Weekend Preview: National Treasure Should Strike Gold

     After two movies singlehandedly saved the box office last weekend, the latest crop of newcomers has a lot to live up to.  Luckily, this weekend, five extremely diverse wide releases hit theaters, offering something for every moviegoer.  National Treasure: Book of Secrets explodes onto the scene with rollicking adventure.  Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story brings some spoof comedy to the table.  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street sings a few eerie show tunes.  Charlie Wilson’s War  provides some star-studded dramedy.  And P.S. I Love You fills the romantic comedy slot.  As if that wasn’t enough for you, another four films go wide on Christmas day!  That’s right, folks, we’ve officially reached the holiday season.
     National Treasure: Book of Secrets should easily top the box office this weekend.  Back in 2005, the original National Treasure was a surprise juggernaut.  The film followed Nicholas Cage as a treasure hunter, who was on the hunt for a secret American treasure.  An adventure film for conspiracy theorists, the film was a ludicrous Da Vinci Code rip off, but it didn’t pretend to be anything else.  The Jerry Bruckheimer adventure was pure, popcorn-munching fun, and Disney marketed it perfectly.  After a good $35 million opening, it struck a chord with audiences, endured through the holiday season, and went on to gross a sensational $173 million.  A franchise was born.
     Book of Secrets sticks to the proven formula, pitting Nic Cage against a band villains in a race to find a “city of gold” that was hidden by America’s founding fathers.  Critics love to trash this kind of movie, and reviews (which won’t matter much for this movie) are equally mediocre to the original, but I have to admit, National Treasure is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  It’s got a great sense of humor, and though the plot is preposterous, it provides moviegoers with the main thing that they are seeking: FUN!  So many studios forget to advertise the fact that you will have fun if you go see their movie, but Disney, the best advertiser in the business, always sells this point.  Diane Kruger, Harvey Kietel, John Voight, Justin Bartha, and Helen Mirren all star in this swashbuckling installment, for which Disney is already planning subsequent sequels.  National Treasure: Book of Secrets should open bigger than the original, and it could outpace I Am Legend by the end of its run.  It’s opening in a massive 3,832 theaters, and it might earn a big $50 million over the weekend.

     Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a movie produced by the on-fire Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad), is spoof of the musical biopic.  Starring John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer, Walk Hard sends up Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan, among others.  Reviews are very good, and it’s exciting to see a true spoof movie- not simply a rehash of famous scenes, like the dreadful Epic/Date/Scary Movie.  I’m a bit concerned that Walk Hard could be too smart for its own good, for some of the ads make it somewhat hard to tell that this is a spoof, and that could confuse potential moviegoers.  However, the Apatow brand is absurdly strong, and he is really the main draw for this feature, so it should still perform well.  Playing in 2,650 venues, Sony’s Walk Hard might rock its way to a $14 million opening.

     Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in the fast-talking political comedy, Charlie Wilson’s War.  Set during the Cold War, Tom Hanks plays the title character, a womanizing, slick U.S. Senator who finds himself feeling suddenly convicted to improve the world.   He consequently convinces the CIA to train fighters in Afghanistan that will help fend off the Soviet Union. As a marketable concept, this is questionable.  War-themed movies like The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs, have failed at the box office lately, and the story is too complex to advertise effectively.  Universal is relying completely on star power from America’s favorite actor and actress to carry Charlie Wilson’s War to success.  Much like last year’s The Good Shepherd, this plays to an older audience, and while its opening might be smaller, it should have great legs.  Reviews are pretty good, and it’s garnered some awards attention, which will help its business substantially.  Still, though, with exciting choices like I Am Legend and National Treasure: Book of Secrets playing, it could be easy to overlook Charlie Wilson’s War.  In 2,574 theaters, it should earn about $14 million this weekend.

     Sweeney Todd is the latest film from Tim Burton, so it should come as no surprise that it stars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, who seem to star in every Burton project these days.  Sweeney Todd is a strange story about a man named Benjamin Barker who escapes from prison and takes on the identity of Sweeney Todd.  He does this to exact revenge on the judge who originally imprisoned him, and he kills many people in this grisly revenge movie.  What makes all this even more interesting is that Sweeney Todd is a full musical, adapted from the stage show by Stephen Sondheim.  Full of creepy, macabre music and fine acting performances, critics are hailing Burton’s direction, and the film has received wonderful reviews.  Sweeney Todd is opening in just 1,249 theaters, but advertising has been strong, and Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have a built-in fan base.  This should result in a very solid per theater average and $13 million weekend.

     The final new wide release of the weekend is P.S. I Love You, a romantic comedy starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler.  Swank plays a woman whose husband (Butler) has just passed away.  As it turns out, her husband knew he was dying and left her a series of letters to help her transition out of her grief and back into life.  Though the concept is sweet, Hillary Swank isn’t the right woman for this kind of role.  She lacks the cute, girly factor that is so necessary in a romantic comedy, and after Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don’t Cry, it’s tough for audiences to accept her outside of strong, dramatic roles.  On top of this, there simply isn’t very much excitement for this film, and reviews are very bad.  Produced by Warner Brothers, P.S. I Love You is being released in 2,454 theaters, and it should earn about $7 million over the next three days.
     Among the returning films, I Am Legend should place second.  It’s shown decreasing grosses during its weekdays, which signifies a rather large drop for this weekend.  A 55% drop would give it $34 million for the weekend and a marvelous $136 million overall.  Alvin and the Chipmunks should hold better because of its family-friendly nature.  As sad as it makes me, Alvin might pull in an additional $26 million this weekend, for an $81 million total.  After multiple award nominations in almost every circle of critics, Juno and Atonement both expand into about 300 theaters this weekend.  They should each see their weekend grosses increase to about $3.6 million and $3 million, respectively.
Predicted Top 12 for December 21-23
1. National Treasure: Book of Secrets – $50 million
2. I Am Legend – $34 million
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks – $26 million
4. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story – $14 million
5. Charlie Wilson’s War – $13 million
6. Sweeney Todd – $12 million
7. P.S. I Love You – $7 million
8. The Golden Compass – $4.5 million
9. Enchanted – $3.8 million
10. Juno – $3.6 million
11. Atonement – $3 million
12. No Country For Old Men – $2.3 million
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