Silver bells, silver screens
EmptyHollywood is hanging out a number of stockings as Christmas weekend arrives. Among the new movies, broad appeal is the name of the game. Three of the five wide releases this frame carry a PG rating as studios look to lure nice audiences rather than naughty ones.
20th Century Fox's "Night at the Museum," starring Ben Stiller, looks most likely to dominate the weekend. Two sports-themed movies — MGM's "Rocky Balboa," which bowed Wednesday, and Warner Bros. Pictures' "We Are Marshall," based on the 1970 Marshall football team tragedy — also are looking to claim their share of the till. "Rocky" already won its first round, grossing an estimated $6.2 million Wednesday to easily claim the title of top-grossing film for the day.
Universal Pictures' Robert De Niro-directed spy movie "The Good Shepherd" is courting the adult audience.
With Christmas Eve falling on Sunday, that night will be a quiet one at the boxoffice, making prospective weekend totals difficult to predict. On Christmas Day, two other developments will further complicate estimates.
On that day, MGM will target disaffected teens and holiday scrooges as it opens "Black Christmas," a horror flick from the Weinstein Co. Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures will expand "Dreamgirls," which it co-produced with DreamWorks, to 852 theaters. The Bill Condon-directed musical has performed strongly in special "roadshow" engagements that launched in Los Angeles and New York. The combined opening of "Black Christmas" and the wide expansion of "Dreamgirls" could affect the Monday grosses of the four wide releases bowing this week.
Still, it is shaping up to be a big weekend at the "Museum." The Shawn Levy-directed film features a slew of young and veteran comedians. The film stars Stiller as a hapless night watchman at the Museum of Natural History who must combat the creatures that come alive at night. Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan also are cast, along with Owen Wilson in an uncredited cameo. Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke co-star as two old-time watchmen. The film has been generating positive buzz for some time, and insiders put "Museum's" four-day holiday in the $35 million-$40 million range.
"Rocky" has built some momentum with its strong Wednesday bow in 2,752 theaters. The film expands today to 3,017 theaters. Although observers initially viewed it as a joke considering Sylvester Stallone's age — he turned 60 in July — "Rocky" has turned into a comeback story in its own right.
Generating primarily positive reviews (it has earned a 75% positive rating on RottenTomatoes.com), the film, which cost $24 million to produce, should be moving toward profitability by the end of its opening weekend. Stallone revisits the 1976 role that made him famous and spawned numerous sequels, the most recent coming in 1990 with "Rocky V." Stallone also wrote and directed the movie that features Rocky coming out of retirement for one last go-round. Burt Young plays his manager Paulie for the sixth time, and Milo Ventimiglia, most recently known for his TV work on NBC's "Heroes," co-stars as Rocky Jr. The film is on track to generate close to $30 million for its six-day opening run.
Warners will bow the inspirational sports film "Marshall" from director McG ("Charlie's Angels"). The movie centers on the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed the entire Marshall University football team and its coach. Matthew McConaughey stars as the Huntington, W.Va., team's new coach who tries, along with the school's dean (David Strathairn) and the surviving players, to keep the program going. Matthew Fox (ABC's "Lost") co-stars as his assistant coach.
Universal unveils De Niro's "Shepherd" in 2,218 theaters. Centering on the early history of the CIA, "Shepherd" stars Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and De Niro. The film could be handicapped by its nearly three-hour running time, but the stellar cast could help it break through. Industry watchers expect the film to gross in the $10 million-$12 million range.
On Christmas Day, MGM will play against type with "Black Christmas," bowing in 1,278 theaters. A remake of the 1974 horror picture, updated by writer-director Glen Morgan ("Willard"), "Christmas" revolves around a group of sorority sisters who are harassed by menacing phone calls and are killed one by one during their Christmas break. The film has religious groups protesting its Christmas Day release date, which, as most protests do, should add to the movie's profile as provocative counterprogramming.
A slew of limited releases also bow this frame. Perhaps the highest-profile film is Warners' "Letters From Iwo Jima," the companion piece to Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers," which disappointed at the boxoffice this year. Depicting the same World War II battle shown in "Fathers," "Letters," also directed by Eastwood, tells the Japanese side of the story. Receiving early accolades from various critics groups, "Iwo Jima" stars Ken Watanabe as the American-educated general who leads the Japanese resistance in the famous battle. Filmed entirely in Japanese, "Letters" was written by Iris Yamashita and has received two Golden Globe nominations. It opened Wednesday on five screens in Los Angeles and New York.
Warner Independent Pictures also launched its limited bow of "The Painted Veil" on four screens Wednesday in Los Angeles and New York. A long-gestating adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, the film stars Edward Norton and Naomi Watts as an unhappy married couple who resurrect their relationship while living in China during a cholera epidemic. Norton's passion project, the film is directed by John Curran from an adapted screenplay from Ron Nyswaner.
Sony Pictures Classics is unveiling "Curse of the Golden Flower" today. The Chinese-language film from acclaimed director Zhang Yimou ("House of Flying Daggers") stars Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li. It opened Thursday in New York and bows today in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Universal opens Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" on Christmas Day in limited release. The well-reviewed film stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine in a dystopian British future where women are unable to reproduce. The R-rated film will open in 16 theaters.
Miramax Films opened the Peter O'Toole-starrer "Venus" on Thursday in Los Angeles and New York. The R-rated take on a May-December romance, directed by Roger Michell, stars O'Toole in an Oscar-worthy role as an older man whose daily routine is altered when the grand niece (Jodie Whittaker) of his best friend comes to visit.fg