Summer showdown: Will 'Iron Man' flay 'Robin Hood'?
It's a bit like a freeway at rush hour: four big movies on three consecutive weekends, and somebody -- and it might be "Robin Hood" -- will have to accelerate to stay on the road.
Universal has a lot riding on its summer update of the mythical English hero. For the movie to prosper, the beleaguered studio will have to take a page out of the Robin Hood playbook and steal from the rich -- namely, Marvel Entertainment and Paramount Pictures' "Iron Man 2."
There's little question the Tony Stark sequel is going to launch the summer season in spectacular fashion. Although early word-of-mouth is not as strong as the buzz greeting the 2008 original, and the initial "Iron Man 2" trade reviews are not glowing, May 7's superhero sequel could break the three-day box-office record set by 2008's "The Dark Knight" ($158.4 million) and certainly should rival (if not surpass) the premieres of 2007's "Spider-Man 3" ($151.1 million) and 2006's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" ($135.6 million).
So even if "Iron Man 2" drops around 50% in its second week of release (the first film fell 48.1% in its second weekend), the sequel could gross as much as $70 million over the May 14 weekend, when Universal's "Robin Hood" is set to premiere. Several people who have studied this week's audience tracking surveys say that means "Robin Hood" will not open in first place with a possible opening gross around $45 million, and the Russell Crowe historical epic also will lose some critical female ticket buyers to Summit Entertainment's Amanda Seyfried love story "Letters to Juliet," which looks surprisingly strong among younger women.
Universal has struggled with its last two big-budget releases, as both February's "The Wolfman" (domestic gross: $62 million, with not much more overseas) and March's "Green Zone" (domestic gross: $35 million and equally weak foreign returns) fizzled fast.The studio said "Robin Hood" cost $155 million, but another person close to the production maintained that the budget was closer to $200 million. Universal's budget figure includes all of the film's rebates and tax credits, and also excludes the shut-down costs when the film's initial production start was postponed.
For "Robin Hood" to succeed, the film will need to play strongly for several weeks and perform robustly overseas, where Universal expects the movie could double its domestic theatrical gross. The studio is hopeful the film could perform like "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Sherlock Holmes," neither of which opened in first place. Fox's 2007 animated rodent comedy was crushed in its premiere weekend by "I Am Legend" but nevertheless went on to sell more than $217.3 million in tickets in domestic release. Warner Bros.' "Sherlock" update premiered in second place behind the behemoth "Avatar" but also went on to surpass $209 million in domestic release.
It won't get easier for "Robin Hood" later in the month. On May 21, DreamWorks Animation opens "Shrek Forever After," the fourth (and promised last) sequel in the animated franchise. Although the momentum is fading for the ogre story (2007's third "Shrek" film did 27% less domestic business than 2004's second offering), the 3-D animated comedy is still on track to be one of the summer's biggest releases, as it plays to all slices of the audience.
When Crowe and "Robin Hood" director Ridley Scott collaborate, the results can be dramatically successful. Ten years ago, the best-picture-winning "Gladiator" grossed $187.7 million, and 2007's "American Gangster" grossed $130.2 million. But 2006's "A Good Year" was a bad week ($7.5 million domestically) and 2008's "Body of Lies" also fared poorly ($39.4 million domestically). Last year, Crowe's Universal film "State of Play" performed weakly, grossing $37 million domestically. To play deep into the summer, "Robin Hood" will need strong word-of-mouth, young male ticket buyers, supportive reviews and a reasonably good turnout from women -- before they flood the multiplex for May 27's "Sex and the City 2."
-- John Horn
Photos, from top: Russell Crowe in "Robin Hood." Credit: Kerry Brown / Universal Pictures. Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 2." Credit: Merrick Morton / Marvel Entertainment. Sarah Jessica Parker in "Sex and the City 2." Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / Warner Bros. Pictures. "Shrek Forever After." Credit: DreamWorks Animation / Paramount Pictures
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