Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
Moviegoers will "Cast" most of their box office votes for Tom Hanks this weekend.
"Cast Away," 20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama reteaming Hanks and "Forrest Gump" director Robert Zemeckis, opens at nearly 2,800 theaters.
"Sunday is going to be off because its Christmas Eve, but with Christmas on a Monday this year it's going to be a four-day weekend," an insider explains. "Based on what 'What Women Want' did last week (opening to $33.6 million), 'Cast Away' could open to $30 million-plus for four days. They'll be number one."
"A lot of business is going to happen over the four days," predicts another studio source. "I assume 'Cast Away' is going to be number one. I think it's going to do around $35 million."
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
Second place could see competition between Paramount's PG-13-rated romantic comedy from Icon Productions "What Women Want" and Universal's opening at about 2,400 theaters of its PG-13 romantic fantasy from Beacon Communications "The Family Man," with each looking at mid-week like they could do $20-25 million.
Insiders expressed varying views of which film will be the strongest. With about half of its marketing campaign running this week, "Family Man" should see some major benefit in terms of boosting moviegoer awareness just as it opens.
"'Women' should do $25-28 million," predicts a more enthusiastic distributor, claiming the close race will be for third place and will be between "Family Man" and "The Grinch."
"'Family Man' could be number two," counters another observer, "and 'Grinch' could be sitting there (in fourth place) with $15 million for four days."
Directed by Nancy Meyers, "Want" stars Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
Directed by Brett Ratner, "The Family Man" stars Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle.
Universal and Imagine Entertainment's PG-rated blockbuster "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" will have overtaken "Mission: Impossible 2" by Christmas Day to become the year's biggest-grossing film with over $215.4 million. "Grinch" is well on its way to a domestic theatrical gross of $250 million-plus.
Directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer, "Grinch" stars Jim Carrey.
Dimension Films' R-rated horror genre film "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000," opening at 1,500-plus theatres, should round out the Top Five.
"I think 'Dracula's' going to outgross 'Miss Congeniality,'" one distributor speculates after studying the Hollywood radar screen. "I think 'Dude, Where's My Car' will go south. That young audience will switch over to 'Dracula.' Let's say $10-12 million there."
"I don't think 'Dracula' is going to open to more than 'Dude' did (with $13.8 million)," agrees another source. "Let's say it does $12-14 million."
Directed by Patrick Lussier, "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000" stars Jonny Lee Miller and Justine Waddell.
Warner Bros.' launch of Castle Rock Entertainment's PG-13-rated comedy "Miss Congeniality" should arrive in sixth place. Opening at about 2,700 theaters, "Congeniality" could walk off with about $10 million.
"Wait till the word gets out on that film," snaps a pessimistic insider, agreeing that a marketing-driven $10 million opening is probably in the cards.
Directed by Donald Petrie, "Miss Congeniality" stars Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt and Candice Bergen.
Filling out lower rungs: "The Emperor's New Groove," "Vertical Limit," "Dude, Where's My Car" and "Proof Of Life."
On the limited release front: Buena Vista/Touchstone opens its PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for Oscar consideration.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan and Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and John Turturro.
Lions Gate Films opens its unrated suspense thriller "Nowhere To Hide" in New York and L.A.
Directed by Lee Myeong-Se, it stars Park Jung-Hun.
Fine Line opens its R-rated comedy "State and Main" in the top 12 markets.
Directed and written by David Mamet, it stars Alec Baldwin.
Sony Pictures Classics opens its PG-rated drama "The House Of Mirth" in New York and L.A.
Directed and written by Terence Davies, it stars Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz and Dan Aykroyd.
Fine Line opens its R-rated drama "Before Night Falls" in New York, L.A. and San Francisco.
Directed by Julian Schnabel, it stars Javier Bardem.
On the expansion front: Miramax goes into the top 50 markets with its romantic comedy drama "Chocolat," a likely contender for Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Also, "Finding Forrester" opens Dec. 19 in New York and L.A. and "The Gift" opens in L.A. Dec. 20. Opening Christmas Day: "All the Pretty Horses" (wide), "An Everlasting Piece" (limited), and "13 Days" (limited).
