Box Office Guru Preview: I Am Legend Set For Explosive Opening

Alvin and the Chipmunks, Perfect Holiday also open.

by |

A wave of new product hits the marketplace at a time when exciting films are desperately needed to end the current box office funk. The science fiction thriller I Am Legend leads the way but will be joined by the family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks and the romantic comedy The Perfect Holiday. For only the second time all year, just two films managed grosses of more than $5M last weekend. Hollywood critically needs this weekend to turn things around if it wants to end the year on a happy note.

Gunning for his seventh consecutive number one opening, Will Smith headlines the sci-fi thriller I Am Legend, the latest Hollywood film based on the classic 1954 novel of the same name. The PG-13 entry finds the superstar playing the last man alive on Earth after a virus wipes out the entire human population in the not-so-distant future. Legend could prove to be Smith's greatest box office challenge to date since there are no famous co-stars, no big director, and the novel it is based on is not exactly a hot item in today's era. This film is Will's to make or break.

But for millions of movie fans, the former Fresh Prince plus action equals a definite trip to the local multiplex. The actor is right at the top of the current A list and is arguably the most bankable star alive consistently drawing in audiences that cut across all race, gender, and age barriers. Will Smith can bring out paying audiences for sci-fi (I, Robot), comedy (Hitch), drama (The Pursuit of Happyness), action (Bad Boys II), and animation (Shark Tale). With Legend he now flirts with the boundaries of horror as battling killer zombies that attack at night is a far cry from being a date doctor.

Warner Bros. has good timing for I Am Legend. The marketplace has been about as dead as the world depicted in the film and audiences are hungry for an event film to get them back into the habit of moviegoing. Competition will not be much of a factor and business will be coming in from many directions with teens and young adults leading the way and fans of sci-fi and action delivering a big bang too. The studio's massive marketing push will do the trick and adding more bite will be the simultaneous Imax release where higher ticket prices ($16 in New York City) will give the grosses a boost. Plus the strategic move of playing the new prologue for next summer's much-anticipated Batman flick The Dark Knight with the Imax release of I Am Legend just fuels more excitement and guarantees more asses in the seats.

Will Smith is looking to score one of the biggest December openings ever for a non-Peter Jackson flick. A big drop next weekend is likely, but for now consumers are keeping all eyes on I Am Legend which attacks 3,606 theaters on Friday. An opening weekend gross of about $50M could result.


Will Smith and friend in I Am Legend

Some younger moviegoers may not be in the mood for flesh-eating mutants. Luckily, Fox had the bright idea of getting jiggy with its new kidpic Alvin and the Chipmunks which will give parents and smaller children some harmless fun for the holidays. The PG-rated film is the latest big-screen treatment of a popular kids property from yesterday that gets a makeover for today's sensibilities. When done right, ticket sales pour in from multiple generations. But when done wrong, you get disasters like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Competition should not be too bad since Enchanted which is going into its fourth session is the only family film generating any decent dough right now. Instead, holiday shopping may be the real threat as many parents will wait until a little later before heading to the cinemas for this one. The property is not popular enough to create any true sense of urgency. But this is common in mid December. Last year, Charlotte's Web got off to a slow start with a $11.5M bow but went on to make seven times that amount with a final tally of $82.6M. Fox's marketing push has been aggressively targeting young kids and the studio knows that little success lies with teens and young adults. Going very wide with 3,476 playdates on Friday, Alvin and the Chipmunks could gross about $15M this weekend but hold on well over the holidays.


Alvin, Simon and Theodore

Christmas fun hits the multiplexes in another package with The Perfect Holiday from Yari Film Group. Morris Chestnut and Gabrielle Union star as single folks whose love lives cross while Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard play naughty and nice spirits along for the ride. The PG-rated film will play primarily to an African American audience which will make it a tricky sell at this moment in time. Though a very different film, Legend will steal away many in the target demographic and others who just saw This Christmas may not be looking for another story from the same category so soon. Poor reviews will also cause some box office headaches. Opening Wednesday in 1,306 locations, The Perfect Holiday could bow to about $7M over three days and $9M over five days.


The Perfect Holiday

Adding to the end-of-year frenzy that arthouse films find themselves in during awards season, Paramount Vantage's The Kite Runner opens in 35 theaters in selected cities on Friday hoping to appeal to fans of the best-selling novel. The R-rated film in English and Dari tells of two young boys in Afghanistan whose lives take two very different paths after a violent incident right before the Soviet invasion of the country. Kite Runner has been included on some recent ten-best lists and scored two Golden Globe nominations. Reviews have been generally positive.


The Kite Runner

Following its not-so-explosive debut, The Golden Compass will have tough work cut out for it during the sophomore frame. The New Line adventure will see the sci-fi audience abandon ship and line up for Will Smith while parents looking for some fun for their kids will have some talking chipmunks to consider. A 50% drop could be in order for Compass which would give it about $13M for the weekend and a ten-day tally of $45M.

Disney's Enchanted, which earned a pair of Golden Globe nominations, is slowly but surely making its way towards the $100M mark. Another moderate 35% decline would give the fairy tale pic around $7M which would push the sum up to $93M. Sony's This Christmas will face direct competition from The Perfect Holiday so a 40% dip may result giving the pic $3M and $47M to date.

LAST YEAR: The man in black beat out some tough competition to conquer the box office. Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness led a wave of new releases with its top spot debut grossing $26.5M for Sony. The feel-good smash played well over the holiday season surging to $162.6M domestically and $294M worldwide - an impressive sum for a Smith vehicle not driven by guns or special effects. Fox's fantasy actioner Eragon bowed close behind in second with $23.2M on its way to $75M from North America representing only 30% of the global take. Overseas the numbers were much stronger with $175M in ticket sales for a powerful $250M tally worldwide. Third place also featured a new release. Paramount's family film Charlotte's Web debuted to the tune of $11.5M but reached a solid $82.6M by the end of the run. Rounding out the top five were the penguin toon Happy Feet with $8.4M and the romantic comedy The Holiday with $8M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Comments