Wisely receiving a two-week jump on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Monsters, Inc. looks set to effortlessly scare the aliens and ghosts that currently dominate the box office all the way back to whence they came.
This wonderful computer-animated escapade from Disney/Pixar should mesmerize the rugrats who adored the Toy Story yarns. Parents also will giggle at the misadventures of two friendly monsters, voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, while enjoying nods to the likes of Armageddon and legendary stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen.
That wide appeal will guarantee Monsters, Inc. the most lucrative opening since American Pie 2 bowed Aug. 10 with $45.1 million. Disney/Pixar can expect Monsters, Inc. to exceed the openings of such previous collaborations as Toy Story ($29.1 million) and A Bug's Life ($33.2 million), both of which benefited from a Thanksgiving holiday weekend debut. Toy Story 2 also opened during Thanksgiving, and consequently enjoyed a November-best $57.3 million opening. Monsters, Inc. won't topple Toy Story 2 by virtue of opening on a non-holiday weekend. Still, Disney/Pixar can count on an opening that will beat the month's second-highest opener, last year's Charlie's Angels ($40.1 million). Plus, showing the eagerly awaited Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones trailer before Monsters, Inc. can't hurt.
Monsters, Inc. will no doubt enjoy a two-week reign at the top of the box office, then take a tumble when blockbuster-in-waiting Harry Potter flies into theaters Nov. 17. Even then, Monsters, Inc. will likely serve as the alternative for parents who can't squeeze into one of the many thousands of screens showing Harry Potter. Monsters, Inc. should wind up with a total somewhere between Toy Story's $191.7 million and Toy Story 2's $245.8 million.
The brave souls going up against Monsters, Inc.: Jet Li and John Travolta. Both headline PG-13 rated thrillers, which should enable them to attract significant audiences, but martial arts sensation Li clearly holds an edge over the currently out-of-favor Travolta.
The first sci-fi epic since August's Ghosts of Mars, The One pits Li against Li. He plays different versions of himself from alternate universes, including a cop and the vicious killer out for his blood. Martial arts practitioners enjoy acting as their own co-stars, what with Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons ($7.8 million) and Jean-Claude Van Damme's Double Impact ($29 million), Maximum Risk ($14.1 million) and his direct-to-video Replicant.
Directed by Final Destination's James Wong, The One and its futuristic trappings will propel Li to his biggest opening as a lead. The Shakespearean-inspired Romeo Must Die opened in March 2000 with $18 million and peaked at $55.9 million. The subdued and clumsy Kiss of the Dragon made $13.3 million in July, ending up with only $36.8 million.
Travolta, meanwhile, is struggling to overcome a box-office slump that began with last year's Battlefield Earth and Lucky Numbers. Playing a patriotic cyberterrorist in the repugnant Swordfish somewhat helped Travolta's cause, but the summer thriller went offline with a modest $69.7 million. Domestic Disturbance, a throwback to such early 1990s homebound thrillers as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The Crush, won't see Travolta break the $100 million barrier but it will allow him to regain his footing. He stars as a divorced father who fears that his son's stepfather (Vince Vaughn) is up to no good.
The extraterrestrial, philosophical ramblings of K-PAX's Kevin Spacey should continue to entrance those not amused by the antics of two goofy monsters. Neither Spacey nor co-star Jeff Bridges are particularly bankable commodities, which made K-PAX's $17.2 million opening last weekend all the more surprising. Its total through Wednesday: $20.4 million. Even more impressive, K-PAX trumped producers Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver's 13 Ghosts, which seemed all the more likely Halloween fare than a tale about a vacationing alien.
13 Ghosts, Zemeckis and Silver's second remake of a William Castle chiller, still managed to frighten $15.1 million from audiences. That's on a par with the duo's The House on Haunted Hill, which opened in 1999 with $15.9 million. With trick-or-treating over and done with, 13 Ghosts should experience a drop similar to the 52 percent decline The House on Haunted Hill endured in its second week. 13 Ghosts' total, through Wednesday, is $18.9 million, so the horror yarn is on pace to match or exceed The House on Haunted Hill's $40.8 million total.
Snoop Dogg's scary efforts met with limited success. Bones, which sees the rap star's murdered neighborhood benefactor return from the grave, opened Oct. 24 and generated $2.8 million during the weekend. Its total through Wednesday: $4.1 million. Bones also will fall out of favor with Halloween's passing, and should disappear quickly from its mere 847 theaters long before Thanksgiving.
Johnny Depp's From Hell, which dropped 45 percent in its second weekend to take in a disappointing $6 million, looks unlikely to make more than the $30 million that his Sleepy Hollow opened with in 1999. The Victorian-era slasher flick, with Depp on the trail of Jack the Ripper, has made $22.3 through Wednesday.
Riding in Cars With Boys, featuring a rare dramatic turn by Drew Barrymore, also took a skid. The Penny Marshall-directed weepie made $6 million in its second weekend, dropping 42 percent. Its total through Wednesday: $20.1 million. At this pace, Riding in Cars With Boys will likely come to halt somewhere just past the $24.1 million that Marshall's turkey Renaissance Man made in 1994.
The gritty Training Day continues to impress, with dirty cop Denzel Washington shaking down $66.1 million through Wednesday. Training Day should surpass this weekend the $66.4 million that Washington's The Bone Collector made in 1999 and could end up matching the $77.3 million that Philadelphia earned in 1997.
Bandits proves that crime doesn't always pay.
Bruce Willis' heist caper tumbled 39 percent in its third weekend to $5 million. This comes after a disheartening $13 million opening that MGM blamed on New York City's anthrax scare. Bandits never recovered, earning just $8.3 million in its second weekend. Its total through Wednesday: $33.1 million. Willis' recent comedic turn as a hit man in The Whole Nine Yards netted him $57.2 million.
Robert Redford must take comfort knowing that co-starring with Brad Pitt in Spy Game, due Nov. 21, will likely reap more bucks than The Last Castle. The military drama is shaping up as Redford's biggest flop since Havana, which earned a disastrous $9.2 million in 1990. The Last Castle, which has taken in $13.6 million through Wednesday, cements Rod Lurie's reputation as a politically minded but unprofitable director.
Still, at least some people have taken a mild interest in The Last Castle. The same cannot be said for On the Line, starring not one but two members of cooling teen heartthrobs 'N Sync. The romance, starring Lance Bass and Joey Fatone, opened last weekend with a less-than-lusty $2.3 million at 900 theaters. That's only slightly better than the terrible $2.4 million that Mariah Carey's Glitter opened with in September at 1,202 theaters. Perhaps pop--at least the soulless kind manufactured by the likes of 'N Sync--really is going bye, bye, bye.