Way too soon to talk about summer slide

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Summer slide? After two down weekends of ticket sales the doomsayers are already talking about a summer slide, but that's a little premature considering how much broad appeal product there still is that's due to open this summer.

As I pointed out here June 1 in my column "One thing's sure -- June won't be May," we're looking at an entirely different boxoffice dynamic this month than we were in May. Instead of having three spectacular record setting brand name megafranchise three-quel episodes guaranteed to drive ticket sales to new heights, June is depending on an assortment of less exalted sequels and some interesting originals to keep the boxoffice fires burning.

Frankly, it really hasn't been such a terrible month. June's first weekend saw Universal's "Knocked Up" open to $30.1 million, which was a good $5 million more than most Hollywood handicappers had been anticipating for the R rated youth comedy. At this point, it's closing in on $100 million and still showing good legs.

June's second weekend was marked by a $36.1 million launch for Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's "Ocean's Thirteen," which also was a better showing than expected. By now "Ocean's" cume should be around $80 million and the film still has a long hot summer of playing time ahead of it.

June's third weekend was marked by a fantastic kick-off for 20th Century Fox and Marvel Enterprises' "Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer" with $58.1 million. That's about $8 million more than some insiders had speculated would be the case. Moreover, "Surfer's" been riding the daily boxoffice waves very nicely this week and should be nearing $80 million by now with a long way yet to go at the boxoffice.

Clearly, moviegoers have been responding very well to each weekend's prime openings. There have, of course, been some smaller films that haven't worked as well as their distributors hoped for, but the high-profile pictures that the studios were counting on to work well have done so. That's a lot better than last summer when we'd already seen "Mission: Impossible III" underperform and "Poseidon" sink.

Comparisons between one summer and another are always tricky because the flow of product varies a lot from year to year. This time around the first weekend in June was basically flat with last year in terms of how key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more --- performed. Both years saw approximately $129 million in weekend grosses. The comparable weekend of 2006 saw Universal's opening of "The Break Up" finish first with $39.2 million. While that's a better showing than "Knocked Up" had, it should be remembered that "Break" starred a high-profile celebrity couple at the time -- Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn -- who were making real-life breakup headlines. And with its PG-13 rating, "Break" was accessible to a broader audience than "Knocked" is with its R rating.

The second weekend in June saw key films gross nearly $130 million this year versus almost $148 million in '06, down about 12%. That certainly doesn't sound good, but when we look back at what was happening at the boxoffice a year earlier we see most of the difference is accounted for by how the number one films performed. Last year, Disney's launch of Pixar's "Cars" brought in $60.1 million while "Ocean's Thirteen" did $36.1 million this year. That comparison, however, really isn't valid because there was such different product opening both weekends. You certainly wouldn't expect to see an adult appeal title like "Thirteen" generate a $60 million opening weekend. The fact that the marketplace was down really reflects the different mix of product between two years.

Moreover, while there was a $24 million difference between how "Cars" and "Thirteen" performed, key films were down by only $18 million, which reflects the greater strength shown by other top films this year. "Pirates of the Caribbean" was second with $21.1 million while a year earlier "Break Up" was second with $20.3 million. "Knocked Up" was third with $19.6 million versus Fox's "X-Men: The Last Stand" last year in third place with $16.1 million. Sony's "Surf's Up" was fourth with $17.6 million compared to $16 million for Fox's "The Omen" a year ago. And DreamWorks and Paramount's "Shrek the Third" was fifth with $15.3 million while last summer Sony's "The Da Vinci Code" was fifth with $10.4 million. So while the weekend was down 12%, this summer's marketplace was healthier.

In the third weekend in June key films did nearly $141 million, down about 5% from about $148 million last summer. Here, too, there are interesting differences between the product flow year to year. Last year this weekend was topped by "Cars" with $33.7 million in its second weekend. There were, however, two wide openings targeted to under-25s that each generated over $20 million -- Paramount and Nickelodeon's "Nacho Libre" in second place with $28.3 million and Universal's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" in third place with nearly $24 million. Fourth place went to Warners and Village Roadshow' opening of "The Lake House" with $13.6 million. "Break" was fifth with $9.8 million.

The dynamics were different this year in June's third weekend. There were only two new wide releases -- "Surfer" was first and Warners' "Nancy Drew" was seventh with $6.8 million. So aside from "Surfer," the top five consisted of titles in their second, third or fourth weekends. There was no impact from additional openings the way there was this time last summer.

Looking ahead, it's way too soon to start fretting about a summer slide. This weekend, for instance, has good grossing potential with Universal's opening of its comedy semi-sequel "Evan Almighty," directed by Tom Shadyac and starring Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman. "Evan's" family friendly PG rating, Carell's post-"40-Year-Old Virgin" popularity, the film's likely appeal to the large Christian moviegoing audience between the coasts and the fact that it only runs about 90 minutes allows for many, many showings are all good reasons to anticipate some almighty big numbers.

