Box Office Guru Preview: New Year Brings New Crop of Pics

Three new releases welcome in the new year this weekend, but moviegoers are likely to keep spending their cash on holiday holdovers.

Family audiences have the new toon "Happily N'Ever After," teens will be offered the drama "Freedom Writers," and the comedy crowd will have "Code Name: The Cleaner." Also, the sci-fi drama "Children of Men" expands across the country after a powerful debut last weekend in limited release. Early January is usually home to two kinds of films - weak pictures that can't cut it during the competitive holiday season and acclaimed films expanding wider hoping for awards. This frame will see just that with current chart-topper "Night at the Museum" hoping for a third reign in the number one spot.

Kids who have had enough of digital penguins will have a chance to see a new animated film this weekend with Lionsgate's "Happily N'Ever After." The PG-rated film tells the story of Fairy Tale World after Cinderella's wicked stepmother takes charge. Sigourney Weaver, Andy Dick, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and hubby Freddie Prinze Jr. lend their voices. "After" has a funny premise and with "Shrek the Third" still four months away, some audiences may give this one a try for the time being. Last January, "Hoodwinked" posted some strong numbers playing to the same crowd and bowed to $16.9M over four days with a potent $7,051 average. "Happily" does not have the same marketing strength behind it plus it faces more competition. Last weekend, six films with G or PG ratings sold over $10M
worth of tickets over four days and even with heavy declines, there will be lots of choices for family audiences. Looking to attract the biggest opening among the three new films on Friday, "Happily N'Ever After" enters 2,381 theaters and may take in around $7M this weekend.


The British animated import "Happily N'Ever After."

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank takes the Michelle Pfeiffer route and plays a teacher schooling a group of inner city kids in "Freedom Writers" from Paramount and MTV Films. Directed by writer-turned-director Richard LaGravenese, the PG-13 film also stars "Grey's Anatomy" hunk Patrick Dempsey. Teens and urban youngsters will make up the core audience here as Swank's mature adult following will likely pass on this role. The actress just doesn't have the commercial chops to anchor a film like this on her own and the buzz is not loud enough for this to become the next "Dangerous Minds." Paramount is hoping that its push on MTV will help bring in the young vote, but the pic lacks the bang to make teens want to spend the bucks. Opening in about 1,200 theaters, "Freedom Writers" could debut with around $5M.


Hilary Swank, conjuring Michelle Pfeiffer and Edward James Olmos in "Freedom Writers."

Also expected to put only a small dent into the box office this weekend is the comedy "Code Name: The Cleaner" starring Cedric the Entertainer and Lucy Liu. Pairing black and Asian actors in an action comedy worked wonders for "Rush Hour," but here audiences will likely find the premise forced. Cedric plays a janitor who is duped into becoming an undercover agent and finds himself in the middle of an arms scandal. Both stars are great supporting players but neither has a track record of anchoring big hit films. Interested moviegoers will probably wait for the DVD. Look for the New Line release to also debut in the vicinity of $5M.


"Codename: The Cleaner" isn't expected to clean up at the boxoffice.

Expanding nationwide on Friday into 1,200 locations after a powerful limited bow is Universal's futuristic drama "Children of Men." The Alfonso Cuaron-directed pic about the London of the future where no humans have been born in eighteen years stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine. The R-rated film debuted to $702,982 from only 16 theaters for a sensational four-day average of $43,936. Serious adult moviegoers are the target audience here so the studio's own CIA thriller "The Good Shepherd" will be the primary competitor. Reviews have been strong which will help. For the weekend, "Children of Men" could deliver roughly $7M.


Clive Owen and his golden aura in "Children of Men."

Since the incoming line-up of films is not likely to do too much damage to the box office charts, it should be smooth sailing for "Night at the Museum" which looks to spend its third straight weekend at number one. "Happily N'Ever After" will take away a bit of the family crowd, but overall competition should not be too intense. Coming off of the holiday weekend, the Ben Stiller smash may drop 40% and collect $22M worth of tickets and push its stellar cume to $163M.

Will Smith's Golden Globe-nominated performance in "The Pursuit of Happyness" has kept moviegoers interested for three weeks. The Sony hit may slide 40% as well grossing $11.5M which would give the father-son venture $123M to date. "Dreamgirls" has been generating the best averages around since opening. Paramount could witness a 35% drop to around $9M for the frame and lift its cume to $55M.


LAST YEAR: Horror fans powered the new fright flick "Hostel" to the number one spot over the first weekend of 2006 with a $19.6M debut. The low budget Lionsgate hit went on to scare up $47.3M. Holdovers filled up the rest of the top five. "The Chronicles of Narnia" slipped to second with $15.6M followed by "King Kong" with $12.6M. The comedies "Fun with Dick and Jane" and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" took up the next spots with $11.9M and $8.4M, respectively. The weekend's two other new releases bombed miserably. Fox's comedy "Grandma's Boy" bowed to just $3M while the actioner "BloodRayne" barely made it into the Top 20 with $1.6M. Final grosses reached $6.1M and $2.4M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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