Holiday weekends will drive 2007 boxoffice

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Holiday hopes: Although Hollywood likes to call movies a 52-week-a-year business, the fact is it's holiday weekends that really drive the boxoffice.

Looking ahead as the New Year starts to unfold, that same pattern will prevail as distributors target four-day holiday weekends for the release of films with the biggest boxoffice potential. Based on distribution schedules already circulating for 2007, which obviously are subject to change in the coming months, here's a look at what to expect in terms of holiday boxoffice action in terms of wide or limited releases. Overall, it's a promising slate of high profile product that's scheduled to occupy this prime real estate on the 2007 calendar.

With this weekend, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday period, the amount of new product coming into the marketplace is positively staggering. Megaplexes will be crammed with openings as well as with holdover films from December expanding their runs to take advantage of expanded moviegoing over the year's first four-day holiday weekend.

The picture that seems likely to make the weekend's biggest impact is Paramount and DreamWorks' expansion to about 2,000 theaters of its Golden Globes best picture-musical or comedy contender "Dreamgirls." Directed by Bill Condon, it stars Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Anika Noni Rose, Keith Robinson and Jennifer Hudson.

The rest of the holiday weekend pack includes Universal's launch of the drama "Alpha Dog," directed by Nick Cassavetes and starring Bruce Willis; MGM's wide release of the family fantasy adventure "Arthur and the Invisibles," directed by Luc Besson and starring David Bowie, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon and Robert De Niro; Sony Pictures Classics' expansion of "Curse of the Golden Flower," directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li.

Also, Paramount's expansion of "Freedom Writers," the drama directed by Richard LaGravenese and starring Hilary Swank; Warner Bros.' limited release of Clint Eastwood's Japanese language World War II drama "Letters From Iwo Jima," starring Ken Watanabe; MGM's wide release of The Weinstein Company's biographical drama "Miss Potter," directed by Chris Noonan and starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor; Warner Independent Pictures' expansion of the period piece drama "The Painted Veil," directed by John Curran and starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton; Picturehouse's expansion of the fantasy drama "Pan's Labyrinth," directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Sergi Lopez; Disney's opening of the action adventure "Primeval," directed by Michael R. Kattleman and starring Dominic Purcell and Orlando Jones; and Sony's launch of the drama "Stomp the Yard," directed by Sylvain White and starring Columbus Short.

There's much less of a megaplex logjam For February's four-day Presidents Day holiday, which runs Friday-Monday, Feb. 16-19. Sony and Revolution Studios have a high-profile wide launch in the Marvel Comics based action adventure "Ghost Rider," directed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes.

Universal is opening the suspense thriller "Breach," directed by Billy Ray and starring Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney; Disney is launching the family live action-animated feature "Bridge to Terabithia," directed by Gabor Csupo and starring Josh Hutcherson; and The Weinstein Company has the limited release of the foreign drama "Days of Glory," directed by Rachid Bouchareb and starring Bernard Blancan.

Three distributors will compete to get a jump on the holiday weekend with openings set for Wed., Feb. 14. Warner Bros. has a strong contender in its launch of the romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics," directed by Marc Lawrence and starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. IFC Films has the limited release of the documentary "Close to Home," directed by Georg Hartmann. And Lionsgate Films has the opening of the romantic comedy "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls," starring Gabrielle Union.

The Easter holiday weekend floats between March and April depending on the year. This time around Easter Sunday is April 8, but the weekend is three days rather than four (although some people will be off from work or school on Monday, April 9). Hollywood will celebrate with four wide releases targeted to Easter weekend moviegoers.

The Weinstein Company's Dimension Films label has the weekend's potentially strongest opening in the horror film "Grind House," whose twin features are directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Planet Terror") and Quentin Tarantino ("Death Proof"). The films' large casts include such stars as Freddy Rodriguez, Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson.

Also on deck are Miramax's R-rated biographical drama "The Hoax," directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and Stanley Tucci; Sony and Revolution Studios' family comedy "Are We Done Yet?" directed by Steve Carr and starring Ice Cube and Nia Long; and MGM's R-rated comedy "Charlie Bartlett," directed by Jon Poll and starring Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis.

