Box Office Guru Preview: Wolverine Sinks Claws Into Summer Box Office

Also: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Battle for Terra try to collect the remaining scraps.

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Six sharp adamantium blades kick off the summer movie season as Fox unleashes its most popular comic book character in his own film with X-Men Origins: Wolverine with Hugh Jackman starring and producing. The North American box office is set for the first in a long string of blockbuster openings as major franchise films debut every weekend in the month of May. Also hitting multiplexes this weekend are the romantic fantasy comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner and the animated adventure flick Battle for Terra.

Invading over 4,000 theaters domestically and more than 9,000 additional screens internationally in a massive global assault is Wolverine which documents the history of the fan-favorite mutant. Directed by Gavin Hood (Tsotsi), the PG-13 pic also stars Liev Schreiber as the hero's brother Sabretooth and features comic book characters like Deadpool and Gambit that fans have waited years to see in their big-screen premiere.

The three X-Men films generated bigger openings and total grosses with each new installment. In 2000, X-Men allowed Marvel Comics to enter the big leagues of comic book movies with its $54.5M bow. The 2003 sequel X2: X-Men United debuted to $85.6M while 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand opened to $102.8M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of its Memorial Day holiday weekend debut. Final grosses reached $157.3M, $214.9M, and $234.4M, respectively. Though a powerful franchise with the most popular character extracted and given his own stand-alone vehicle, Wolverine could still suffer from three things.

Franchise fatigue may occur as some more casual fans may not be as excited to see this hero for the fourth time. And with Last Stand widely seen as the worst of the trio, many have felt like they've seen enough. Plus beloved characters like Storm, Professor X, Rogue, and Magneto are nowhere to be found in the new pic (for the most part). Though a greatest hits collection of action movie clichés, plot twists, and visuals from super hero films of the past, Wolverine will probably not score the type of word-of-mouth enjoyed by the first two X-Men films. Luckily for Fox, fans still have that bad taste in their mouths after Last Stand so by comparison the new film will make moviegoers say 'well, at least it was better than the last one.'

The marketing has been strong and Fox is using every avenue it can to promote what it hopes will be a series of origin blockbusters. A Magneto flick is being prepped for 2011. The first weekend of May is the frame when studios plant big franchise pics into the ground to start off the summer season and they score big since competition is usually light. This year the box office has been stronger so competition will be a bit higher. The cume for the rest of the top ten when Iron Man debuted this weekend last year was only $49.8M while a year earlier it was just $27.4M for Spider-Man 3. Wolverine will probably face close to $70M in ticket sales from the movies that rank two through ten.

Reviews have not been kind, but that will have no impact on the core fans. Casual fans on the other hand may be affected a bit. Plenty of press has been generated over the past month because of the leaked pirated copy, but again that should not hurt business from the primary followers of the property. Attacking 4,099 theaters, X-Men Origins: Wolverine could haul in about $85M this weekend.

Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Matthew McConaughey is back to his bread and butter playing a lovable and charismatic stud that women want to tame in his latest romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. The lucky lady paired up with him this time is Jennifer Garner though Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, and Michael Douglas co-star. The PG-13 film finds McConaughey playing a celebrity photographer and womanizer who is visited on the eve of his younger brother's wedding by the ghosts of his playboy uncle and of girlfriends past, present, and future. This date movie version of A Christmas Carol should play female and bring in couples too.

Programming wedding-themed chick flicks opposite big summer action tentpoles is standard operating procedure for Hollywood studios. Recent examples include Mamma Mia! which opened to $27.8M against The Dark Knight last July, Patrick Dempsey's Made of Honor which bowed to $14.8M opposite Iron Man this very weekend a year ago, and License to Wed which debuted to $10.4M after a mid-week launch against Transformers in 2007. Wolverine should take advantage of Jackman's hunk factor, but there will still be a large audience of women not interested in Logan's origin. Girlfriends will pick up that business. The film is better than what the poorly-made television spots will lead people to believe, so positive word-of-mouth among young women could carry the film through the early summer weeks much like how things worked out for What Happens in Vegas last year around this time.

Helping the pic is McConaughey's starpower which is strongest in films like these. While so many romantic comedies open in the mid-teens, the heartthrob has climbed higher with 2003's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days ($23.8M), 2006's Failure to Launch ($24.4M), and last spring's action-comedy Fool's Gold ($21.6M). He does run the risk of playing the same character one too many times which could have an impact on Ghosts. And Garner brings less to the table when compared with the ghosts of MM co-stars past like Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lopez, and Sarah Jessica Parker. But there is breathing room this weekend for a date film to work so a respectable launch is likely. Opening in over 3,000 theaters, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past could debut with around $19M.

Matthew McConaughey in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Humans battle aliens, but the aliens are the good guys? That's the plot for the new animated 3D sci-fi film Battle for Terra which Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions release on Friday targeting younger action-seeking kids whose parents may find Wolverine to be too violent for. The PG-rated film features the voices of Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, and Brian Cox. With only 1,159 theaters and a modest marketing push, a big opening cannot be expected. Most of the audience will find this on DVD during the back-to-school season. In the world of toons, comedy is king and Terra is all action. Disney and DreamWorks learned the hard way that serious action doesn't sell with animated films thanks to duds like Treasure Planet and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, respectively. Even Fox struck out with its expensive sci-fi gamble Titan A.E. in 2000. Battle for Terra may capture around $3M this weekend and then fade away quickly.

Battle for Terra

The thriller Obsessed topped the charts last weekend with a surprisingly huge spring debut. Look for a sizable drop this weekend since much of the audience has come out already. Even though comic book flicks are not direct threats to Beyoncé's female-skewing audience, Wolverine will still have an impact on all moviegoing so a 50% decline could result. That would leave Obsessed with about $14M and a robust ten-day cume of $49M.

17 Again should continue to charm teen girls with the Warner Bros. title likely to slip by 45% to around $6M for a $48M total after 17 days. Zac Efron's rival in the teen hunk department Channing Tatum is set for a more dramatic fall in ticket sales for his latest pic Fighting. Hugh Jackman and pals will have a direct impact on the Universal release's sales so a 55% decline may result. That would give the film roughly $5M and a sum of $18M in ten days.

LAST YEAR: The summer movie season started with a bang as Iron Man flew into theaters opening to a stellar $98.6M and a colossal $102.1M including Thursday night previews that began at 8pm. The Paramount release enjoyed sturdy legs for a super hero film and went on to fantastic $318.3M haul domestically making it the second largest blockbuster of 2008 after fellow comic pic The Dark Knight. Overseas kicked in an additional $263M giving Iron Man a global gross of $582M with a sequel set to launch next year on May 7. Far back in second place was the romantic comedy Made of Honor which debuted to $14.8M for Sony on its way to a respectable $46M. Rounding out the top five were more comedies - Baby Mama with $10.1M, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay with $6.1M, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall with $6.1M as well.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,