Box Office Guru Preview: Underworld Battles Oscar All-Stars
Inkheart also opens this weekend; Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon expanding.
Only two new releases hit the North American box office, but in the wake of Academy Award nominations, a handful of contenders take the opportunity to expand nationwide hoping Oscar nods can translate into extra cash. Sony unleashes its franchise thriller Underworld: Rise of the Lycans while Warner Bros. counters with Brendan Fraser's fantasy actioner Inkheart. Meanwhile, films like Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Dark Knight, and Revolutionary Road all add theaters making for a crowded marquee.
Werewolves get their turn to wreak havoc on the box office with the arrival of the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. The R-rated pic follows Kate Beckinsale's two vampire flicks which grossed a combined $114M domestically. The actress does not star in Lycans which features Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, and Rhona Mitra. Since this third helping lacks the muscle of its predecessors, don't expect the opening weekend to reach the heights of 2003's Underworld or the 2006 sequel Underworld: Evolution which debuted to $21.8M and $26.9M, respectively.
Some fans of the franchise may look at this as a straight-to-DVD followup that got lucky enough to win a trip to the multiplexes. Those folks will sit this one out. But moviegoers up for some action, violence, and beastly fun will come out and give this a try. The brand has been a strong one so some pull is still there. My Bloody Valentine 3D will provide some competition, but Lycans will carve out its own crowd before large declines set in next week. Attacking over 2,800 theaters, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans could collect about $18M this weekend.
Rhona Mitra and Bill Nighy in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Following up on his pair of $100M+ grossers from last summer, Brendan Fraser returns to cinemas with yet another effects-filled actioner with >Inkheart. The New Line production is being released by Warner Bros. and carries a family-friendly PG rating which will help it to attract kids. Fraser plays a man who can bring characters from fables to life so the studio has tried hard to make it differ from Adam Sandler's recent Bedtime Stories by focusing more on starpower and the fantasy visuals instead of plot. Fantasy pics aimed at kids have had their ups and downs at the box office this time of year. Paramount bowed its The Spiderwick Chronicles to $19M a year ago while Disney's Bridge to Terabithia debuted to $22.6M two years ago in February.
Inkheart has a bigger star with a good track record in this field. However, the film's look blends in with so many other adventure flicks and fans just had a double dose of the guy in Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor so another one so soon may not be in so much demand. Having already grossed over $17M overseas from openings in Germany, the United Kingdom, and a handful of other territories, the film now hits the red hot North American box office where just about every pic has been met with a solid debut. Landing in 2,655 theaters, Inkheart may take in roughly $12M this weekend.
Brendan Fraser and co. in Inkheart
With ten Oscar nominations, Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire will expand nationally on Friday going from 582 to about 1,300 locations. The Danny Boyle film's averages have stayed strong during its entire run and now the added exposure from the Academy will open the door to a wider audience interested in seeing what the buzz is all about. A three-day take in the vicinity of $8M may result pushing Slumdog to $60M.
Paramount Vantage will expand its Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet marital drama Revolutionary Road on Friday from limited release to 1,058 theaters nationwide. So far it has performed well in limited release holding its own week after week with averages of $10,427 from 171 last weekend and $10,558 from 135 the frame before. Those are solid, but not spectacular numbers. Revolutionary Road hasn't generated the kind of must-see buzz one would expect from a reteaming of the stars of the top-grossing blockbuster of all-time. The fact that it's not an uplifting feel-good film - what moviegoers are really in the mood for - could be playing a part. Plus with no picture or lead acting nods from the Academy, the road ahead won't be as bright as it could have been.
Still, its three Oscar nominations and Golden Globe win for Winslet are weapons in the marketing campaign so Vantage will be able to squeeze some mileage out of them. The pic will skew female but could reach a broad range of adults so this weekend's new releases, and even last week's openers, should not steal away much of its audience. The one it should worry about is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which could get rejuvenated thanks to its 13 Oscar nods and similar demographic reach. For this weekend, a take of about $5M could result for Revolutionary Road which won't necessarily guarantee an invite into the top ten.