Box Office Guru Preview: New Year Kicks Off With Killer Call

2007's holiday fare likely to dominate again.

by Gitesh Pandya | Thursday, Jan. 03 2008

The first frame of 2008 brings only one new release which means the North American box office should be ruled mostly by holiday holdovers. The horror picture One Missed Call will give fans of scary movies something new to nibble on. Awards contenders will continue to expand including indie sensation Juno which will add hundreds of new theaters to its run. Overall, the healthy marketplace should post a year-over-year gain versus 2007 to kick off the new year on the right note.

Hoping to capture some of the success that The Ring enjoyed a half-decade ago, Warner Bros. unleashes the new supernatural thriller One Missed Call. The PG-13 film is a remake of a hit Japanese chiller about young adults who receive voicemail recordings of their own deaths shortly before they are killed. Fright films like these typically become winners through two important elements - a creepy plot and strong marketing. One Missed Call has both. Trailers and television spots have been very effective in communicating the storyline and they've been edited well enough to give the target audience the chills.

Marketplace conditions are also favorable since there are no other horror films out there plus no competing new releases this weekend either. Teens and young adults are the main audience and they are done with the Fresh Prince's turn as the last man on Earth and are ready to go see something new. And since most college students are still on winter break, look for a solid showing from that segment. Plus a trim running time of under 90 minutes will ensure plenty of showtimes.

The first non-holiday weekend of January proved to be just the right time to open two other recent horror hits. In 2006, the R-rated Hostel bowed to $19.6M and a $8,909 average while a year earlier White Noise with its PG-13 classification bowed to $24.1M and a stellar $10,665 average. However, last January was a tough one for fright flicks as Primeval opened later in the month to only $6M and a $2,475 average and The Hitcher debuted to just $7.8M and a $2,758 average. Opening in 2,240 theaters, One Missed Call could open to about $9M.

Fox Searchlight will give another major expansion to its hot indie smash Juno which will try to climb one more chart position this weekend. The PG-13 film has been on a tear since going nationwide on Christmas Day becoming a feel-good hit for the arthouse crowd and beyond. On Friday, Juno widens from 1,019 to 1,880 locations. Look for its average of $10,436 to simmer down to about $7,000 in this frame resulting in a solid $13M weekend gross which again would be the biggest of its run so far. The total would rise to $49M with the road ahead leading past the $100M mark.

With only one new film going into release, Nicolas Cage hopes to make it three straight weekends atop the box office charts with National Treasure: Book of Secrets. The Disney smash could drop by 40% to about $22M lifting the cume to an amazing $171M which would be within striking distance of the $173M of its 2004 predecessor.

Like Treasure, Alvin and the Chipmunks also faces virtually no competition from One Missed Call. The Fox comedy might fall by 35% to roughly $19M which would push the total to $176M.

Sci-fi megahit I Am Legend has become the third biggest grosser of Will Smith's career and its cume is still climbing higher. Warner Bros. could see a 40% drop to around $16M for a gross to date of $227M. The quarter-billion mark domestically is still within its reach. Overseas, Legend has vaulted to $126M already so the $400M worldwide barrier could crumble this weekend.

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts enjoyed a healthy post-Christmas bump for Charlie Wilson's War which mature audiences are now finding. Universal's 1980s-set flick may drop by 30% to $8M for an overall sum of $52M.

LAST YEAR: For the third consecutive weekend, Ben Stiller and Will Smith dominated the multiplexes with their latest films. Night at the Museum topped the charts once again and grossed $23.7M in its third frame while The Pursuit of Happyness ranked second with $12.9M in its fourth outing. The blockbuster duo had grossed a combined $288M to date and eventually reached $414M together. Universal's futuristic drama Children of Men expanded nationally and opened in third with a strong $10.2M and $8,435 average. Paramount's Hilary Swank drama Freedom Writers debuted in fourth with a solid $9.4M and $6,916 average. Respective final grosses of $35.3M and $36.6M resulted. Dreamgirls rounded out the top five with $8.7M and a potent $10,168 average. Opening poorly in sixth was Lionsgate's kidpic Happily N'Ever After with $6.6M on its way to only $15.6M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,