LOS ANGELES — The trend has been building for years, and this weekend, video games might finally conquer Hollywood.
In the eyes of many gamers, the battle was won as far back as 2003, when sales of video games and consoles generated $10 billion in revenue, surpassing the $9.5 billion earned by movies. Or maybe it was last September, when "Halo 3" made $170 million in its first 24 hours, far surpassing the record $115 million opening weekend of "Spider-Man 2."
On Tuesday, Rockstar Games released "Grand Theft Auto IV," which experts are predicting will become the most successful video game ever, with somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million in sales this week. And now, Hollywood is holding its breath and wondering: How will the phenomenon impact this weekend's movies?
"I know this sounds crazy, but 'Grand Theft Auto IV' is bigger than any Hollywood movie," Steve Weintraub, a film reporter for Collider.com, said when he joined us for a recent sit-down to discuss the status of superhero movies. "A lot of people have been talking in online forums about [how it will be] damaging the 'Iron Man' box office."
In case you've been living under a rock, Friday marks the opening of Robert Downey Jr.'s debut as the red-and-gold superhero, a film that by all accounts has the goods to be a smash hit. But if $400 million worth of people are hovering over their Xbox 360s, with sweat pouring down their faces as they perfect the fine art of virtual carjacking, will they be able to put the controller down?
"As a fan, what am I gonna do?" shrugged Shane Coleman, reigning geek/clerk supreme at Los Angeles' Golden Apple Comics store. "I'm sitting here with a conundrum: Am I gonna go see 'Iron Man,' or am I going to sit and play 'Grand Theft Auto' all day?
"You could do both, but you're taking time away from the other," Coleman added. "I'm a geek, I'm a fan. But [this weekend], it's like: a video game, or go pay $15 to see a movie? I already spent money on this video game."
On the flip side is "Made of Honor," a romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan. In a classic move of Hollywood counter-programming, the chick flick will open opposite "Iron Man" and attempt to suck in those who don't want explosions and gunfire. But if that wisdom holds true (and it certainly did in 2006 when "Devil Wears Prada" opened opposite "Superman Returns"), wouldn't it be amplified by all the additional boyfriends and husbands who'll be occupied with "GTA IV" this weekend?
"You know, until you brought it up, I didn't even know that was going down," Dempsey said. "I think people always shut [the consoles] off and take a break from it, because you need to take a break when you've got a new game like that. You've got to take a break in order to come back and digest it, and I think it's much better when you come back after an hour break."
"I suppose if you want to play the video game, go play the video game," reasoned Monaghan, who insisted she'd never heard of the popular game series. "If you want to see [our] movie, see the movie."
Informed about the projected revenues for "GTA IV," she added: "That's pretty remarkable. It goes to show how big the gaming industry is. But I don't know. I think Patrick is bigger."
"A movie like 'Made of Honor' is the perfect break," Dempsey said, claiming that it shouldn't only be non-gamers seeing his movie this weekend. "Step back, take a break, and go see 'Made of Honor.' "
The showdown has begun, and it sure will be interesting to see what the results are after this weekend. So, readers: "GTA IV," "Iron Man," "Made of Honor" or some combination of the three? Post in the comments section below and tell us your plans for the weekend.
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