Box Office Preview: X-Men 3 Ready to Rock Memorial Day Weekend
Rival studios have ceded the frame to the much anticipated Fox sequel as no other film will open in wide release. But with the religious thriller The Da Vinci Code coming off of a spectacular opening, and the animated hit Over the Hedge doing well with family audiences, it should be a very busy four-day weekend at the megaplexes as all types of moviegoers will have something worth spending money on.
The world's favorite mutants embark on what could be their final mission in X-Men: The Last Stand which has its eyes set on breaking the opening weekend record for the Memorial Day frame. After directing the first two successful installments, Bryan Singer jumped ship to helm Superman Returns opening up the director's chair on Stand for Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon). All the primary cast members have returned including Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn, and Anna Paquin. Kelsey Grammer joins the cast playing Beast.
The X-Men franchise has grown in size throughout this decade. After the demise of the Batman franchise in 1997, the comic book genre seemed dead until the first X-Men arrived in July of 2000 with a powerful $54.5M bow firmly planting Marvel in the feature film business. Three years later, Fox plugged the sequel X2: X-Men United into the prominent first weekend of May slot and blasted off to the tune of $85.6M. Final domestic grosses reached $157.3M and $214.9M respectively and with video and television, the franchise lured in more and more converts. Unlike most of 2003's other summer action sequels like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, X2 was a second installment that was even more popular than the first making fans crave yet another film in the series.
X-Men remains one of the top comic properties around and speculation that this will be the final installment will make fans not want to miss out. Between the escalating actor salaries and the heavy dependence on expensive special effects, Fox and Marvel Entertainment probably couldn't afford to bankroll an X-Men 4 even if they wanted to. With the Star Wars prequels having finished up and this franchise closing up shop soon, Fox is looking to squeeze every dime it can out of The Last Stand. Its next big super hero flick won't take off until June 15 of next year when Fantastic Four 2 hits screens a cool six weeks after Sony's Spider-Man 3. It's no surprise then why Fox is rolling out its tentpole pic in almost every major market around the world this weekend.
For this weekend, X-Men has a secret weapon in its arsenal which should propel its numbers at the box office - teens. Studios have not done a good job over the last several weeks in exciting the most desirable of all age groups. MI3, Poseidon, and The Da Vinci Code all skewed older leaving high school students thinking these were their parents' summer movies. Afterall, the average 16-year-old was only six when Tom Cruise first wowed audiences in Mission: Impossible. Finally with the mutant posse, Hollywood is delivering the goods for teens and young adults offering an action-packed adventure heavy on the type of special effects and action that people are eager to pay money for. No wait-for-the-DVD here. A strong turnout from this age group should be at the core of X-Men's success this weekend.
Most folks who drove X2 past the double century mark three years ago are likely to return this time. That film had virtually no competition to deal with whereas Last Stand will face a pair of potent sophomores that could rake in over $70M combined over the four-day stretch. However, the new film has the added benefit of three years of ticket price increases, a holiday frame that should power Sunday and Monday numbers to exceptional heights, and a fan base that is likely to have grown even larger since the last film.
For nine long years, Steven Spielberg's dinosequel The Lost World has held the record for the biggest Memorial Day weekend opening ever with a colossal $92.7M over four days including Thursday night previews. The record for the largest overall weekend tally over the frame is held by 2004's Shrek 2 which hauled in a stunning $95.6M over four days while in its second weekend. X-Men hopes to become the first film to open to nine digits over this long holiday span.
The month of May has been chock full of eye-popping four-day openings from effects-driven action films appealing to mass audiences looking to start their summer off with a bang. Four-day opening tallies in recent years include $158.4M for last year's Star Wars Episode III, $134.3M for The Matrix Reloaded, $110.2M for Star Wars Episode II, and $85.8M for The Day After Tomorrow. The Last Stand may not have the same level of anticipation as some of those blockbusters, but it does have a loyal fan following that is ready to pounce on theaters this weekend. Fox is aiming to dominate the box office this weekend opening X-Men: The Last Stand in 3,688 theaters. The super hero extravaganza might fly off with around $108M over the four-day Friday-to-Monday holiday session setting a new industry record.
With only one major studio release invading theaters, a number of smaller distributors are using the holiday frame to launch limited release titles. Yash Raj Films enters most major markets on Friday with the Bollywood release Fanaa which stars one of India's biggest box office draws Aamir Khan. Paramount's new specialty division Paramount Vantage opened Al Gore's global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth in four theaters on Wednesday. The PG-rated film chronicles the former Vice President's mission on educating the world on environmental issues that are threatening our civilization and will expand into more markets across the country in the weeks ahead.
Opening in solo houses in New York City are the Jewish road drama Shem and the Filipino thriller Cavite. HP Releasing's Shem finds a young man traveling across Europe to find his great grandfather's grave while Truly Indie's Cavite is a no-budget kidnapping drama in which a man arrives in the Philippines and is forced to commit heinous deeds by a terrorist if he wants to see his family alive again. Both films open in Los Angeles later in June.
Last weekend, Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code opened to explosive results grossing a staggering $77.1M in its first three days. Over the holiday frame, the conspiracy thriller will benefit from adults having extra time off, a four-day span, and the fact that the only new film entering theaters will play to a somewhat different audience. However, Code generated a frontloaded bow last weekend with Friday accounting for an extraordinarily high 39% of the three-day take and Saturday sales seeing a slight dip. Fans of the book certainly rushed out on the first day to see Tom Hanks play symbologist Robert Langdon so now the film must survive having already burned through its core crowd.
Studios routinely pick the weekend before the Memorial Day frame as a launching pad for their biggest blockbusters, but sophomore declines over the holiday can vary. In 2003, the much-hyped sci-fi sequel The Matrix Reloaded saw its four-day holiday gross tumble 50% from its three-day debut gross. The following year, Shrek 2 slipped just 12% while last year's Star Wars Episode III dropped a more moderate 35%. Code does not play to a sci-fi crowd or to an audience of children so its numbers will be closely watched.
The Sony smash has performed admirably during the week grossing a fantastic $8.8M on Monday, helped in part by Canada's Victoria Day holiday, and another $6.2M on Tuesday. Code looks to crack the magical $100M mark by the end of its first full week in theaters before heading right into a sophomore frame cushioned by a holiday. Since word-of-mouth is just average, The Da Vinci Code may see its four-day take drop by 40% to around $46M. That would allow the much-talked-about film's 11-day cume to surge to $148M.
The animated comedy Over the Hedge got off to a solid start last weekend and should continue to be the leading choice for families with younger kids. A 20% drop to about $31M over four days would give Paramount $79M after 11 days. The studio's spy sequel Mission: Impossible III looks to fall by around 35% to roughly $7M giving Tom Cruise a total of $114M. The disaster flick Poseidon could fall by the same amount to around $6M lifting the sum to $45M for Warner Bros.
LAST YEAR The Memorial Day weekend box office was on fire thanks to a selection of red hot hits helping the top four films alone gross more than $200M over four days. Star Wars Episode III remained at number one for the second weekend with a commanding $70M over the Friday-to-Monday span boosting its 12-day cume to an eye-popping $270.5M. DreamWorks went after younger kids with its animated hit Madagascar which bowed to a hefty $61M to take second place while the studio's future parent Paramount was close behind in third with the Adam Sandler comedy The Longest Yard which opened to $58.6M. The two blockbusters, which both featured Chris Rock, went on to gross $193.2M and $158.1M, respectively. More funny flicks followed with New Line's Monster-in-Law dropping to fourth with $12.8M over the long weekend and Universal's Kicking and Screaming taking in $6.5M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com