Box Office Tracking: ‘Incredible Hulk’ Headed to 60M; ‘The Happening’ Could Be Disastrous

Marvel’s first self-financed and self-produced feature film, Iron Man (Paramount), starring Robert Downey Jr., is the No. 1 grossing movie of 2008 so far with an estimated $8.78M this weekend a cume of about $289M by Monday. Marvel Studio’s second movie this year, Incredible Hulk, is a much tougher proposition. Adding the word Incredible to the title, bringing on Transporter director Louis Leterrier and Academy Award nominee Edward Norton, and essentially ‘re-booting’ a franchise after just five years is an audacious gamble, and it appears as though it will pay off solidly.

In 2003, Ang Lee’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, opened to $62.12M, mixed critical reaction and a lukewarm reception from diehard fans of the big green guy. To ignore the first film and re-start the franchise caused a lot of head-scratching in Hollywood, but industry tracking shows that Incredible Hulk (Universal), set for next this Friday, June 13, will open well, although it will be shy of Iron Man’s $100M opening weekend.

My sources tell me that Incredible Hulk is currently tracking at 11 percent Un-Aided Awareness compared to 15 percent for Iron Man at the same point in its marketing cycle. Incredible Hulk holds the advantage in Total Awareness 95 percent-82 percent, but Marvel’s new comic book movie lags Iron Man in Definite Interest 50 percent-33 percent. In the First Choice column, May’s Marvel release was at 20 percent compared to Incredible Hulk’s eight percent.

Incredible Hulk trails Iron Man in First Choice for all demos except 21-24’s (19 percent-15 percent), but Leterrier’s re-imagined big screen adaptation is very strong at 13 percent First Choice with Males, 15 percent First Choice with Males Under 25, 15 percent First Choice with Males 12-16 and 18 percent First Choice with Latinos.

Given the latest tracking, I think it will be fairly easy for the big green guy to bound to a $60M-$65M opening weekend, which is very strong, but I have a feeling as new tracking comes in this week, I will probably revise upward.

Meanwhile, advance word on The Happening (Fox), the new M. Night Shyamalan picture due Friday, is absolutely god-awful. It remains to be seen how many critics will see this picture before its opening, but one thing is for sure. Friday the 13th will not be lucky for Shyamalan.

Starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey DeschanelThe Happening has virtually no buzz with just 4 percent Un-Aided Awareness, a sign that any goodwill that the Indian-born director might have generated from the remarkable The Sixth Sense, the clever Unbreakable and the relatively solid Signs may have completely dissipated. His hokey film The Village and the disastrous Lady in the Water seem to have turned off moviegoers for good.

The The Happening has low Total Awareness at 66 percent and Definite Interest is a very soft 38 percent. Even worse news for Fox is that this picture, shrouded in secrecy but apparently a sci-fi global warming story, has only a 9 percent First Choice, seven percent with Males and 10 percent with Females. First Choice with Males Under 25 is a meager seven percent, with Male 25 Plus at 8 percent, Females Under 25 at 11 percent and Females 25 Plus at just 10 percent.

At this point, it looks like The The Happening will open above Lady in the Water’s $18M opening, but $25M appears to be the ceiling for this one. Unless there is a pop in industry tracking, Shymamalan is doomed to an opening in the $20M-$25M range.

Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.