Movie Projector: 'I Am Number Four' to be No. 1 at holiday weekend box office [Updated]
With most people off work or school Monday, Presidents Day weekend is usually prosperous for the film studios. This year will probably fall short, however, continuing a box office slide that has seen receipts down 24% so far compared with 2010.
The young adult action-adventure "I Am Number Four" should top the box office charts, but people who have seen pre-release audience surveys say it will probably take in close to $25 million in ticket sales in its first four days. The Martin Lawrence comedy sequel "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is expected to finish second with about $20 million. The weekend's third new movie, the Liam Neeson action tale "Unknown," should be close to "Big Mommas" with $15 million to $20 million.
"I Am Number Four" is the first release from DreamWorks since the Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider-led studio separated from Paramount Pictures, signed a distribution agreement with Walt Disney Pictures and raised new financing. The adaptation of a popular young adult novel cost DreamWorks about $59 million to produce, according to a person close to the production, making its projected domestic start solid but not terrific. [Update, 3:49 PM: A person close to Disney said the budget was actually closer to $50 million.]
While the movie about a teen with superpowers is clearly geared toward young men, surveys indicate it is also appealing to a less likely audience: older females. In a similar fashion to the "Twilight" movies, which lured in both young girls and their moms, "I Am Number Four" is attracting those adult women through what director D.J. Caruso jokingly referred to as a "cougar campaign" focused on its young star, British newcomer Alex Pettyfer.
Although it is skewing a bit older, "Number Four" in many ways resembles "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," another adaptation of a young adult adventure novel. It opened on Presidents Day weekend last year to $38.7 million.
"I Am Number Four" is certain to land well behind the last couple of top Presidents Day weekend movies. 2010's "Valentine's Day" opened to a phenomenal $63.1 million and 2009's horror reboot "Friday the 13th" scooped up $43.6 million.
"Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son," the third movie in the series featuring Lawrence impersonating a middle-age mother, is primarily generating interest among African Americans, although its backers hope the movie will draw a broader crowd of young fans of slapstick comedy.
Unlike the first two "Big Momma's," the third film features a handful of fresh-faced new stars, and distributor 20th Century Fox has been running advertisments on "Glee" and "American Idol" in an effort to attract teen moviegoers.
The movie cost New Regency Productions $32 million to make. That's less than the previous "Big Momma" movies, each of which cost more than $35 million to make. The budget was reduced slightly in part because of aggressive tax incentives in Georgia, where the movie was filmed, but also because Lawrence agreed to take a pay cut, according to a person close to the production. The salary slash was was precipitated by the disappointing performance of 2006's "Big Momma's House 2," which grossed $77.2 million domestically, compared with $117.6 million for 2000's "Big Momma's House."
Unless it exceeds pre-release projections, it appears that the third entry will fall short of both its predecessors at the box office.
"Unknown" is hoping to follow in the footsteps of 2008's action film "Taken," which also starred Neeson and became an unlikely hit at the box office when it ended up at $145 million in domestic ticket sales.
However, the new movie, which cost producer Joel Silver's Dark Castle Entertainment a little more than $30 million to make, isn't generating enough pre-release excitement for a "Taken"-size performance. Dark Castle could use a surprise, as it is coming off several flops, including last year's "The Losers" and 2009's "Whiteout."
Among returning movies, the animated "Gnomeo & Juliet" may have the best chances for a good hold after its surprisingly strong $25.4-million premiere, as there are no new movies competing for familes with young children. Adam Sandler's last movie, "Grown Ups," enjoyed a healthy run after its launch, and Sony Pictures is hoping to see the same with the romantic comedy "Just Go With It," which debuted to a solid $30.5 million.
The Justin Bieber 3-D documentary "Never Say Never," meanwhile, would be bucking a trend if it shows any signs of life this weekend after opening to a strong $29.5 million. Most music movies fall off rapidly after fans run to theaters on opening weekend. In February 2008, ticket sales for "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds" plummeted 67% after its launch.
But Paramount Pictures is hoping that good word-of-mouth, evidenced by an average audience grade of "A," could help keep Bieber Fever alive.
-- Amy Kaufman and Ben Fritz
Photos (from top): Alex Pettyfer, left, and Teresa Palmer in "I Am Number Four." Credit: John Bramley / Disney. Brandon T. Jackson and Martin Lawrence in "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son." Credit: 20th Century Fox.