Movie projector: 'Eclipse' headed for $180 million by Monday, 'Airbender' will earn about $50 million
Like the last two movies based on Stephenie Meyer's fan favorite vampire books, "The Twilight Sage: Eclipse," which debuted Wednesday, is set to draw hordes of young women this weekend and should generate about $180 million in the U.S. and Canada by the national holiday Monday.
Meanwhile, "The Last Airbender," a big-screen, live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated television series that debuts Thursday is getting boys excited and should open to about $50 million.
With the all-ages "Toy Story 3" still doing solid business and the studios behind the more adult-leaning "Grown Ups" and "Knight & Day" looking for good second weekend holds, total box office tallies are expected to be huge through Monday.
That could augur a much bigger July 4 weekend than last year, when "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and "Public Enemies" opened, and help boost what has been a soft summer box office with total receipts down 5% since early May over last year.
"I think you're going to see a weekend up significantly from last year because of the breadth of product," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of "Airbender" studio Paramount Pictures. "You really have something for everyone."
In the case of "Twilight," distributor Summit Entertainment has virtually guaranteed the third adaption of the bestselling books will rack up a huge box office tally in its first week by opening it this week. "Eclipse" grossed a record $30 million-plus in midnight shows Tuesday night. By Monday, most of the series' fervent fans will likely see the movie at least once.
Last November's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" grossed $179 million in the U.S. and Canada by its sixth day and "Eclipse" will likely do at least that much by Monday and possibly as much as $200 million, said people who have seen prerelease surveys. The new film has an advantage over its predecessor given the holiday weekend, the fact that many students are off from school and can go to weekday matinees, and that it is the first "Twilight" movie to play on premium priced Imax screens.
As a result, total receipts for the new film will almost certainly be very front-loaded, with most of its revenue coming in the first week.
"It's a compressed period during which we expect to do a whole bunch of business," said Summit domestic distribution president Richard Fay.
It remains to be seen, however, whether "Eclipse" will significantly outperform the $297-million total gross of "New Moon," or if it will simply be the same "Twilight" fans turning out once again.
Either way, Summit is sure to make a huge profit on the movie, which cost about $68 million to produce. The majority of the film's revenue should come from overseas, where "New Moon" grossed $413 million and Summit has pre-sold the film to local distributors. "Eclipse" debuts in 42 foreign territories this weekend, including several of the most lucrative for "New Moon," such as Mexico, Italy, Australia and Spain.
"The Last Airbender," from "Sixth Sense" director M. Night Shyamalan, is the biggest bet of the summer for Paramount Pictures, which spent about $150 million to produce the picture. Boys familiar with the anime-inspired cartoon will be the movie's core audience, but older men who are fans of Shyamalan's previous films could turn out as well.
"Airbender" was converted to 3-D and will play at between 1,500 and 1,600 theaters capable of displaying it with the technology. That's fewer than the approximately 2,400 screens -- not counting Imax -- on which recent 3-D movies such as "Toy Story 3" and "Shrek Forever After" opened. However, because "Toy Story" has been out for only two weeks and has racked up more than $235 million in that short amount of time, Paramount wasn't about to steal away most of the roughly 900 theaters that have only a single 3-D screen. It is, however, getting at least one screen for "Airbender" in most theaters with more than one 3-D screen.
Unlike in March, when "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Clash of the Titans" opened back to back in 3-D while "Alice in Wonderland" was still in 3-D theaters leading to complaints from theater owners about high pressure tactics from Paramount, the arrival of "Airbender" this week and "Despicable Me" next week in 3-D has not created much controversy.
A $50 million expected gross by Monday would be good, but not great, leaving Paramount to look for the movie to play well for at least a few weeks to become a big hit. "Airbender" could also do very well overseas given its multi-ethnic cast and Asian influences, though it doesn't start opening in foreign countries until next week.
-- Ben Fritz
Related:'Last Airbender' carries Shyamalan into new territory
Top photo: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." Credit: Kimberley French / Summit Entertainment
Bottom photo: Noah Ringer in "The Last Airbender." Credit: Zade Rosenthal / Paramount Pictures