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Movie projector: Sun won't shine too bright for 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs'

September 17, 2009 |  4:38 pm

CloudyMeatballs Sony Pictures' third effort at a hit computer-animated movie isn't going to vault the studio into Pixar or DreamWorks territory.

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," which opens tomorrow, is likely to sell close to $30 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, according to people who have seen pre-release audience polling. That's just a little better than the first movie from the studio's Sony Pictures Animation division, "Open Season," that opened to a so-so $23.6 million in late September of 2006. Given three years of inflation and the fact that 55% of its theaters will play the movie in 3-D, which typically adds a $2 to $3 surcharge to ticket prices, that means "Cloudy" will be essentially keeping pace with "Open Season."

Sony's second animated feature, 2007's "Surf's Up," was a flop, grossing only $58.9 million domestically.

September is generally a slow month at the box office, particularly for family films, so an opening over $30 million would be something of an accomplishment for Sony. The studio's choice of a relatively weak date for a family movie, however, signifies its unwillingness to compete with higher-profile offerings like "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Up."

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," based on the popular children's book, cost a hefty $100 million to produce, so even a $30-million debut isn't too strong a start. The studio is surely hoping "Cloudy" will follow the path of "Open Season," which ultimately grossed $85.1 million domestically.

Two weeks after it launches, however, "Cloudy" will lose most of its 3-D theaters to Disney's re-release of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2," which will hurt its ticket sales.

"Cloudy" is certain to be No. 1 at the box office this weekend, while three modestly budgeted new pictures, all of which are tracking in the $10-million to $15-million range, will be fighting for No. 2.

Informant Warner Bros. and its co-financiers Participant Media and Groundswell Productions are taking perhaps the biggest risk with "The Informant." The Steven Soderbergh-directed comedy based on the real story of a whistleblower at agri-business giant ADM presents a marketing challenge for the studio, as it balances comedic elements with a serious and dry backdrop.

"Informant" was originally going to start in limited release, allowing Warner Bros. to build off of reviews, but the studio decided about six weeks ago to change course and launch nationwide, putting more pressure on marketing materials and the appeal of star Matt Damon. The movie cost $22 million to produce.

20th Century Fox's horror comedy "Jennifer's Body," co-financed by Dune Entertainment, is tracking strongest with young males, thanks mainly to star Megan Fox. Marketing has heavily promoted the young "Transformers" star while also pushing some of the movie's satirical elements in hopes of drawing as broad a young crowd as possible, but the movie will probably be a modest hit at best.

"Love Happens," a romantic drama starring Jennifer Aniston, isn't looking like another flop for Universal after a tough summer, but probably won't be much of a hit either. Relativity Media split the $18-million production cost with the studio, and advances from foreign distributors will protect the two investors from much downside even if the picture opens weaker than expected.

Lionsgate's "I Can Do Bad All by Myself" probably will be in the mix with those three movies if it declines about 60% from its $23.4 million debut, as is typical for Tyler Perry movies.

--Ben Fritz

Times reviews:

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"

"The Informant"

"Love Happens"

Top photo: A scene from "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." Credit: Sony Pictures Animation

Bottom photo: Matt Damon in "The Informant." Credit: Claudette Barius / Warner Bros.

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