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'Bucket List': A Surprise No. 1?

Already boasting a strong per-theater figure, the expanding dramedy could hit a chord with moviegoers -- but ''Juno'' will be right on its heels

Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, ... | THE BUCKET LIST Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson wonder whether their movie can hold off Juno 's strong challenge and win the box office
THE BUCKET LIST Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson wonder whether their movie can hold off Juno's strong challenge and win the box office

I know, I know, you're all wrapped up in the presidential primaries this week. Me too. (Experience! Change! Yeah, baby!) But I've got something infinitely more important to talk to you about right now: the box office! Really, here you have surprise successes (Juno), fading front-runners (National Treasure: Book of Secrets), and question-mark contenders (The Bucket List) — none of whom make any promises beyond leaving you somewhat edified and hopefully entertained. Seriously, people, it's a much better deal.

Of course, I can't guarantee you health care or anything, but I do expect my picks to turn out better than the pundits' almost totally wrong predictions for the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Like the candidates, I remain optimistic that I can come through on that pledge, even on a jam-packed weekend that features three major new movies (First Sunday, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, and In the Name of the King) and four notable expanding releases (The Bucket List, Atonement, The Kite Runner, and The Orphanage). While those last three films likely won't play in enough theaters to crack the top five, it'll be a hard-fought race for the rest of the candidates. Read on to find out which tickets audiences will elect to buy.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

The Bucket List
Warner Bros. · PG-13 · 2,911 theaters · 3rd weekend
This dramedy about two dying septuagenarians (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who go on a global adventure before they kick the bucket got a sweet bit of early publicity when Nicholson showed up to last year's Academy Awards completely bald. That little stunt got many filmgoers interested and excited...until the movie came out in limited release on Christmas Day, prompting gripes from critics and convincing Oscar voters to turn elsewhere. So now what? Many of my fellow box office watchers are predicting soft returns for The Bucket List. It's hard not to agree with them, considering the film's middling reviews, lack of awards-season momentum, depressing subject matter, and older-skewing stars and themes. Nonetheless, I just can't bring myself to jump on the this-movie-will-tank bandwagon. For starters, the criticism hasn't actually been that terrible — merely mediocre — and it's always hard to figure out when people listen to critics, anyway. I have a suspicion that this sweetly spiritual film could strike a chord with religious viewers. And then there is the basic math of the matter: The Bucket List has been banking a strong per-theater average of $20,000-plus in 16 venues for the past two weeks, so even if its average falls to, say, $7,000 per location (a decent but far from stellar figure), it's still going to bring in about $20 mil. Ack! Maybe I should just promise universal health care, after all, and move on.
Weekend prediction: $20 million

Juno
Fox Searchlight · PG-13 · 2,448 theaters · 6th weekend
The holiday season's independent smash rose to the top of the box office during the middle of this past week, is among the leading contenders for a Best Picture nomination, and, moving into an additional 523 theaters, stands to also move into the No. 1 spot should The Bucket List, in fact, falter.
Weekend prediction: $14 million

First Sunday
Screen Gems · PG-13 · 2,213 theaters · NEW
First Sunday is the latest from the star of Next Friday. How about that? Ice Cube now has two days of the week down and five to go. But I digress. The star of this film — about some bumbling thieves (also including Tracy Morgan) who conspire to steal from the local church — has a very devoted following, as evidenced by the fact that most of his recent early-year releases have debuted in the $10 mil-to-$14 mil range. Just like this one will.
Weekend prediction: $13 million

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Walt Disney · PG · 3,377 theaters · 4th weekend
The domestic gross of this sequel ($175 mil and counting) passed that of its 2004 predecessor ($173 mil) this week, and the $200 mil mark is coming into view.
Weekend prediction: $11 million

I Am Legend
Warner Bros. · PG-13 · 3,353 theaters · 5th weekend
With a whopping $232 mil in its domestic purse, this crowd pleaser about a Shrek fanatic who is stalked by zombies now ranks as the third-biggest release of Will Smith's blockbuster career, behind only Men in Black ($250.7 mil) and Independence Day ($306.2 mil).
Weekend prediction: $8 million

THE OTHER NEW RELEASES

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie
Universal · G · 1,336 theaters · NEW
The hands-down winner for the flick with the most ridiculous title of the week is a sequel to 2002's Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, which opened with just $6.2 mil. Certainly, pirates are all the rage these days, and the force of film-hungry kids at the box office should never be misunderestimated (especially in a week when they don't have many other options). But still.
Weekend prediction: $6 million

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Freestyle · PG-13 · 1,605 theaters · NEW
The hands-down winner for the flick with the second-most-ridiculous title of the week also boasts one of the most ridiculous assemblages of B-minus listers I've ever encountered: Jason Statham (okay, so maybe he's a B-plus lister), Matthew Lillard, Ray Liotta, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani, Kristanna Loken, and Burt Reynolds as the king. I mean, it would be funny if it weren't true. Based on the Dungeon Siege videogame, the period action saga's dubious pedigree also includes director Uwe Boll (the helmer of several game-based flops, including BloodRayne), who may be best known for his, shall we say, unique responses to the fact that critics evidently think he's one of the worst directors around. But back to the point: Burt Reynolds in regal medieval garb? Come on.
Weekend prediction: $4 million

Originally posted Jan 10, 2008
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