Box Office Guru Preview: Ghost Rider Leads Gang of New Flicks

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Five new films, each targeting its own audience, cram into North American multiplexes giving moviegoers plenty of entertainment options over the four-day Presidents' Day holiday weekend.

Segregating the races on Wednesday's Valentine's Day holiday with competing romantic comedies, Warner Bros. bowed the Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore starrer "Music and Lyrics" for white audiences while Lionsgate countered with Tyler Perry's "Daddy's Little Girls" for black moviegoers. Adding to the overcrowded frame on Friday will be Sony's comic book actioner "Ghost Rider," Disney's tween adventure "The Bridge to Terabithia," and the FBI thriller "Breach" from Universal. Although studios jammed too many films into this particular frame, audience overlap seems minimal so the box office should easily expand to its largest size of the year finally beating 2006 levels.

Johnny Blaze leads the way over the extended weekend as Nicolas Cage steps into the role of the Marvel Comics character in the big-budget actioner "Ghost Rider." The PG-13 film is directed by Mark Steven Johnson whose "Daredevil," another effects-driven action flick based on a B-level Marvel hero, topped the box office over the Presidents' Day frame four years ago with a powerful $45M with Ben Affleck in the lead. Much of the same audience of young males and comic fans will be back, however moviegoers have since been subjected to endless super hero flicks so don't be surprised if some take a pass this time. Sony has been loud in its marketing campaign and awareness is sky high with the target audience. A crowded marketplace could keep the grosses in check. But with the most theaters of any new release by far, the motorcycle pic should ride off with the box office crown with ease. "Ghost Rider" opens in 3,619 theaters on Friday and could collect around $35M over the four-day span.


Nicolas Cage in "Ghost Rider"

Disney goes after the always reliable family audience with the fantasy drama "The Bridge to Terabithia," a film adaptation of the beloved book. In the PG-rated tale, a seventh grade boy befriends the new girl who moves in next door and together create a fantasy world through their imaginations as an escape from the struggles of real life. Kidpics based on books usually find themselves with a built-in audience showing up on opening weekend and with "Terabithia" launching over a school holiday session, the target audience will be very available. Last year, the studio won the weekend going after a similar crowd with "Eight Below" which opened to a solid $25M over four days. "Bridge" lacks big star names, but should still pull in families especially since that segment has few other titles in the current marketplace to be excited about. Younger teens may however get pulled away by the crude physical comedy of "Norbit" or the comic book action of "Ghost Rider." Launching in over 2,800 theaters, "The Bridge to Terabithia" may gross around $18M over the Friday-to-Monday period.


"The Bridge to Terabithia"

Following up his number one hits "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea's Family Reunion," Tyler Perry returns to the big screen with his latest comedy, "Daddy's Little Girls." The PG-13 film stars Gabrielle Union as an attorney who falls for a working class driver who has three daughters. Unlike his last two February chart-toppers, "Girls" finds Perry strictly behind the camera and not playing the outrageous matriarch Madea.

In recent years, nobody has proven the power of the African American audience more than Perry who exceeded industry expectations both times with the $21.9M bow of "Diary" and the stronger $30M debut of "Reunion" a year ago. Both debuted on the weekend after the Presidents' Day frame. Lionsgate once again handles distribution duties, but various factors indicate that sales should deflate a bit. Starpower is less for "Girls," most notably because of Perry's absence. Plus competition will be much tougher than in past years with "Norbit" in its second weekend playing to much of the same audience. However, the Tyler name sells and sell-outs are sure to occur in all parts of the country. Opening Wednesday in 2,111 theaters, "Daddy's Little Girls" could take in about $16M over four days and $23M over six days.


Tyler Perry's "Daddy's Little Girls"

Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore find love in the new romantic comedy "Music and Lyrics" which also opened on Wednesday to capture the date crowd on Valentine's Day. On paper, the PG-13 film has all the ingredients to become a box office hit thanks to the starpower and timing of its release. But a poor script and lack of chemistry could impact weekend grosses if mid-week ticket buyers spread bad word of mouth. Both actors are proven draws at the turnstiles and their first pairing will undoubtedly spark interest from women and couples. Warner Bros. has been pushing the 80's music angle since Grant plays the washed up half of a pop music superduo from that era. Competition for white women over 25 is not too fierce among the weekend's other contenders so a strong start is likely. Composing tunes in 2,929 locations, "Music and Lyrics" may find itself with around $16M over four days and about $22M over six days.


Hugh Grant, in a sadly realistic portrayal of an 80s popstar, in "Music and Lyrics."

Ryan Phillippe stars as a young FBI agent out to catch his boss who has been selling secrets to the Soviet Union in the new political thriller "Breach." The PG-13 pic co-stars Chris Cooper, Laura Linney, and Dennis Haysbert and is being released by Universal. Three factors will prevent big grosses for Reese's ex-hubby. "Breach" lacks starpower, has too much competition to face, and is not being booked in too many theaters. Though the cast features some respected actors, none is a box office anchor that can draw in large paying crowds. Plus with four other new films hitting the multiplexes, and a collection of acclaimed Oscar contenders all attracting the attention of serious-minded adults, "Breach" cannot stand out. Academy pics may all be grossing small numbers individually, but moviegoers spent nearly $20M on the ones in the Top 20 last weekend and this long holiday frame will be the last full weekend to catch up on the contenders. Opening in just 1,487 theaters, "Breach" might steal about $7M over the four days.


"Breach," with Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, and some blurry guy.

Among holdovers, Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy may get driven out of the top spot by Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage. Both of their new films, of course, are for commercial gain and not critical acclaim. "Norbit" will be coming off of a solid opening, but will face competition from many of the new releases. The four-day gross could slide 30% from last weekend's three-day opening and reach roughly $24M for the frame. That would give the Paramount release a terrific $64M in 11 days. A larger drop is in the works for "Hannibal Rising." The MGM release may fall 40% to about $8M for a cume of $23M after a similar 11 days.


LAST YEAR: The battle for Presidents' Day weekend was won by the family adventure "Eight Below" which debuted on top with $25M over the four-day frame. Disney's hit kids flick went on to collect $81.6M. Fox settled for second with its spoof comedy "Date Movie" which bowed to $21.8M over the Friday-to-Monday period on its way to $48.5M. "The Pink Panther" dropped from first to third with $20.9M followed by fellow kidpic "Curious George" with $15.4M. Rounding out the top five was "Final Destination 3" with $11.5M. Samuel L. Jackson flopped with his new drama "Freedomland" which debuted to just $6.7M over four days leading to a weak $12.5M final for Sony.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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