Movie Projector: 'Wild Things' makes for woolly weekend
With one of the most unusual big-budget movies of the year opening and independent phenom "Paranormal Activity" more than quadrupling its theater count, this weekend's box office is shaping up to be one of the most difficult to predict of the year.
"Where the Wild Things Are" is tracking well with most audience segments, according to executives with access to pre-release audience polling. But despite its roots in Maurice Sendak's children's book and a PG rating, reviews have pointed out that the film is very dark and sad. Several people close to the film said it's an open question whether parents will take children, particularly young ones, to the film after word of mouth starts circulating on opening day.
The consensus among studio executives is that the movie will sell about $30 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, but estimates by different people range from the low $20 millions up to $40 million-plus.
The movie probably needs to collect at least $30 million on its opening weekend to launch on a path to financial success. The financiers spent about $100 million, including the cost of reshoots that delayed its release by a full year, although the final cost was closer to $80 million after benefiting from foreign tax incentives.
Village Roadshow Pictures paid for 50% of the budget, distributor Warner Bros. paid for 25% and Legendary Pictures the remainder.
Even with a strong opening, however, audience buzz is likely to be crucial, as reactions to the film have varied widely. Times critic Kenneth Turan called it "a precious, self-indulgent cinematic fable that not everyone is going to love," but Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, a corporate sibling of The Times, described it as "the rare adaptation that goes deeper, not dumber, in its page-to-screen translation of a children’s classic."
There's virtually no doubt "Wild Things" will be No. 1 at the box office this weekend, but beyond that the rankings are difficult to call.
When studios originally set their releases for this weekend, it seemed that outside of families and adult fans of "Wild Things" director Spike Jonze, moviegoers would be split between thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" and horror movie "The Stepfather." But nobody at the time was counting on "Paranormal Activity."
After its record-breaking run at 160 theaters last weekend, Paramount is expanding the micro-budget ($15,000 -- yes, that's fifteen thousand) horror movie to 760 locations this weekend, where it is likely to draw a young audience and gross $15 million or more.
That puts a severe crimp in "Stepfather," the latest release from Sony's Screen Gems label, which is now tracking to open at around $10 million. The movie cost a little less than $20 million to produce, however, so it probably won't be a major money loser.
The strongest audience segment for "Citizen," which stars Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, is older males, who could drive the movie to open at $15 million to $20 million. That would be a so-so start given the movie's production budget of $50 million. Overture Films is distributing "Law Abiding Citizen" for The Film Department, which financed the picture.
Also sure to be a factor this weekend is "Couples Retreat." After its strong $34.3-million opening weekend, Universal's romantic comedy is likely to decline about 50% and gross in the high teens.
-- Ben Fritz
Top photo: Max Records and Catherine Keener in "Where the Wild Things Are."
Bottom photo: Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler in "Law Abiding Citizen."