How will the Oscar nominations affect the box office on a weekend when there are four new movies in wide release and a handful of strong holdovers? That's the big question as we go into this first official weekend of the silly season.
Last Tuesday's ballyhooed announcement of this year's Academy Awards contenders stands to boost the business of several long-running releases. Before getting a Best Picture nod, Martin Scorsese's The Departed had basically run its course in theaters, earning $121.8 million since its premiere last October, but it is re-expanding to 1,453 sites this week. Interestingly enough, however, it's the only big Oscar film to get a major theater-count bump: The Queen and Babel already went wide-ish last weekend; ditto super-snubbee Dreamgirls two weeks ago; and Pan's Labyrinth, Volver, Notes on a Scandal, The Last King of Scotland, and Venus are still showing in far fewer than 1,000 places. And then there's Best Picture contender Letters From Iwo Jima, which continues to roll out slowly, in just 415 venues. Sure, they're all going to rake in the dough. But, considering the crowded marketplace, it's easy to envision them all bubbling under the top five.
So picking a winner this weekend is a pretty tough call. Ordinarily, I'd tap a top Oscar nominee that has yet to go wide (but the ones that are playing wide have been doing so for a while). Or the freshman Jennifer Garner rom-com, Catch and Release (but it's opening in a relatively moderate 1,622 places). Or the newest member of the $200 million club, Night at the Museum (but it's been out for so long). So my good name rests on the success of newbie Epic Movie. After you're done reading what I have to say, how about you weigh in and vote on which film you think will win this jam-packed, wide-open weekend? You'll find the poll conveniently placed right at the bottom of this page.
THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE
Fox · PG-13 · 2,801 theaters · NEW
Let's get right to the point: I may like to call this ''the silly season'' because the Oscars always make everyone in Hollywood act stoopid and do wacky things like, I dunno, kiss up to Harvey Weinstein. But it's genuinely silly movies like this spoof that tend to rule the first-third-of-the-year box office. Last February, for example, Date Movie bowed with a tidy $19.1 mil. This follow-up, starring the ever-funny Kal Penn and Jennifer Coolidge, should come close.
Weekend prediction: $16 million
Catch and Release
Columbia · PG-13 · 1,622 theaters · NEW
It's a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Garner but, really, you can just call it Hollywood's latest attempt to crown the next Julia Roberts. Man, are they desperate to do that, considering the mixed monetary results of movies starring perfectly lovely ladies like Kate Hudson and Drew Barrymore. But is Garner really up to the task? While 13 Going on 30 did a decent $57.2 mil, Elektra tanked with $24.4 mil two years ago. Sure, that wasn't a rom-com, but it does put a big old question mark on J.Garn's drawing power. And the aforementioned modest theater count certainly won't help her cause.
Weekend prediction: $11 million
Paramount · PG-13 · 2,785 theaters · 7th weekend
The Best Picture snub burns, no doubt, but Paramount should be able to use those ads touting its leading eight nominations (including...Best Sound Mixing!) to milk a few more bucks for the slowly fading musical.
Weekend prediction: $8 million
Night at the Museum
Fox · PG · 3,241 theaters · 6th weekend
Forget about Dreamgirls, though. Lord knows how many tears were shed when this movie got shut out of the Oscars. Slapping monkeys, apparently, aren't eligible. (Marky Marks yes; slapping monkeys no.)
Weekend prediction: $8 million
Universal · R · 2,204 theaters · NEW
A bunch of B-plus listers like Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, and Ryan Reynolds star in this herky-jerky Vegas-mob shoot-'em-up, from Joe Carnahan, director of Narc (a.k.a. the best movie of 2002). In other words its cool factor, while not reaching Ocean's Eleven heights, is impressive although that hard-R rating has got to sting.
Weekend prediction: $7 million
THE OTHER NEW RELEASE
Blood and Chocolate
MGM · PG-13 · 1,200 theaters · NEW
The title's so vague, it makes the film sound like the menu at a restaurant run by Jeffrey Dahmer. Or something. No, in actual fact, this is a werewolf romance that can't be too scary or sexy because it's only rated PG-13. Moreover, it can't be carrying too many high hopes, given how MGM has kept advertisements to a minimum and has, apparently, declined to screen it early for critics.
Weekend prediction: $3 million