Movie Projector: Sandler battles Bieber for top of the box office
Adam Sandler's romantic comedy, "Just Go With It" will face off against "Never Say Never," a documentary and concert movie that trails pop star Justin Bieber on his summer 2010 tour.
Not that it looks to be an entirely even match-up. "Just Go With It," which also stars rom-com staple Jennifer Aniston and supermodel-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker, is likely to beat out Biebs. According to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys, the film should open to around $30 million.
The Bieber picture, meanwhile, is a wild card. The 3-D movie could gross anywhere from $10 million to $30 million, but the total tally is difficult to predict because Bieber's small-but-fervent fan base consists of many "Bieliebers" who are too young to participate in box office polling.
The films will be competing against two other new movies with little shot at No. 1: The 3-D animated "Gnomeo & Juliet," which should open to between $15 million and $20 million, and Focus Features' ancient Roman action film "The Eagle," which will likely debut with less than $10 million.
A premiere in the expected $30-million range would be a good start for "Just Go With It," which cost Sony Pictures about $80 million to produce. But it wouldn't be outstanding for Sandler, whose recent comedies have opened closer to $40 million. Last summer's hit "Grown Ups" debuted to $40.5 million and 2004's romantic comedy "50 First Dates," which also opened just before Valentine's Day, started with $39.9 million.
"Just Go With It" may be hurt by its potentially distasteful concept about a man who pretends to be unhappily married to attract single women. The studio has been aggressively marketing "Just Go With It" to both genders, advertising the film as a high-brow romantic comedy that appeals to women but still features vulgar humor and a scantily clad swimsuit model for a male audience.
The PG-13 movie also opens in some foreign territories this weekend, including Britain and Mexico. "Grown Ups" proved that Sandler's star power is starting to spread overseas, where it grossed $109 million, a record for the comedian.
"Never Say Never" cost only about $13 million to produce, making the financial stakes much lower for Paramount Pictures. Two similar movies that opened in February in past years saw wildly different performances.
In 2009, "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience," opened to only $12.5 million and ended up with $19.2 million at the domestic box office. Paramount is banking on the Bieber flick following in the path of Miley Cyrus' "Hannah Montana" concert tour movie, which bowed in February 2008 to $31.1 million and went on to take in $65.3 million.
Regardless of how it starts, "Never Say Never" will likely have a short box office life. Most films featuring pop stars and musical performances have a big opening day with hardcore fans packing theaters and then fade quickly as few casual moviegoers show interest.
"Gnomeo & Juliet," a story of star-crossed romance among garden gnomes featuring songs by Elton John, has been in development at Walt Disney Studios for more than a decade. Originally set to be overseen by its own inhouse animation unit, the movie was then handed off to the studio's Miramax Films specialty label and contracted out to Starz Animation in Toronto.
After Disney sold Miramax last year, "Gnomeo" reverted back to the studio but despite its G rating for family audiences is being released through its Touchstone Pictures label, which is usually reserved for more mature pictures.
"The Eagle" was produced for about $25 million, making it a bigger budget release for Universal Pictures' specialty label Focus Features. Despite the presence of Channing Tatum, who has won favor with young women in movies like "Dear John," the action-heavy epic is targeted squarely at men, particularly older ones. Focus is hoping the movie opens close to, if not more than, $10 million to have a chance at box office life.
Monday will also prove important for the weekend's new movies, because many couples go out to theaters for Valentine's Day. "Just Go With it" is most likely to benefit from the holiday, given its subject matter. In 2005, the Will Smith romantic comedy "Hitch" took in $7.5 million on Valentine's Day, which also fell on a Monday, after opening to $43.1 million.
In limited release, Fox Searchlight opens the Ed Helms comedy "Cedar Rapids" this weekend.
— Amy Kaufman and Ben Fritz
Photos (From top): Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in "Just Go With It." Credit: Sony Pictures. Justin Bieber in "Never Say Never." Credit: Paramount Pictures.