Box Office Preview: "Talladega Nights" on Course to Finish First

Sony shoots for its industry-leading eighth number one film of the year with the Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" which is one of four new movies hitting theaters on Friday.



Paramount offers more laughs, but for a much younger audience, with its animated comedy "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals." Horror fans get blood and gore with "The Descent" from Lionsgate while Miramax releases the Robin Williams thriller "The Night Listener."

At long last, comedy gets to take over the top spot at the box office with "Talladega Nights" which is on course to finish in first place far ahead of its competitors. The PG-13 film finds Ferrell playing a legendary NASCAR driver whose career has gone through some outrageous ups and downs. John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Michael Clarke Duncan co-star while "Anchorman" director Adam McKay reteams with Ferrell for another funny tale of an outlandish character drowning in dumbness. The audience for "Talladega" is broad. Teens and young adults will make up a large portion, but older adults may take a ride too. Given the racing storyline, males might slightly edge out females, but interest from women should be solid too. And of course the population of NASCAR fans is enormous so expect many from that world to line up.

Sony's timing is perfect. The summer has alternated between action and comedy each month. May and July were ruled by action flicks and now it's time for August to give a repeat of June when laughers led the way. Ferrell provides ample starpower, trailers and commercials are funny, and the studio is spending heavily on marketing so the stars are aligned for Ricky Bobby to claim pole position. "Talladega" should appeal to the same moviegoers that came out for the male-oriented comedies "Anchorman," "Starsky & Hutch," "The Dukes of Hazzard," and "Dodgeball." Those PG-13 pics all opened in the tight $28-31M range and Ferrell's latest could follow. Racing into around 3,400 theaters, "Talladega Nights" might debut with about $30M this weekend.

Farm animals go nuts when the farmer's not looking. That's the premise behind Paramount's new animated comedy "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals." The third PG-rated toon in as many weeks features the voices of Kevin James, Courteney Cox Arquette, Danny Glover, and Wanda Sykes and comes from writer/director Steve Oedekerk ("Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls"). Competition for tykes will be tough with "Monster House" and "The Ant Bully" splitting the family pie in three. But "Barnyard" does offer the most comedy among the trio which could be key to getting in the target audience. The film has the kind of laughs parents expect when taking the kids on a trip to the movies, but it lacks a built-in audience that could send the numbers through the roof. Still, the marketing push from Nickelodeon will provide some valuable help and could put it ahead of Ant, but below "Monster" in overall strength. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, "Barnyard" might debut with roughly $12M.

Lionsgate unleashes what it hopes will be its latest horror hit in "The Descent," an ultraviolent thriller about an all-female caving expedition that stumbles upon frightening creatures when trapped underground. The R-rated pic aims to become the latest flick low on starpower, but high on brutality and gore, to become a winner with audiences. The distributor is no doubt one of the current kings of the genre and has banked $55.2M for Saw, $87M for "Saw II," and $47.3M with "Hostel." Early reviews have been among the best ever for recent fright flicks which is helping to spread a pulsating buzz throughout the horror community. Lionsgate has wisely been promoting itself as the studio behind "Saw" and "Hostel" in an effort to convince fans that they will be in for another gore-filled ride this time around. The tactic should work wonders and a creepy ultra-deep voiceover in the television spots will help lure in victims too. With "Lady in the Water" failing to scare many people, hardcore fright fans will certainly look to "Descent" to deliver the summer chills. The film is not going out too wide and Will Ferrell will certain take away many young men so there will be a limit to how high this weekend's opening will be. Dropping into around 1,800 locations, "The Descent" could dig up about $10M over the frame and post a solid average.

Robin Williams pops his head into theaters in the psychological thriller "The Night Listener" playing a radio host who gets tangled in a relationship with his biggest fan. Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, and Rory Culkin co-star. Miramax's R-rated release has not been backed by too much of a marketing push and it won't launch in that many theaters so expectations are low. Only older adults will take interest, but most that are curious will not find this to be worth paying top dollar for. The former Mork can be a box office draw in the right film, but in a vehicle like this, ticket buyers do not show up. His flops "Death to Smoochy" and "Jakob the Liar" bowed to just $4.3M and $2.1M, respectively. "The Night Listener" opens in around 1,400 theaters this Friday and could tune into about $4M.

Ricky Bobby plans to put Crockett and Tubbs in their place this weekend. Universal's "Miami Vice" enjoyed a solid debut last weekend opening a little higher than director Michael Mann's previous film "Collateral," another R-rated action thriller debuting in late summer. But word of mouth for "Vice" is not as strong so whereas the Tom Cruise assassin pic went on to gross four times its opening, the Jamie Foxx-Colin Farrell actioner should see a smaller multiple. A 45% drop would give "Miami Vice" about $14M for the frame and a ten-day tally of $50M.

Mid-summer juggernaut "Pirates of the Caribbean" is about to close the books on its first month of release. Another decline of 40% would leave Disney with $12M in the fifth frame and $380M after 31 days putting it in "Star Wars Episode III" territory. That would also send the global cume soaring past the $700M mark.

Fox's high school comedy "John Tucker Must Die" is sure to see a steep drop in sales this weekend, especially with "Talladega Nights" stealing away teens. A 55% fall would result in a sophomore frame of $7M and a respectable cume of $29M after ten days.

LAST YEAR The good ol' boys of "The Dukes of Hazzard" charged into first place opening with a powerful $30.7M to lead the first weekend of August. The Warner Bros. release ran out of gas quickly but still managed to reach a healthy $80.3M domestically. With no other new films hitting screens, holdovers rounded out the rest of the top five. New Line's sleeper smash "Wedding Crashers" placed second with $16M while the Warners kidpic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" followed with $11M. The top three films were all part of the Time Warner family. Disney's "Sky High" took fourth with $9M and Warner Bros. appeared in fifth place again with "Must Love Dogs" which grossed $7.4M. In limited release, Focus cracked the Top 20 with its arthouse hit "Broken Flowers" which debuted with a stellar $28,904 average from 27 playdates on its way to a domestic tally of $13.7M.

Author: Gitesth Pandya, BoxOfficeGuru.com

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