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Box Office: Weekend Predictions

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May 11, 2009 | 1:11pm EDT

“A real movie.” That’s the phrase that one of my industry sources used to describe Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount), which debuts this Friday at 3,500 or so locations and on more than 4,500 screens. The movie reunites Hollywood’s hottest young star, Shia LaBeouf, with his director from the surprise hit Disturbia, DJ Caruso, and industry tracking is pointing toward a spectacular opening.

It is very hard to bet against LaBeouf, whose last 2 movies, Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, have grossed a combined $635M domestic and $1.5B worldwide. Prior to those sure-fire blockbusters came Disturbia, a nifty little Hitchcockian genre pic released last spring demonstrating the 22-year-old actor’s real appeal. He’s the classic everyman and, while some compared his performance to Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, I agree with New York Daily News critic Elizabeth Weitzman, who wrote he is, “More John Cusack than Jimmy Stewart.”

Eagle Eye turns the Disturbia premise on its ear. In this yarn, LaBeouf isn’t “the watcher,” he’s “the watched.” According to tracking data, Under 25’s are buying into the surveillance paranoia suggested in trailers and TV ads. It feels very contemporary. Your BlackBerry can kill you--or at least tell “them” where you are at every moment. Technology is ubiquitous, and there is no escape. In reality, Caruso is really mining the great Alfred Hitchcock again. Think of a modern-day North by Northwest riff with LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan instead of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

Director Caruso’s first mainstream box office success was Taking Lives, starring Angelina Jolie ($11.4M opening--$32.2M cume), but then he took a step back with the critical and commercial failure Two For the Money ($8.7M opening--$23M cume), starring Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino. He struck paydirt with Disturbia, which opened with $22.2M then showed real playability to the tune of $80.2M domestic, and now he has LaBeouf in tow again. Eagle Eye will almost certainly be the director’s all-time biggest opening with something in the $28M range.

Females 25 Plus are showing great interest in the Warner Bros. romantic tear-jerker Nights in Rodanthe at over 2,500 locations on Friday. This is the 3rd film together for Oscar nominees Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Their first pairing was 24 years ago in Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled The Cotton Club ($2.9M opening--$25.9M cume). 18 years later, they teamed up with much better results in Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful, which represented a breakout performance for Lane.

Not only did the actress, married in real life to actor Josh Brolin from the forthcoming W., earn her first Oscar nomination for Unfaithful (who can forget the remarkable sequence on the subway ride after her first dalliance with Olivier Martinez?), she also became the benchmark for graceful aging in Hollywood. Lane remains among the most beautiful actresses in the business and, contrary to Meg Ryan currently starring in The Women, she “appears” to have avoided the “cosmetic enhancement trap.”

Unfaithful scored $14M on opening weekend and generated a nifty $52.7M in its US theatrical run. Countless more have seen it on DVD and cable, and it is fair to say that older women are excited about seeing Lane and Gere together again. Add the fact that Nights in Rodanthe is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, like the 2004 surprise hit The Notebook, and you have the makings of a good solid box office performance. The $10M-$13M range seems about right for Rodanthe, and I am calling for the high end of that range.

Last week’s winner Lakeview Terrace (Sony) will likely be #3 this weekend, down about 55% to $6.75M, while Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna (Disney) will battle the Coen brothers’ strong-holding Burn After Reading for 4th. St. Anna is the 3rd new wide release this week, but it will open at a decidedly limited 1,100 or so locations. Lee has never been a movie hit-maker, but he had been more “commercially tone deaf” than usual for well over a decade until 2006’s Inside Man ($28.9M opening--$88.5M cume).

Spike has never been “Mr. Warmth,” but he has made some critical press blunders in advance of the release of Miracle at St. Anna. Picking a fight with industry icon Clint Eastwood is not smart. Complaining that he is a victim of “West coast bias” in Oscar voting is a mistake. Hollywood is talking about his new James McBride-penned WWII saga for all the wrong reasons. It remains to be seen just how strong the critical reaction to Miracle at St. Anna will be, but early reviews are on the negative side (33% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday morning). Tracking is so-so and moviegoers have shown very little interest in war-themed films in the last couple of years, but the picture should be able to deliver $5,000-$5,500 per location for approximately $5.8M.

There are 3 more limited releases of note this week led by actor-turned-director Clark Gregg’s Choke (Fox Searchlight), based on Chuck Palahniuk’s bestselling novel. On about 400 screens, the edgy pic, starring Sam Rockwell and Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston, could grab $4,500-$5,000 per location for an opening weekend approaching $2M.

Meanwhile, The Lucky Ones (Lionsgate), a new movie from director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) opening on 400 or so screens, will play a bit softer than Choke. Iraq War veterans, played by Oscar winner Tim RobbinsRachel McAdams (The Notebook) and Michael Pena (Crash), on a cross-country road trip dealing with a nation divided by a controversial war is a premise badly in need of excellent reviews to succeed, and the movie is running at only 36% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes as of Wednesday morning. Still, a PTA of $2,000-$2,500 is possible for a weekend gross of something shy of $1M.

Finally, Crane Movie Company is attempting to roll out a new vehicle featuring Sean Faris, the star of Never Back Down. There isn't much traction for the almost-as-generically-titled rugby movie Forever Strong, and it seems that an estimated $350,000 is in the cards.

FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 26

1. NEW – Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $28M

2. NEW – Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros) - $12.9M

3. Lakeview Terrace (Sony) - $6.75M

4. NEW – Miracle at St. Anna (Disney) - $5.8M

5. Burn After Reading (Focus) - $5.7M

6. Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) - $3.8M

7. Righteous Kill (Overture) - $3.7M

8. My Best Friend's Girl (Lionsgate) - $3.5M

9. Igor (MGM) - $3.1M

10. The Women (Picturehouse) - $3M

*NEW - Choke (Fox Searchlight) - $2M

*NEW - The Lucky Ones (Lionsgate) - $900,000

*NEW – Forever Strong (Crane Movie Company) - $350,000

Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.

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