Box Office Preview

'Web' Feat

Joshua Rich's prediction: Will Smith may get bitten by a spider, and this weekend's fire-breathing dragon isn't looking so hot

Charlotte's Web | BARN STORM Expect Charlotte's Web to bring in about $22 mil
BARN STORM Expect Charlotte's Web to bring in about $22 mil

The stench is starting to get really foul, so I'm sure you've noticed: The overall box office has been awfully rotten for the past few weeks. Yes, the year is still up over 2005 by nearly 4 percent. But with three ''down'' weekends in the past month, two straight frames in which the winning film couldn't crack the $20 million mark, and the end of 2006 fast approaching, I really wonder whether Hollywood can bring back the sweet smell that normally comes with end-of-the-year receipts.

This weekend, the hottest new films — Dreamgirls and The Good German — are opening only in limited release in a handful of major cities, so they'll be nonfactors, money-wise. And that leaves us with three wide openers (in about 3,000 theaters each) that, let's be honest, look iffy. Anybody got a truckload of Little Trees to spare?

Paramount's half-animated Charlotte's Web adaptation is the most promising premiere. It stars a live-action Dakota Fanning (she of the, ahem, lifetime $582 million domestic total) and the voices of Oprah, Steve Buscemi, and Julia Roberts. Kids movies have done big business this year (think: Ice Age: The Meltdown, Over the Hedge, Happy Feet, Open Season, Eight Below, and so on), and that — combined with the film's G rating, generally positive reviews, and literary-classic pedigree — should boost its gross. Moreover, if the last E.B. White adaptation, Stuart Little, was able to bow with $15 mil (en route to a $140 mil total take) seven years ago, certainly Charlotte's Web will be able to spin $22 mil.

That'll put Charlotte's Web at No. 1, just ahead of the Will Smith drama The Pursuit of Happyness, from Sony. There's little doubt that Smith is the biggest movie star around these days, but his latest film, about a single dad who becomes an unlikely stockbroker, is a tough sell to folks who like their Big Willyness either blowing away aliens or wooing the women. This film, however, reeks of treacle, and it thus stands to scare away some of Smith's biggest supporters: men. (Plus, while EW's Owen Gleiberman gave the movie a B+, other reviews haven't been so favorable: As of Thursday afternoon, TPOH was scoring a mediocre 54 out of 100 on Metacritic.com.) Still, Smith's drawing power should at least get more people into this film than if he hadn't starred in it, and it'll earn $19 mil.

Finally, Fox is releasing its dragon epic Eragon. At the start of the fall, this adaptation of Christopher Paolini's fantasy novel looked like a sure winner, since it's dead-center in the vein of blockbusters like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. And that's why I'm surprised to say that there's substantially little buzz for it — maybe because the studio declined to screen it in advance for critics and loverboys like me. Never a good sign. So, acknowledging that I'm flying a little blind here, I'm going to say that it'll earn $14 mil this weekend. And unless Eragon's dragon starts exhaling Febreze, you shouldn't expect that smell I've been talking about to go away, either.

Originally posted Dec 14, 2006