CHRISTMAS BOX OFFICE Unlike Thanksgiving, which, of course, always falls on a Thursday and always generates a five-day box office period (from Wednesday through Sunday), Christmas falls on a different day of the week every year. As a result, comparisons of Christmas box office business are difficult to make. Some years Christmas is part of a four-day holiday weekend, while in other years the holiday is part of a three-day weekend, and in other years the holiday falls mid-week and is not connected to the weekend that follows it.
Having Christmas fall on a Monday, explains one distribution executive, "is not ideal, but it's certainly better than Christmas on a Sunday, which kills your Saturday night business. There should be a strong Friday and Saturday. People are obviously off for the weekend. Christmas Eve will slump, but then Christmas Day will be good. Then the mid-week business will be strong."
Focusing on the same question, another distributor says Christmas falling on a Monday "is good because Christmas eve on a Sunday is a day off for everybody and they can go to movies during the day, not at night, and still participate in Christmas Eve activities."
If we could work things out to have Christmas always fall on the same day of the week, which day would Hollywood pick? "I'd probably pick a Tuesday or Thursday," replies one insider, "because then there's a tendency for people to just take the extra day off. When it's on Thursday, then it becomes like Thanksgiving. So you're off on Thursday for Christmas Day -- well, who's going to go back to the office for one day? Now, all of a sudden, you've got a four-day weekend, and your Christmas Eve was only a week night (that got hurt), so who cares?
"I don't like Christmas Eve to ever be one of the weekend nights. But I like Christmas to be close enough to the weekend. Thursday is really ideal because even it's on Tuesday, then people take off Monday, but they're taking off a day when they're not going to go to the movies at night."
Wednesday is seen as a bad day for Christmas, this source adds, because "it's sort of neither here nor there. It's smack right in the middle of the week and it's harder for people to say, 'Oh, I'll take an extra two days off.' The worst day is Sunday because it kills Saturday night. That was last year. It's one of those things like the weather. You can speculate, but you can't do a darn thing about it."
In 1999, Christmas fell on a Saturday. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more for the weekend -- did $95.0 million for the weekend of Dec. 24-26. Warner Bros.' opening of "Any Given Sunday" led the pack with $13.58 million and a five-day cume of $20.6 million. Paramount's opening of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" was second with $12.74 million for two days.
In 1998, Christmas fell on a Frida . Key films took in $142.4 million for the weekend of Dec. 25-27. Universal's opening of "Patch Adams" was first with $25.26 million. Sony's launch of "Stepmom" was second with $19.14 million.
In 1997, Christmas fell on a Thursday. Key films grossed $140.1 million for the weekend of Dec. 26-28. Paramount's "Titanic" topped the chart with $35.46 million and had a 10-day cume (from its opening until the end of the Christmas weekend) of $88.4 million. MGM's James Bond epic "Tomorrow Never Dies" was second with $20.48 million and a 10-day cume of $62.2 million. Sony's opening of "As Good As It Gets" finished third with $12.61 million and a four-day cume of $16.2 million.
In 1996, Christmas fell on a Wednesday. Key films did $109.4 million for the post-Christmas weekend of Dec. 27-29. New Line's opening of "Michael" was first with $17.44 million and a five-day cume of $27.6 million. Sony's "Jerry Maguire" was second with $14.02 million and a 17-day cume of $60.4 million.
In 1995, Christmas fell on a Monday. Key films collected $90.6 million for the four-day weekend of Dec. 22-25. 20th Century Fox's opening of "Waiting To Exhale" was first with $14.13 million for four days. Buena Vista/Disney's "Toy Story" was second with $12.11 million and a 34-day cume of $115.7 million.
In 1994, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Key films did $86.28 million for the four day weekend of Dec. 23-26. New Line's "Dumb and Dumber" was first with $15.59 million and an 11-day cume of $40.7 million. Buena Vista/Disney's "The Santa Clause" was second with $9.78 million and a 46-day cume of $123.2 million.
Santa is not the only big boy coming out to play this Christmas holiday.
Things are certainly looking up in December after Mel Gibson's $34 million-plus record-setting opening last weekend at the box office for "What Women Want."
And judging from the big names, business is only going to be better this weekend as heavily anticipated films such as Tom Hanks' "Cast Away" and Nicolas Cage's "Family Man" bow nationwide today.
