Box Office Guru Preview: Monsters vs. Aliens Ready For Mighty Attack

Haunting in Connecticut, 12 Rounds also opening this weekend.

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Ginormica and her mutant pals look to seize control of the North American box office with the animated 3D adventure Monsters vs. Aliens which will try to overtake a group of not-always-fully-dressed superheroes for the biggest opening weekend of 2009. Two other new releases also hit the multiplexes on Friday, the spooky horror flick The Haunting in Connecticut and the cop actioner 12 Rounds, but will attract much smaller numbers. The overall marketplace is set to crush year-ago numbers putting an end to the back-to-back down weekends the industry just experienced.

DreamWorks Animation puts a lot on the line with Monsters vs. Aliens and is looking for a big response from audiences this weekend. The PG-rated pic is the first 3D foray for the studio which will make all future toons in the format as well. Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, and Stephen Colbert lead the voice cast in the story of government-imprisoned monsters that are released in order to defend America from an alien invasion. DreamWorks has always had the right formula for toon success. Since Shrek, the company has steered clear of dramas focusing instead on comedic stories paired with big stars known for their funny fare. Monsters is no different as it packs lots of laughs, gripping action, and is peppered with numerous familiar voices from actors people love. And what an easy paycheck for them!

But what the studio and distribution partner Paramount are really looking for is a boost at the box office because of the 3D experience. We've already seen solid performances this year from the kidpic Coraline and the horror film My Bloody Valentine 3D which have used the format, and the higher ticket prices, to collect better-than-expected grosses. Monsters has been eventized enough that families are likely to pay the extra $3 or so per ticket for an experience that can't be duplicated at home. Paramount's official theater count is 4,104 which is normal for A-list animated films from DreamWorks and Pixar these days. Of the roughly 7,000 total screens being booked for the pic, about 2,000 will feature 3D with the balance showing the standard 2D version at regular ticket prices. But the per-theater average from the 3D locations will tower over the 2D average.

The marketing has been top-notch and the expensive Super Bowl stunt certainly helped in putting the film on the map and making audiences realize that this would be an event not to miss out on. Appeal may be solid outside of the core audience of families too as teens and young adults should contribute a nice bundle of cash. Reviews have been generally upbeat so that may help a bit as well. With only one other toon released this year, and kidpics like The Pink Panther 2 and Jonas Brothers failing to make a big impact, the target audience is ready to go out and give Monsters vs. Aliens a try. A debut of about $60M over the Friday-to-Sunday period may result.


Monsters vs. Aliens

For those looking for real spooky thrills and not cartoon ghouls, Lionsgate rolls out its supernatural thriller The Haunting in Connecticut. The PG-13 film tells of a family that moves into a house that was previously a mortuary with a dark past. Teens, young adults, and horror buffs will make up the audience here and a female skew is likely as is usually the case for the more tame fright pics out there. Teenage girls don't have much out there for them right now and if Reese doesn't pull them in with her cartoon alter ego, then Haunting could do well with that demo. Lionsgate knows how to sell these types of films and using the 'based on a true story' tag in the marketing materials is the smart way to go. Plus the boy puking up a ghost in ads certainly generates intrigue. A trim 92-minute running time will help as will the number of multiplexes double-screening it. Creeping into 2,732 theaters on Friday, The Haunting in Connecticut could take in roughly $14M this weekend.


The Haunting in Connecticut

Yet another revenge thriller makes its way into theaters, this time with John Cena in the lead in 12 Rounds. The PG-13 actioner finds the wrestler/actor playing a detective taunted by a criminal he put away who wants vengeance for the death of his girlfriend. Young males are the only ones who will take interest here as the Fox release hopes to tap into the built-in audience provided by World Wrestling Entertainment which also co-produced the pic. WWE has struggled to find success at the box office with its recent stable of grapplers with Cena's The Marine opening to $7.1M, See No Evil starring Kane debuting to $4.6M, and Steve Austin's The Condemned launching with only $3.8M. 12 may grab some business from its core target, but don't expect much beyond that as overall buzz is not strong. Landing in more than 2,200 locations, 12 Rounds could debut with about $6M this weekend.


John Cena in 12 Rounds

Nicolas Cage may have a way of predicting impending doom, but he won't be able to stop the fist fight between monsters and aliens this weekend. The actor's sci-fi thriller Knowing should drop by about half in the second frame and fall down to roughly $12M giving Summit a solid $43M tally after ten days. Paramount enjoyed a good start for its buddy comedy I Love You, Man. Sophomore drops last year for Paul Rudd's Role Models and Jason Segal's Forgetting Sarah Marshall were 42% and 38%, respectively and this latest R-rated comic offering may get into the same neighborhood. There will be some competition from new releases, but it shouldn't be too direct. A 40% decline would leave Man with around $10.5M and a ten-day cume of $34M.

Duplicity's audience of adult women should help give the Julia Roberts pic a decent hold since that crowd is not known to rush out on opening weekend for a non-brand name film. Competition from new titles is not direct, however MvA will certainly take a lot of moms out of the picture. Look for a 40% drop to about $8.5M and a total of $26M in ten days for Universal. Disney's family film Race to Witch Mountain should fall by 40% to approximately $7M and lift the cume to $54M after 17 days.

LAST YEAR: Kevin Spacey and his college pupils landed in first with the gambling drama 21 which bowed to $24.1M. Sony's unlikely hit topped the charts for two weeks and went on to gross an impressive $81.2M domestically and $158M worldwide. The animated blockbuster Horton Hears a Who dropped by only 28% in its third session and ranked second with $17.7M. The spoof comedy Superhero Movie opened in third with only $9.5M on its way to just $25.9M for MGM. Tyler Perry's comedy Meet the Browns tumbled 63% in its second weekend to $7.5M and Owen Wilson's Drillbit Taylor fell 45% in its sophomore round to $5.7M rounding out the top five. Debuting in eighth with just $4.6M was the soldier drama Stop-Loss which ended with a mere $10.9M for Paramount.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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