Box Office Guru Preview: Halloween Strikes on the 31st

Three new releases try to conquer the weekend box office.

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The four-billion-dollar-plus summer comes to a close over the long Labor Day holiday weekend with three new wide releases all targeting male moviegoers. Slasher fans get to relive old days with the latest incarnation of Halloween, teens looking for a laugh get the ping pong comedy Balls of Fury, and adults interested in Kevin Bacon's brand of revenge have the action thriller Death Sentence. With target audiences for the new pics having lots of overlap, and the existing holdovers also catering to similar crowds, the marketplace will have to work hard to expand as many of these titles will eat into each other.

Setting a new industry record for the widest opening ever over Labor Day weekend, rock-star-turned-director Rob Zombie's Halloween attacks theaters aiming to connect with horror movie fans. The R-rated entry marks the first new installment in five years for a franchise about to hit the three-decade mark. 2002's Halloween: Resurrection bowed to $12.3M and a solid $6,291 average in mid-July of that summer proving that Michael Myers still had the muscle to draw in his fans. The arrival of a new Halloween flick coupled with the selection of a buzzworthy director makes for an interesting combo that will spark interest with genre fans.

To say that horror has hit some bad luck at the box office this year is putting it lightly. R-rated fright flicks in 2007 have struggled but Halloween will try to change that. Excitement among fans is considerable and with no other gorefests out there, competition will come mainly from the many action films or teen comedies. The Jeepers Creepers films proved how successful Labor Day weekend could be for a horror pic and now MGM and The Weinstein Company hope demand will still be there for their newest entry. Attacking 3,472 theaters, Halloween might collect about $20M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend.


Rob Zombie's Halloween

The ping pong pic Balls of Fury, enters the marketplace in a good position as the frame's only new comedy and only new PG-13 flick. The Focus release should stand out as a viable option for teenagers looking to kill some time with goofy immature fun. Starring Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, and Aisha Tyler, Balls is trying to market itself as a film that fans of Dodgeball would dig. Of course it doesn't have the star wattage of a Vince or a Ben so the grosses will be much smaller. But as a B-list comedy, it does its job and should satisfy its target audience in the short term. The marketing push has been good and perfectly matches the silly nature of the film. Focus moved up its release date from a Friday opening to a Wednesday bow hoping to take advantage of most schools still being out of session. Plus the distrib expects some good word-of-mouth midweek could help its chances come the weekend. Playing in 3,052 theaters by Friday, Balls of Fury could launch with about $14M over four days and $17M over six days.


Dan Fogler in Balls of Fury

Aisha Tyler stars in another film opening this weekend taking a supporting role in the Kevin Bacon revenge thriller Death Sentence. Directed by Saw's James Wan, the R-rated pic finds the Footloose star playing a mild-mannered executive pushed to the edge to protect his family. Co-starring Kelly Preston and John Goodman, the Fox release should skew to an older adult audience which makes the long-lasting hit The Bourne Ultimatum a direct threat despite being in its fifth frame. The weekend's other male-skewing pics will also steal away some biz so a modest bow is likely. Opening in roughly 1,900 theaters, Death Sentence might debut with about $7M over the long weekend.


Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence

Sony's hit comedy Superbad, which has become must-see viewing for high school and college students heading back to school, should lose its crown after two weeks on top. But the raunchy teen smash will still post a solid gross despite heavy competition from new releases. Superbad's four-day take might drop 25% from last weekend's three-day tally to around $13.5M which would boost the 18-day cume to a sensational $90M.

Since Labor Day weekend tends to be a catch-up time when people see popular flicks they've missed out on, another strong performance is likely to greet The Bourne Ultimatum which has easily been the top-grossing film of the past month. The new films will cause a distraction with younger moviegoers, but mature adults who may not have had time for Jason Bourne's identity-revealing saga are sure to line up. Look for the four-day gross to dip by only 10% from last weekend giving the Universal blockbuster about $11M for the long weekend which would allow the assassin pic to cross the $200M mark on Monday.

Fellow threequel Rush Hour 3 should experience a larger drop and could fall by 25% to about $9M. That would put the total at $121M for New Line.

LAST YEAR: Mark Wahlberg scored back-to-back box office touchdowns with his sports drama Invincible which remained at number one for the second straight time with $15.4M over the four-day holiday weekend. Opening in the runnerup spot was Jason Statham's action pic Crank with $12.9M over the long weekend which edged out the debuting Nicolas Cage drama The Wicker Man which took in $11.7M. Final grosses reached $27.8M for the Lionsgate film and $23.6M for the Paramount pic. Rounding out the top five were Little Miss Sunshine with $9.6M and The Illusionist with $8.1M over four days.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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