Memorial Day weekend in May, of course, marks the official start of Hollywood's summer movie season. The four-day holiday weekend will run Friday-Monday, May 25-28. As things now stand -- and as they probably will continue to stand -- there's only one new wide release sailing into theaters for Memorial Day weekend. It's Disney's latest franchise episode "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," once again produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Considering that the last episode in the "Pirates" franchise grossed $423.3 million domestically and was 2006's top grossing movie, the new episode is a safe bet to do blockbuster business, too.

Another film that's likely to do big business over Memorial Day weekend is Paramount and DreamWorks' animated franchise episode "Shrek the Third," directed by Chris Miller and Raman Hui and featuring the vocal talents of such stars as Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas and Rupert Everett. Paramount is launching its new "Shrek" episode May 18, which means that its second weekend in theaters is the long Memorial Day holiday weekend. Typically, films that open the weekend before a holiday weekend wind up grossing over their second weekend (i.e., the holiday weekend) about as much as they did their first weekend. This boxoffice one-two punch combination is a great way to generate a huge cumulative gross very quickly.

There are no four-day holiday weekends in June, but Hollywood has found a way to extend the July Fourth holiday period so that it straddles the end of June and the beginning of July. This year July Fourth is on a Wednesday, so Friday, June 29, will start the six-day holiday period that should produce some mega-sized grosses. There was a time when July Fourth wasn't a particularly great weekend for moviegoing because people were oriented to doing things outdoors like swimming, boating, going to picnics and viewing fireworks. In recent years, however, people have made time in their July Fourth schedules to see whatever blockbuster popcorn movie has descended on megaplexes. This year should be no different.

Fox has a potentially huge contender in the action adventure sequel "Live Free or Die Hard," directed by Len Wiseman and starring Bruce Willis. And Disney has what's likely to be a hefty hit in Pixar's new computer animated family feature "Ratatouille," directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava and featuring such voice talents as Brad Garrett, Patton Oswalt and John Ratzenberger.

Wednesday, July 4, itself, will see two wide openings. Paramount and DreamWorks has a major contender in the live action-animated action adventure fantasy "Transformers," directed by Michael Bay and starring Shia La Beouf, Megan Fox, Travis Van Winkler, Jon Voight, Bernie Mac and many others. While "Transformers" will play younger, Warner Bros. will play to a more adult audience with its opening of the romantic comedy "License to Wed," directed by Ken Kwapis, starring Robin Williams and Mandy Moore.

August doesn't boast any holiday weekends of its own, but Friday, Aug. 31,  will lead into Labor Day weekend because this year Labor Day is early -- falling on Monday, Sept. 3. Although Labor Day typically isn't a great holiday weekend because for many people it's the last gasp of summer and they want to be outdoors if at all possible. Nonetheless, Hollywood will be there to do as much business as it can.

The Weinstein Company's Dimension Films label has what's likely to be a strong contender in Rod Zombie's "Halloween 2007," which explores the origins of Michael Myers, the series' infamous villain. Sony will be competing with the R rated comedy "Brothers Solomon" from Screen Gems and Revolution Studios, directed by Will Forte and starring Will Arnett and Will Forte. And Focus Features will open the drama "Atonement" in limited release, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn and Vanessa Redgrave.

October brings the four-day Columbus Day holiday weekend. Although the holiday itself isn't a big deal in many parts of the country, it's still a legal federal holiday and that's good enough for Hollywood. Columbus Day weekend will run Friday-Monday, Oct. 5-8, and as things now stand there are five wide openings heading for theaters.

Warner Bros. will launch the horror film "Bryan Singer's Trick R Treat," directed by Michael Dougherty -- Singer is one of several producers -- starring Brian Cox and Anna Paquin. Disney will open the family comedy "The Game Plan," directed by Andy Fickman and starring Dwane "The Rock" Johnson and Kyra Sedgwick. Universal is going with the biographical drama "The Golden Age," directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett. And Paramount and DreamWorks have a romantic comedy opening in "The Seven Day Itch," directed by The Farrelly Brothers (Bobby & Peter) and starring Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman and Michelle Monaghan. And Sony has the suspense thriller "Vantage Point," directed by Pete Travis and starring Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver.

