Cupid brings early bows
EmptyCupid has a soft spot for Hollywood this year.
There are four wide openers set for this weekend, and all are set to unspool on Valentine's Day. That's a first-ever bunch of boxoffice debutants bowing a day early on the heart-tugging holiday, which often draws distributor affections during the following weekend.
In 2002, there were five wide openers on the Friday following the holiday, and in 1991, three films bowed during the post-Cupid Day weekend. But there's no precedent for such a chorus of execs proclaiming: "Valentine's Day on a Thursday? Let's go a day early!"
To understand their enthusiasm, consider, too, that the wide openers essentially will enjoy a five-day bow, as Monday is Presidents Day. The cherry pie holiday already makes for a four-day, so with Valentine's Day stimulating extra moviegoing, ever-optimistic distributors are hoping for a win-win situation over the long boxoffice session.
"Valentine's Day has become a very strong-grossing day over the past couple years," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said. "And with Presidents Day on Monday making a five-day weekend, it became obvious to everyone this could be the start of something very good."
Valentine's openers include Disney's dance sequel "Step Up 2 the Streets," a Summit Entertainment co-production. But Fox's sci-fi thriller "Jumper," which has been heavily promoted in TV ads including a Super Bowl spot, is something of a prohibitive No. 1 on the frame.
Also opening wide will be the family fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles," a children's book fantasy adaptation from Paramount, and romantic comedy "Definitely, Maybe" from Universal, the first distributor to slot an early holiday bow.
Limited openers include George A. Romero's "Diary of the Dead," the first title from the Weinstein Co.'s new genre label, Third Rail Releasing. The horror film is set for 42 theaters starting Friday.
"Jumper," rated PG-13 and starring Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson, looks safe to do at least $30 million during the five-day period.
"It's unique, original and plays to everyone," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said.
The PG-rated "Spiderwick" should easily top $25 million during the long weekend. Par execs expect to attract 8- to 15-year-olds, and they're hoping those young patrons will purchase tickets with their parents in tow.
"Step Up 2" follows a high-steppin' franchise progenitor that bowed during a three-day frame in August 2006 with $20.7 million and grossed $65.3 million overall domestically. If the urban-skewing film plays just a bit more broadly than the original, the PG-13 pic could nip at the heels of "Spiderwick" for the silver-medal position this weekend.
"Definitely, Maybe" also is rated PG-13 and stars Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin and Isla Fisher. The most obvious Valentine's Day fare of the bunch, "Maybe" might be a bit hampered by a recent glut of female-skewing films in the marketplace.
More helpfully, Working Title-produced romantic comedies -- such as "Bridget Jones's Diary" or "Love, Actually" -- tend to be slow burners. So boxoffice for "Maybe" might build during subsequent frames, based on anticipated positive word-of-mouth, execs said.
Meanwhile, industry figures hope to get back into the win column after a recent rare downtick last weekend, when compared with the same frame last year. Before that weekend, there had been seven consecutive year-over-year improvements in a red-hot boxoffice winter.
Year-to-date, 2008 is 17% ahead of the same portion of last year at $1.07 billion.