Then the Headless Horseman.
Now Jack the Ripper.
Johnny Depp enjoys staring evil straight in the face. A pre-21 Jump Street Depp made his film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Partnering with director Tim Burton for the third time, Depp took a nightmarish trip to Sleepy Hollow and came away with a $101 million hit for Ichabod Crane's halfhearted heroics.
For From Hell, Depp travels from 18th-century New York State to 19th-century London to track down the world's first and most infamous serial killer. Based on the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, this opium-fueled, blood-soaked conspiracy shocker builds upon the theory that British royalty had a hand in the grisly murders of five prostitutes.
The Hughes brothers, responsible for Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, leave behind the mean streets of urban America for the dark and murky alleyways of Victorian London. Most of the violence might be implied, but there's enough gore in this overwrought chiller to turn off those who found Sleepy Hollow dark but fun. Also, Depp's attempt to out-Cockney Michael Caine might annoy audiences in general.
Consequently, Sleepy Hollow should remain in place as the sole Depp-headlined film to break $100 million. From Hell's opening weekend, though, should surpass the total grosses of his other recent but disastrous excursions into terror, The Astronaut's Wife ($10.6 million) and The Ninth Gate ($18.6 million). Also, From Hell should entice a pre-Halloween crowd eager for a bloody good time but unwilling to wait for next week's Bones and 13 Ghosts. All in all, From Hell should cap off a profitable year for Depp, which saw Chocolat earn a sweet $70 million and Blow breeze by $55 million.
The Last Castle marks the aging icon's first onscreen appearance since 1998's sugary and longwinded The Horse Whisperer. Court-martialed general Redford stares down military prison warden James Gandolfini in this political drama directed by Rod Lurie.
But can Redford still command our attention?
The Horse Whisperer, which Redford also directed, galloped to $75.3 million. Before that, 1996's Up Close and Personal made $51 million and 1993's Indecent Proposal earned $106 million. Yet these films romantically paired Redford with beautiful women half his age, thereby attracting his loyal female following. Women aren't likely to swoon at the prospect of Redford doing hard time with a bunch of tattooed murderers, thieves and drug smugglers. In its favor, The Last Castle does feature Redford's best performance since The Natural. Its pro-military stance also seems in sync with the mood of the day.
Lurie, a former film critic turned director, has yet to thrill audiences with his treatises on war and politics. His debut, 1999's Deterrence, barely made only $144,000 in limited release. Last year's The Contender was anything but, earning only $17.8 million, which The Last Castle should easily outpace.
Somewhere amid this hearty display of machismo lies Drew Barrymore. She tests her appeal this weekend by departing from the frothy comedies and adventures--Charlie's Angels, Never Been Kissed, Ever After, The Wedding Singer--that have made her an almost guaranteed box office draw. The fact-based drama Riding in Cars with Boys sees Barrymore stretch as a teenage single mom trying to get her life back in order.
Barrymore's struggles may come as a welcome relief to those not in the mood for slain prostitutes and incarcerated ex-soldiers, but terrible reviews could instead drive audiences straight to the sweet Serendipity. Also, Barrymore's previous attempt to portray an unwed mother-to-be turned out to be a Thanksgiving turkey: Home Fries earned just $10.5 million in November 1998.
David Lynch's latest conundrum, Mulholland Drive, expands this weekend after landing in the No. 14 spot with a lukewarm $587,000 at 66 theaters. Reworked after being rejected as an ABC pilot, this murder mystery may entice Twin Peaks aficionados eager for another Lynch-ian excursion into film noir. Unfortunately, Lynch makes plenty of twists and turns, but never takes his audiences far enough to make this a journey worth undertaking. A couple of lesbian love scenes might generate some interest, but Mulholland Drive will end up enduring the same fate as Lynch's equally perplexing and infuriating Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Lost Highway. The former made only $4.1 million in 1992, failing to capitalize on the TV series' cult following. The latter made do with $3.8 million in 1997.
The arrival of From Hell should see reigning champ Training Day take a tumble. Not that Denzel Washington needs to worry. With $46.9 million in takings through Wednesday, the gritty thriller already ranks as one of Washington's biggest hits. By the end of the weekend, Training Day will surpass The Hurricane ($50.6 million), Malcolm X ($48.1 million) and The Preacher's Wife ($48.1 million). Training Day also looks certain to make more than The Bone Collector ($66.5 million) and Courage Under Fire ($59 million).
Bruce Willis is obviously hoping that last weekend's anthrax scare in New York was what kept audiences away from Bandits. That was the reason offered by MGM as to why the well-reviewed heist yarn failed to topple Training Day. Bandits opened with $13 million--par for Willis' recent comedies--and has made off with $15.7 million through Wednesday. At this pace, Bandits could match the $57.2 million that The Whole Nine Yards earned in 1999.
Not even the worst reviews of the year deterred audiences from watching Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan pose as a FBI agent. Having collared $10.3 million through Wednesday, Corky Romano should enjoy a profitable second weekend given that interest is fading in Ben Stiller's fashion satire Zoolander ($36.5 million through Wednesday).
Also winding down is the Michael Douglas thriller Don't Say a Word (an OK $43.1 million through Wednesday) and the Anthony Hopkins supernatural coming-of-age tale Hearts in Atlantis (a disappointing $21.2 million through Wednesday).
Serendipity should continue to lure couples, especially given Riding in Cars with Boys' negative reviews. The John Cusack-Kate Beckinsale New York love story has romanced its way to $28.2 million through Wednesday, having already surpassed the $27.2 million made last year by Cusack's somewhat more jaded take on life and love, High Fidelity.
Iron Monkey dropkicked its way to $7.1 million through Wednesday, after enjoying a $6 million opening. Though unlikely to repeat the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this 1993 classic bowed better than any reissued Jackie Chan adventure. The subtitled Iron Monkey, certain to lose audiences to From Hell, should manage to equal or exceed the $16.2 million that Chan's Supercop arrested in 1996. Let's hope that Iron Monkey's triumph will end the practice of reissuing Chan's classics in their annoyingly dubbed versions.