"It's going to be a huge weekend this holiday. I can't see how it can't be, with all the hot openings and strong holdovers," Brandon Gray, editor of boxofficemojo.com, told Hollywood.com.
And despite all the new entries breathing down its neck, Gray maintains that Gibson's "What Women Want" might not go quietly down the rankings and that the battle to watch this four-day holiday at the box office will be between the mind-reading romantic comedy and Hank's "Cast Away."
And without further ado, here's a look at the major films that will be opening during the long Christmas holiday weekend.
OPENING FRIDAY, Dec. 22
THE SKINNY: Multiple Oscar winner Tom Hanks plays a FedEx guy stranded on an island after he miraculously survives a plane crash (and you thought Bruce Willis was lucky in "Unbreakable"). Helen Hunt again plays second fiddle as the girlfriend who has been worried sick. THE UPSIDE: "It's going to be a super close weekend between 'Cast Away' and 'What Women Want,' but I am giving the edge to the Tom Hanks film," Gray says. "It seems like Tom Hanks has another winner here. He's reteaming with his 'Forrest Gump' director Robert Zemeckis, and the film has a very impressive marketing campaign." THE DOWNSIDE: The scraggly Hanks reminds you too much of "Survivor" jackpot winner Richard Hatch ... especially whenever Hanks is half-naked, which is pretty often.
"THE FAMILY MAN"
THE SKINNY: Oh, the big "what if": Nicolas Cage does a turn as a ruthless banker who wakes up one day to find himself shacked up in a beautiful house and a beautiful wife that were not his before. THE UPSIDE: It's "It's a Wonderful Life" with a somewhat modern overhaul. THE DOWNSIDE: Alas, Cage is no Jimmy Stewart. And, alas, the film will probably only be good enough for a No. 3 or No. 4 opening this weekend, depending on if "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" continues to make a killing, Gray predicts.
THE SKINNY: Sandra Bullock plays an FBI agent planted as a mole in a beauty pageant to thwart a terrorist bombing. THE UPSIDE: "This film is a wild card," Gray said. "It could come in at No. 5. It's either that or 'The Emperor's New Groove.'" THE DOWNSIDE: Remember "28 Days"? Need we say more.
"WES CRAVEN PRESENTS DRACULA 2000"
THE SKINNY: Horror-meister Wes Craven's millennial update of the bloodsucker yarn. This one has Justine Waddell, Christopher Plummer, singer Vitamin C and Omar Epps. THE UPSIDE: The teen-heavy horror film is trying to duplicate the success of "Scream 2" back in 1997, which also opened during the same weekend. And this positioning of "Dracula 2000" for the teen set might just work, especially when the marketplace is saturated with sappy, old fart flicks. THE DOWNSIDE: If you really want to see a vampire flick, it might serve your needs better to see "Shadow of the Vampire" next week.
And that's not all. Over in the limited release category, there're the "Good Will Hunting"-esque "Finding Forrester" with Sean Connery and the psychological drama "The Gift" with Cate Blanchett, last year's Best Actress Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Keanu Reeves (as a wife beater, no less).
Plus: the Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" with George Clooney and the David Mamet comedy "State and Main" will also open in limited release.
OPENING MONDAY, DEC. 25
"ALL THE PRETTY HORSES"
THE SKINNY: In this tale helmed by Billy Bob Thornton, Matt Damon plays a Texas cowboy heading south of the border for some adventure and life experience. He finds both in Penelope Cruz, who plays the daughter of a Mexican rancher not too keen on the burgeoning romance. THE UPSIDE: Since the film opens on Christmas Day and at the tail end of the four-day holiday weekend, it will definitely not be a Top Five contender. But, as Gray says, that shouldn't keep the film from doing decent business for the day. THE DOWNSIDE: The talented Mr. Damon was swiftly forgotten by moviegoers in "The Legend of Beggar Vance." Will audiences do the same to him with this film?
Kevin Costner's Cuban Missile Crisis drama "Thirteen Days" and the luscious period piece "Vatel" with Uma Thurman and Gerard Depardieu both also open -- in New York and Los Angeles -- on Christmas Day.
And don't forget other holdovers such as "Dude, Where's My Car?," "Vertical Limit," and "Proof of Life" to finish out the Top 10.