Movie projector: 'Avatar' re-release a wild card as 'Takers' and 'Last Exorcism' debut
Hollywood executives who are usually confident predicting what films will gross on opening weekends admit they're mystified by "Avatar: Special Edition," which debuts this weekend against horror flick "The Last Exorcism" and heist film "Takers."
The re-release of "Avatar," which grossed $750 million in the U.S. and Canada during its initial run last winter, includes nine minutes of new footage and will play only on screens that can project it in digital 3-D, including Imax. Director James Cameron has said he thinks there were still people who wanted to see "Avatar" when the movie lost most of its 3-D screens to "Alice" and "How to Train Your Dragon" in March. But with 19 million "Avatar" DVDs sold since April and millions more copies rented or downloaded, it's uncertain how many people have yet to see it or are eager to watch it again on a big screen.
The only roughly comparable situation is Disney's re-release of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" together in 3-D last October, which opened to $12.5 million and ended up with $30.7 million. But those films had never before been seen in 3-D.
Estimates of the opening weekend performance of "Avatar: Special Edition" range from $5 million all the way to $20 million, according to people who have seen pre-release surveys of potential filmgoers. Though it will have the advantage of 3-D ticket price surcharges, the fact that it won't play in 2-D means the movie will be at only 811 theaters, compared with 2,206 for "Takers" and 2,874 for "The Last Exorcism."
"Avatar" will also be re-released in 14 overseas markets this weekend, including Britain, Russia, Australia, India and South Korea. The movie grossed $2 billion overseas during its first release.
In the U.S. and Canada, prospects are more certain for "The Last Exorcism" and Takers," which are each expected to sell between $15 million and $20 million worth of tickets, with many in Hollywood giving the edge to "Takers." Pre-release surveys indicate that interest in the picture, which features stars including Chris Brown, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana and rapper T.I. along with Matt Dillon and Paul Walker, is high among African Americans in particular and strong with young men in general.
Sony's genre label Screen Gems spent $32 million to produce "Takers," meaning it should be in a solid financial position if the film opens as expected.
Lionsgate probably will be in even better shape with its low-budget acquisition "The Last Exorcism." The independently produced movie was made for less than $2 million and the studio spent a similarly small amount for distribution rights in the U.S. and Canada.
With an audience of teenagers and young adults expected to turn out for the PG-13 horror film, Lionsgate has heavily promoted "The Last Exorcism" online, including a YouTube video that has attracted more than 2 million views in which people on the video chat service Chat Roulette encounter a demonically possessed young woman enhanced with digital effects.
Top photo: Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell in "The Last Exorcism." Credit: Patti Perret / Lionsgate. Bottom photo: Chris Brown and Michael Ealy in "Takers." Credit: Suzanne Tenner / Sony Screen Gems.