‘Speed Racer’ in ‘Death Slot’: Summer’s Second Weekend

Iron Man (Paramount) is the almost certain winner at America’s multiplexes this weekend, and it has been well-reported that Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) will have an uphill drive. This should probably not come as a surprise, and it may have less to do with the movie than its release date.

Although I am by no means a movie critic, I like Speed Racer. The Wachowskis are certainly equal parts genius and self-indulgence, but this movie is an absolute original. In many ways reminiscent of Disney’s 1982 film Tron, it is too long, but it is consistently engaging, and this candy-colored adventure is almost hypnotic. On a resume that includes the lesbian-themed thriller Bound, the Matrix trilogy and the underrated V for Vendetta, Speed Racer is a more-than-worthy title for the Wachowskis.

The die may have been cast, however, when distributor Paramount moved Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to May 23, successfully chasing the Emile Hirsch/Christina Ricci anime adaptation off that original date. It went to the 2nd weekend of the Summer Blockbuster season, which, as one studio exec told me, is a “death slot.”

In 8 of the past 10 years, the movie that signaled the start of Hollywood’s most lucrative season went on to win the next weekend. This weekend on the release schedule has included full-on disasters, like 2006’s Poseidon, medieval action film A Knight’s Tale in 2001 and 2000’s horrific laugher Battlefield Earth.

Speed Racer will not be a disaster. This may be remembered as a disappointment domestically, but, especially with the presence of Asian music superstar Rain, the film will perform well overseas, particularly in Japan, South Korea and China, where he has a huge following.

Here is a historical look at the first 2 weekends of Summer Blockbuster season for the last 10 years.

1st Weekend of Summer 2007: 

Spider-Man 3 – $151.1M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Spider-Man 3 – $58.1M

Top New Release – 28 Weeks Later – $9.8M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2006: 

Mission: Impossible III – $99.6M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Mission: Impossible III – $25M

Top New Release – Poseidon – $22.1M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2005: 

Kingdom of Heaven – $78.4M

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Monster-in-Law – $23.1M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2004: 

Van Helsing – $51.7M opening

Follow-up Weekend ?

#1 – Troy – $46.8 opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2003: 

X2: X-Men United – $85.5M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – X2: X-Men United – $40M

Top New Release – Daddy Day Care – $27.6M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2002: 

Spider-Man – $114.8M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Spider-Man – $71.4M

Top New Release – Unfaithful – $14M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2001: 

Mummy Returns – $68.1M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Mummy Returns – $33.7M

Top New Release – A Knight’s Tale – $16.5M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 2000: 

Gladiator – $34.8M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Gladiator – $24.6M

Top New Release – Battlefield Earth – $11.5M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 1999:

1999 – The Mummy – $43.3M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – The Mummy – $24.8M

Top New Release – Black Mask – $4.4M opening

1st Weekend of Summer 1998: 

Deep Impact – $41.1M opening

Follow-up Weekend:

#1 – Deep Impact – $23.2M

Top New Release – The Horse Whisperer – $13.6M opening