Hollywood really loves November because it includes two holiday weekends. Veterans Day is celebrated every Nov. 11 and this year it falls on a Sunday. The holiday weekend will kick off Fri., Nov. 9, with one big wide release -- Warner Bros.' launch of the comedy "Fred Claus," directed by David Dobkin and starring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti. Focus Features will go out with a limited release of the drama "Reservation Road," directed by Terry George and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino.

November's other holiday weekend, of course, is Thanksgiving, which is one of Hollywood's most favorite weekends of the year. This year Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 22. Hollywood will start celebrating the holiday Wed., Nov. 21, with two wide releases -- Disney's live action-animated family fantasy "Enchanted," directed by Kevin Lima and starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey; and The Weinstein Company's Dimension Label horror film "The Mist," directed by Frank Darabont.

That brings us to December and, needless to say, Christmas. With Dec. 25 falling on a Tuesday this year, the Christmas weekend will kick off Fri., Dec. 21. As of now, there are three wide releases set for Dec. 21 and one wide release to greet us Dec. 25.

Friday's trio includes: Disney's franchise episode "National Treasure 2," produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Jon Turtletaub and starring Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Jon Voight and Harvey Keitel; Fox's fantasy action adventure "AVP 2," directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause and starring Reiko Aylesworth and Steven Pasquale; and Lionsgate's horror thriller "The Eye," directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud and starring Jessica Alba and Goran Visnjic.

Christmas Day will see the arrival of Universal's very high-profile biographical drama "Charlie Wilson's War," directed by Mike Nichols and starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

New Year's Day 2008 falls on a Tuesday, so Friday, Dec. 28, will kick off that extended holiday period. And while it's a little too soon to talk about what's opening then, you can definitely count on Hollywood to be there with lots or product to help moviegoers ring out the old and ring in the New Year!

Filmmaker flashbacks: From Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 1988's columns: "It's a good idea to keep an eye on pictures going into limited release for the holidays. Often enough, they turn out to be some of the New Year's biggest moneymakers ...

"This holiday season will see a number of limited openings, including Buena Vista/Touchstone's 'Beaches,' a drama directed by Garry Marshall and starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. 'Beaches' doesn't arrive until Dec. 21 and Marshall is currently in the thick of post-production ...

"This is Marshall's fifth feature film, following such comedies as 'Overboard' with Goldie Hawn, 'Nothing in Common' with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason, 'The Flamingo King' with Matt Dillon and 'Young Doctors in Love' with Michael McKean. 'Anytime a film opens I'm always very nervous about it, but I'm very, very pleased with this film because I was just so thrilled with the performances of Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey,' Marshall notes...

"This is Midler's first serious film since 'The Rose' and the first since then in which she sings. Does Marshall anticipate any resistance from audiences accustomed by now to seeing Midler do comedy? 'I don't believe so,' he replies. 'This is a fascinating story about two women that spans 30 years and in 30 years there are a lot of laughs. That's part of what the friendship is about. So people who go to see Bette Midler make them laugh, will laugh. But the story, itself, has a dramatic base. I don't think the audience will be at all disappointed. It is Bette Midler, I think, at her best doing so many different things in this picture ...'

"(One) problem Marshall faced was being in production during the writers strike: 'It was a directing challenge for me because I am basically a writer and that's a tool I always use when I direct. If a scene is not quite working, I'll sit down and rewrite it. In this case I couldn't do that. I would not write during the strike. So I had to find ways of doing it as a director with the camera or movement or something and that was very challenging. It was a whole different experience and, I think, I'm far better for it. The girls both can improvise a bit, but we had a very good script going in ..."

Update: "Beaches" had a huge limited opening Dec. 23, 1988 to $198,361 at 7 theaters ($28,337 per theater). It went wide Jan. 13, 1989 to a strong $5.2 million at 706 theaters ($7,309) and went on to gross $57 million domestically, making it 1988's 15th biggest film.
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