on what kind of drop they have this weekend, in a lot of complexes they will lose that second screen Christmas week. And that will hurt them. 'Toy Story' in a lot of cases will still be on two screens, but even if it's only on one, you get more shows in."
For some moviegoers, he adds, "Running time is a negative when they look at what they might go see. Three hours is four hours when you include getting there and going home. And if you go out for dinner, it becomes five or six hours."
On the specialized front, a number of Oscar and Golden Globe nomination hopefuls will be trying to attract moviegoers in major cities this weekend. Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules" will expand from exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles to a platform release in the top 20 markets. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, it stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine. Set at an orphanage in Maine, the film is based on the best seller by John Irving, who adapted his novel to the screen.
New Line's R-rated drama "Magnolia" opens exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles. Set in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, it weaves nine different stories together over the course of its three-hour running time. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights"), it stars an ensemble cast headed by Tom Cruise, William H. Macy and Julianne Moore.
USA Films' R-rated Civil War drama "Ride With the Devil" widens to the top 25 markets. Directed by Ang Lee, it stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and pop singer Jewel.
USA Films' R-rated bio-drama "Topsy-Turvy" opens exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, it stars Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner in the story of Britain's Gilbert & Sullivan at a turning point in their musical careers.
Hollywood is expecting Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's opening of "The Green Mile" to walk off with the most box office green this weekend.
The R-rated drama, written and directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tom Hanks, kicks off at more than 2,850 theaters.
"'Toy Story ,' if it's down in the neighborhood of 35-40%, is $16-18 million. And I think 'Green Mile' beats that based on the tracking. They're sitting there with an 18% first choice right now," one studio executive said earlier this week."
"It is high," he said of the tracking results. "Although I understand the reviews are not very good, with Tom Hanks (starring), that's $20 million-plus."
While a $20 million-plus opening is certainly very attractive, it's not spectacular. One of the factors working against a bigger first weekend for the adult appeal "Green" is that adults are busy with shopping and other things in the post-Thanksgiving weeks.
"Women are not so available (this weekend) with Christmas shopping and parties and all that," the executive observed. "But it is Tom Hanks. If anything keeps it from getting to $20 million, it's exactly that factor -- the time of the year. Last year, 'You've Got Mail' opened to something like $18 million ($18.4 million via Warner Bros. the weekend of Dec. 18-20). But you probably have more male interest in 'Green Mile' than there was in 'You've Got Mail,' which was more of a chick flick."
On the other hand, he added, "If 'Toy Story' is down only 28%, that's $20 million, too. But my gut feeling is 'Green Mile' probably edges it out, and then 'Toy Story' is somewhere around $18 million."
The Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar G-rated computer-animated blockbuster "Toy Story 2" is heading for $250 million to $300 million in domestic theaters. Directed by John Lasseter, "Toy 2" features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey.
Third place this weekend should go to Buena Vista/Touchstone's opening of its R-rated youth-appeal comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" at about 2,000 theaters.
"'Deuce Bigalow' has actually got a 12% first choice at this point," the executive said. "I think that's (a gross) somewhere in the low-to-mid-teens. I understand it's a pretty rough R, but I don't think that will keep teen-age and young-adult audiences from coming to see it." Directed by Mike Mitchell, it stars "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Rob Schneider.
MGM's "The World Is Not Enough" should wind up in fourth place with around $7 million. The PG-13-rated "World," the 19th in MGM's James Bond series, is directed by Michael Apted and stars Pierce Brosnan in his third performance as 007.
There could be a close race for fifth place. Both Universal and Beacon Pictures' R-rated action epic "End of Days" and Paramount's R-rated "Sleepy Hollow" could wind up grossing around $6 million this weekend.
Directed by Peter Hyams, "End of Days" is a supernatural thriller pitting Arnold Schwarzenegger against Satan. "Sleepy Hollow," directed by Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.
Universal's R-rated thriller "The Bone Collector," directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, which finished fifth last weekend, appears likely to come in seventh this time around.
"'Bone Collector' has been hanging in there respectably, but it was down to $3.2 million last weekend and, I'm assuming, they're going to lose theaters because they're at that point now where they're just going to get crowded out of the 12-plexes and so on. It should be somewhere in the low $2 millions."
Rounding out the chart in eighth, ninth and 10th place will be three of the following four films: Warner Bros.' G-rated animated feature "Pokemon: The First Movie"; Lions Gate's R-rated irreverent comedy "Dogma," directed by Kevin Smith and starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Linda Fiorentino; Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated drama "The Insider," directed by Michael Mann and starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe; and USA Films' R-rated comedy-drama "Being John Malkovich," directed by Spike Jonze and starring John Malkovich, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener.
On the specialized front, there will be considerable activity this weekend. Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules" starts exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles. A likely Oscar and Golden Globes contender in a number of the major categories, "Cider House" was adapted to the screen by John Irving from his own novel. It was directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine.
Miramax's PG-13-rated comedy-drama "Diamonds" opens in New York for a one-week Oscar qualifying run. Directed by John Asher, it stars Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lauren Bacall.
Warner Bros.' R-rated comedy-drama "Liberty Heights," which opened in mid-November in New York, L.A. and Baltimore (where it takes place), goes into limited release. The studio will hold sneak previews of the critically acclaimed "Heights" the following weekend and take it wider Dec. 22. Written and directed by Barry Levinson, the film stars Adrien Brody, Ben Foster, Orlando Jones, Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Mantegna.
MGM's R-rated drama "Miss Julie" starts exclusive runs in New York and L.A. Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Fine Line's PG-13-rated drama "Tumbleweeds," playing in New York and L.A. since Nov. 24, goes into limited release in the top 15 markets. Directed by Gavin O'Connor, it stars Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown.
Looking ahead to the weekend of Dec. 17-19, insiders say 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King" is at this early point only a 5 percent first choice in tracking studies. Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Bicentennial Man" is an 8 percent first choice. Those numbers should increase as their marketing campaigns kick in, especially with television advertising.
The PG-13-rated period drama "Anna" is directed by Andy Tennant and stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. The PG-rated family comedy "Bicentennial Man" is directed by Chris Columbus and stars Robin Williams.
Also arriving in theaters Dec. 17 is Columbia's PG rated fantasy-adventure "Stuart Little." "Of course, 'Stuart Little's' very hard to judge because kids' movies just don't track well," the studio executive said.
On the other hand, Universal's R-rated bio-drama "Man On The Moon," directed by Milos Forman and starring Jim Carrey as late comedian Andy Kaufman, is already said to be showing a 9% first-choice score in tracking studies.
"You've got to figure that's (because of) Carrey," says the executive. Since "Man" doesn't land in theaters until Dec. 22, there's plenty of time for its already good score to increase and translate into a big opening weekend.