This weekend is also bringing a potential summer sleeper in Paramount Vantage's R rated drama "A Mighty Heart," directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman. Driven by Jolie's celebrity brand and by the tragic real life story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, murdered in Pakistan in 2002, "Heart" could do jolly well with moviegoers.

Next Wednesday will see Fox launch "Live Free or Die Hard," directed by Len Wiseman and starring Bruce Willis, the fourth in its franchise and the first one to open since 1995. The film's PG-13 rating will make it accessible to a younger audience than the first three R rated "Die Hard" episodes and that could translate into some heavy boxoffice action.

June 29 should see some tasty business for Disney's release of Pixar's computer animated family film "Ratatouille," directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava with such voice talents as Patton Oswalt and Brad Garrett. With its G rating, Pixar brand name and muscular marketing support, "Ratatouille" should do its share to keep the boxoffice very healthy.

June 29 will see the expansion of Michael Moore's PG-13 rated documentary "Sicko" from The Weinstein Co. and Lionsgate. Despite the fact that the film's already been pirated and people have been downloading it on the Internet, Moore's high-profile and ability to generate media coverage for anything he does could still give "Sicko" a healthy boxoffice run.

June 29 leads into the July Fourth holiday period, which this year is more spread out than usual because the Fourth falls on a Wednesday. July 3 has a potential blockbuster in DreamWorks and Paramount's "Transformers," directed by Michael Bay and starring Shia La Beouf. With its PG-13 rating, holiday driven playing time and high-profile robot roots, "Transformers" could deliver a midsummer boxoffice boost.

Also arriving July 3 is Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's romantic comedy "License to Wed," directed by Ken Kwapis and starring Robin Williams, Mandy Moore and John Krasinski. "Wed" will be good counterprogramming to "Transformers" and with its PG-13 rating and comedy credentials it could add a few good laughs to the July Fourth boxoffice results.

As the summer progresses there are more likely hits in the pipeline. July 11 will bring Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," directed by David Yates and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. July 20 is opening day for New Line's PG rated musical comedy "Hairspray," directed by Adam Shankman and starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken. Also arriving July 20 is Universal's R rated comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Jessica Biel. And the month should end on a strong note with Fox's July 27 release of its animated "The Simpsons Movie," directed by David Silverman with such voice talents as Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner.

Meanwhile, early August looks promising, as well. Aug. 3 sees Universal's launch of its three-quel "The Bourne Ultimatum," directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Matt Damon and Julia Stiles. Also arriving Aug. 3 is Disney's PG rated live action and animated family film "Underdog," directed by Frederik Du Chau and starring James Belushi and Peter Dinklage. Aug. 8 will bring Sony's PG rated family comedy "Daddy Day Camp," directed by Fred Savage and starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. Aug. 10 boasts New Line's PG-13 rated three-quel "Rush Hour 3," directed by Brett Ratner and starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker" and Paramount's PG-13 rated fantasy "Stardust," directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Claire Danes, Charlie Cox and Sienna Miller.

All of these titles look sight unseen as though they could make some big contributions to the summer success Hollywood's hoping to see. There are, of course, many other lower-profile films arriving in the coming weeks and some of these, too, could strengthen the boxoffice. Clearly, the summer of '07 still has a long way to go before anyone should be judging the results.

Filmmaker flashbacks: From Aug. 2, 1989's column: "Imagine Entertainment's 'Parenthood,' which Universal opens today at approximately 1,200 screens, drew a warm and enthusiastic response Monday at its Directors Guild of America theater world premiere by the AFI Associates of the American Film Institute...

"Its producer, Brian Grazer, who with (director Ron) Howard is Imagine's chief executive officer, was my guest Sunday on The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Movietime cable network series. It was Howard, according to Grazer, who conceived 'Parenthood': 'The first two movies Ron and I did, 'Night Shift' and 'Splash,' were ideas that were mine. Ron has had ideas for movies, but he's never really said, 'Let's do one of mine' and focused on it in that way, whereas I would push forward and do those kinds of things. But he had an idea and it was essentially this movie and he'd bring it up periodically. Then he'd retreat from the idea. I said, 'Ron, this is the greatest idea for a movie,' because the way it struck me it was sort of an 'American Graffiti' about parenthood and families and it seemed so accessible. Eventually I just said, 'You've got to do this movie somehow.'

"It helps, of course, not to have to go after financing or approval for the projects you want to do. 'Now that we have this company, there was no one else to say yes or no other than us,' explains Grazer. 'So we went and got Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who also wrote 'Night Shift' and 'Splash' for us. We had great success with them.

"With this idea, since it was financed by our company, it was a much more efficient way of working. It took a lot less time than any normal development deal. 'Splash,' for example, took five or six years. 'Night Shift' took the same thing. With this movie, from the point we started talking about it to the time we decided we'd make it was only about a year. That's very, very fast and a very efficient way of working...'"

Update: "Parenthood" opened Aug. 2, 1989 via Universal to $10.5 million at 1,262 theaters ($8,325 per theater) and went on to do $100 million domestically. It was 1989's ninth biggest grossing film.

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.
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