"Reindeer Games" looks like it'll be the only game in town at the box office this weekend.
Based on studio tracking data, Hollywood insiders said the R-rated action-thriller starring Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron is the one film that could wind up with double-digit ticket sales -- possibly as much as $10-12 million.
"The Whole Nine Yards" According to one insider's prediction, the Top Five will stack up this way: "Reindeer Games," "The Whole Nine Yards," "Snow Day," "Hanging Up" and "either "'Pitch Black' or 'The Tigger Movie' -- maybe 'The Tigger Movie.'"
In a poll of moviegoers, "Reindeer Games" was cited as the No. 1 flick of choice by 9 percent of potential audience members, one studio observer said. And that rating was just as of mid-week. By the weekend, the insider said, "it certainly could be up to [a] 10-12 percent first-choice [score]."
So, does all this mean "Reindeer Games" is a lock for No. 1?
"It depends on what 'Whole Nine Yards,' 'Snow Day' and 'Hanging Up' drop," another distribution pro observer replied. "It looks to me like 'Reindeer Games' is going to be somewhere around $8-10 million and 'Wonder Boys' $6-8 million. You've got a whole group of films that was there the previous weekend. ... If they [each] drop 40 percent, they're around $7.8 million. So 'Reindeer Games' could have a chance to be No. 1. There's nothing that's jumping off the page."
Insiders said Paramount decided to launch "Wonder Boys'" on Wednesday rather than Friday to try to capitalize on its favorable reviews, hoping they would spark interest among moviegoers. A Wednesday opening makes review quotes available in time for a film's Friday ads.
"They moved it to Wednesday because they knew that Roger Ebert loved it," one distribution executive said at mid-week. "They had great reviews in Newsweek and Rolling Stone and in the L.A. Times. It's in about 1,200 theaters, but it's only a 4 percent (overall) first choice right now. That's $4-5 million, at best."
As the week progressed, the literary-minded "Wonder Boys," based on Michael Chabon's novel of the same name, did show some tracking improvement, another source said.
"It's a hard story to get across [in marketing]," said an insider who's seen it. "It's a very quirky movie with eccentric characters. It's an entertaining movie. It's a funny movie. But you don't really don't realize that until you go in and sit down and watch it. It's very hard to convey that in TV spots."
"I'm figuring 'Hanging Up's' got to be down 40 percent," a studio source predicted. "You're coming off a weekend with a Sunday that was more like a Saturday. If they're down 40 percent, they're [at an] $8 million [gross]. And they could be down more than that because word of mouth won't be so good."
The studio source predicted that the Bruce Willis-toplined "Whole Nine Yards" would show better legs than the Diane Keaton-directed chick flick. "I think 'Whole Nine Yards' rather than 'Hanging Up' is going to get sampled by people who haven't seen it," he said. "They'll say, 'Well, there's nothing new to see, let's go see 'Whole Nine Yards.'"
Said another source: 'Hanging Up's' word of mouth is very bad. People are not going to embrace that picture. I think it's going to fall apart."
Things continue to look bright for the two family films now playing. The pre-teen comedy "Snow Day" placed third last weekend with $15.3 million while Disney's "The Tigger Movie" finished fifth last weekend with $10.6 million.
"'Snow Day' will be very strong on Friday because there are kids in the Northeast out of school," a distributor said. "So 'Snow Day' could have a 20-25 percent drop and hold up very well this weekend. If it's down only 20 percent, that puts it at $9 million. It's probably in the $8-9 million ballpark."
"The Tigger Movie," he speculated, would finish with as much as $7 million.
The sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black," which opened at No. 4 last weekend with $13.5 million, also looked to end up with about $7 million this weekend, the distributor said.
Expected to fill out the lower rungs on this weekend's chart: ""Boiler Room," ""Scream 3," and Leonardo DiCaprio's ""The Beach."