With a slump getting in motion at the box office, and with the forthcoming summer almost guaranteed not to live up to last year's sequel-heavy behemoth, Hollywood execs may be starting to sweat. Me? I'm cool as a pre-aged pickle after several tough-to-predict weeks and the out-of-nowhere domination of 21, among other multi-hyphenated things, Prom Night made good on its promise as a sure winner last weekend. And the R-rated comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which opens alongside the martial-arts flick The Forbidden Kingdom, the thriller 88 Minutes, and the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed) should do the same this time around.
As for you, well, you should feel pretty happy, too: EW.com's Box Office Challenge is back! Better still, this year we'll be awarding prizes to players who best predict the top movies (remember to make your picks before 8 p.m. each Friday and to look out for an announcement of each round's winner in our PopWatch blog the following week). So here we go, people prove me wrong!
THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Universal · R · 2,798 theaters · NEW
Love that ad campaign. Love it. Everywhere I drive here in sunny SoCal, I see those clever billboards and bus-stop ads (''I'm SO over you Sarah Marshall!'') teasing the latest release from the universe of ubercomedian Judd Apatow. The mad man behind The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up produced this film about a regular guy (How I Met Your Mother's Jason Segel) who is trying to get over being dumped by his famous girlfriend (Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell); Apatow's longtime collaborator Nicholas Stoller directed the comedy, and Segel, another member of the circle, wrote it. And I've got a feeling that we could have our first big hit in several weeks the audience is hungry for a blockbuster, the critics love it, the pedigree is rich, and that guerilla marketing is clever. Actually, I'm so on board here that I'm going to take a cue from the film's title and try to forget a few potential problems, like the fact that it's rated R, or the fact that after Knocked Up and Superbad both opened north of $30 mil last summer, Apatow's most recent movies, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Drillbit Taylor, couldn't even manage that much...in their entire runs. I'm SO over you downside!
Weekend prediction: $26 million
The Forbidden Kingdom
Lionsgate · PG-13 · 3,151 theaters · NEW
Martial-arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li team up in this mystical sci-fi/action hybrid. That fact alone will be enough to pack theaters with the legions of kung fu/karate/aikido/whatever geeks that helped make movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Karate Kid, and Rush Hour hits. Then again, where were those aficionados when Li's War and Fearless and Chan's The Medallion arrived in recent years?
Weekend prediction: $15 million
TriStar · R · 2,168 theaters · NEW
Al Pacino playing a forensic psychiatrist in a real-time genre flick about a serial killer on the prowl? Kinda sad, I know, but do you really care? Didn't think so. Sony (which has kept the film on the shelf for more than 1,051,200 minutes) must have realized that, tragically, there's no clamor anymore for features starring the erstwhile Michael Corleone. Ergo, a lot of the barely existent marketing campaign has played up the movie's blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances by promising young stars like The O.C.'s Benjamin McKenzie. But a desperate move like that, though, likely won't help 88 Minutes overcome savage reviews (including a rare F from EW's own critic ouch!) or even propel it to gross $11.4 mil, which is what the similarly themed (and similarly reviled) Untraceable brought in on its first weekend in January.
Weekend prediction: $9 million
Screen Gems · PG-13 · 2,700 theaters · 2nd weekend
That $20.8 mil debut was impressive and unforeseen (well, by everybody except me). And now? Now comes the big second-week decline. Horror flicks rarely hang on strong, competition for a younger crowd is hot this weekend, and the film's weak B- CinemaScore review from audiences portended merely mediocre word of mouth. And then there's the fact that...
Weekend prediction: $8 million
Fox Searchlight · R · 2,469 theaters · 2nd weekend
...Keanu Reeves' gritty crime thriller may not have won its debut weekend, but it has been handily beating Prom Night during the middle of the week, since America's youth have kept away from the multiplex while busily getting an education. Says Neo, ''Stay in school, kids!''
Weekend prediction: $7 million
THE OTHER NEW RELEASE
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Rocky Mountain · PG · 1,052 theaters · NEW
Usually, success at the box office is due to the survival of the fittest. But if Ben Stein's documentary about intelligent design performs particularly strongly (and non-fiction films without the words ''Fahrenheit'' and ''9/11'' in their titles almost never open well), I suppose we'll have to assume that it was the work of some greater being.
Weekend prediction: $1 million