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B.O. Weekend Tracking: 'Hulk' Headed for $60M; 'Happening' Doomed

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Jun 13, 2008 | 6:04am EDT

Hollywood is destined for one big hit this weekend and one monumental miss. Marvel Studios is about to demonstrate that Iron Man (Paramount) was no fluke while M. Night Shyamalan’s career seems headed for another disaster of mythic proportions.

Marvel has audaciously re-booted Incredible Hulk (Universal) just five years after Ang Lee’s brooding version of the big green guy met with a lukewarm reception. The newly-minted studio has added the word Incredible to the title, bringing on Transporter director Louis Leterrier and Academy Award nominee Edward Norton, and they are essentially ignoring the 2003 film. Rabid fanboys who have seen the new version are literally ‘eating it up’ and, surprisingly, critics seem to like it, too. Incredible Hulk is rated 73 percent Fresh as of Thursday night on Rotten Tomatoes and the new superhero pic is rated 69 percent Positive at MetaCritic.

I went out on a limb with Iron Man and called for a $100M opening weekend (the movie fell just short at $98.61M), but Incredible Hulk will not get near that number (although I subscribe to William Goldman’s show business adage ‘Nobody knows anything’). Hardcore comic book fans and Marvel junkies are buzzing about $70M or $80M or even higher. Industry tracking and the marketplace just do not support numbers that big.

My sources tell me that Incredible Hulk is currently tracking in the double digits in Un-Aided Awareness, but lower than Iron Man at the same point in its marketing cycle. The new Incredible Hulk has Total Awareness of 95 percent+ in all four quadrants, but that is because everyone knows the big green monster. In the most important tracking data, Iron Man opened with an astounding 54 percent Definite Interest and a 40 percent First Choice score compared to Definite Interest in the low 40’s and First Choice in the high 20s for Incredible Hulk.

Also, the Louis Leterrier-directed comic book movie is opening in a crowded marketplace. Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda (Paramount) will hold very strongly, especially with kids, Adam Sandler’s You Don't Mess with the Zohan could score another $18M, Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) continues to play well with family audiences and a few hapless moviegoers will stumble in to see The Happening (Fox).

Universal is telling all who will listen that they will be very happy with $45M and long legs, but I think Incredible Hulk will be slightly more “incredible.” My final call is for $55M-$60M, and that will be a very good opening. In fact, that would make Incredible Hulk one of the Top 10 comic book adaptations of all-time.

ALL-TIME TOP 20 OPENINGS FOR COMIC BOOK ADAPTATIONS

1. Spider-Man 3: $151.11M

2. Spider-Man: $114.84M

3. X-Men: The Last Stand: $102.75M

4. Iron Man: $98.61M

5. Spider-Man 2: $88.15M

6. X2: X-Men United: $85.55M

7. 300: $70.88M

8. Hulk (2003): $62.12M

9. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: $60.23M

10. Fantastic Four: $56.06M

11. X-Men: $54.47M

12. Batman Forever: $52.78M

13. Superman Returns: $52.53M

14. Men in Black II: $52.14M

15. Men in Black: $51.06M

16. Batman Begins: $48.74M

17. Batman Returns: $45.68M

18. Ghost Rider: $45.38M

19. Batman & Robin: $42.87M

20. Batman: $40.48M

Incredible Hulk will also be a new career-best for Leterrier, whose previous-best was Transporter 2, which opened to $16.54M and finished with a $43M domestic cume. Plus, it will easily be the best opening ever for an Edward Norton film.

ALL-TIME BEST EDWARD NORTON OPENINGS

1. Red Dragon: $36.54M

2. Kingdom of Heaven: $19.63M

3. The Italian Job: $19.45M

4. The Score: $19.01M

5. Fight Club: $11.03M

Ang Lee's Hulk opened to $62.12M, but played out with a miserable 2.12 multiple for $132.17M (the multiple is established by dividing the total domestic box office by the opening weekend). With excellent reviews and positive word-of-mouth, there is no reason why a multiple of at least 2.75 would not apply to Incredible Hulk, pushing the movie to $150M-$165M domestic.

It will be almost impossible for Shyamalan’s The Happening to defy terrible industry tracking and even worse reviews (15 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and 40 percent Positive on MetaCritic). It is easy to take shots at the Indian-born, Philadelphia-raised director. After making what might be one of the finest movies of all-time, The Sixth Sense, he has struggled. It is tempting to say that Shyamalan is to film what Dexy’s Midnight Runners is to the recording business. The Sixth Sense is his "Come On Eileen."

M. NIGHT RESUME

1998: Wide Awake; $96,000 opening; $282,000 domestic

1999: The Sixth Sense; $26.68M opening; $293.5M cume

2000: Unbreakable; $30.33M opening; $95M cume

2002: Signs; $60.11M opening; $227.96M cume

2004: The Village; $50.74M opening; $114.19M cume

2006: Lady in the Water; $18M opening; $42.28M cume

That is, however, very unfair. I, for one, loved Unbreakable, which had a subtle ‘twist’ that I never saw coming. Then came Signs, which was solid and scary until the silly ending. Shyamalan derailed, for me, with The Village. Twenty minutes in I wanted to stand up and say, ‘It’s present day.’ I think he began to lose fans with The Village, and 2006’s Lady in the Water, which was self-indulgent and painful to watch, scared away his remaining supporters.

It seems to me that Shyamalan is in the same position that Orson Welles was in after he co-wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane. Welles was just 25, and it must be daunting for your first film to be deemed a masterpiece. After Citizen Kane, despite occasional flashes of genius like A Touch of Evil, which he adapted, starred in and directed, he had nowhere to go but down.

I am not comparing The Sixth Sense to Citizen Kane, but M. Night Shyamalan was 32 when he was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for that supernatural thriller. It is also the 27th-best grossing film of all-time with $293.5M and over $670M worldwide. It cannot be easy for him wonder if he will ever reach those heights again. And, let’s be honest. After, arguably, the biggest twist in film history, can M. Night Shyamalan ever truly surprise an audience again’

I will be stunned if The Happening tops $25M this weekend. The reviews are not entirely negative, so I am putting this one in the $18M-$23M range.

FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE JUNE 13 WEEKEND

1. Incredible Hulk - $57.75M

2. Kung Fu Panda - $37.9M

3. The Happening (Fox) - $20M

4. Sex and the City (Warner Bros) - $13.2M

5. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (Paramount) - $13M

6. The Strangers (Rogue) - $5M

7. Iron Man (Paramount) - $4.5M

8. Prince Caspian (Disney) - $3.2M

9. What Happens in Vegas (Fox) - $1.9M

10. The Visitor (Overture) - $425,000

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