By most accounts, "Brave" is expected to hit a box-office bull's-eye this weekend.
Industry watchers have predicted the latest from Disney/Pixar will continue the studio's tradition of claiming the top spot. All 12 previous Pixar films hit #1 in wide release. The 3-D animated story of a free-spirited Scottish princess possessed of major bow-and-arrow prowess is set to debut in an estimated 4,000 locations. "The goodwill people feel for Pixar gets it to $62 million this weekend, even in the face of middling reviews," IMDb's Keith Simanton told MTV News.
Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, and HitFix.com co-founder/ editor in chief Gregory Ellwood predicted an opening in the $60 million range for "Brave" as well, although NextMovie.com editor Kevin Polowy put the movie's bow closer to $50 million. The Los Angeles Times estimated the movie's opening as high as $65 million.
Critics have been mostly kind to "Brave" thus far but have withheld the type of loving adoration reserved for the "Toy Story" movies. The consensus is that the movie is good, but not great in the way fans of the brand have come to expect. " 'Brave' Is No 'Incredibles' — but See the Latest Pixar Flick Anyway ...," was the headline for E! Online's review, which went on to say the movie "may not boast the pitch-perfect storytelling of 'Ratatouille' " but "it has belly laughs aplenty."
Nevertheless, a $60 million opening would be very strong. "That's similar to what 'Cars 2' and 'WALL-E' debuted with, which is nothing to sneeze at," Ellwood noted.
"Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" managed to hang on to the top spot against new movies from Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler (which both flopped) last weekend and could pose somewhat of a problem for Pixar. " 'Madagascar 3' is fast on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie in the series, has tremendous word-of-mouth and benefits from being a better-known and trusted brand than 'Brave,' despite the Pixar connection," Polowy pointed out.
Simanton, on the other hand, said "Brave" doesn't have much to worry about from last weekend's #1 movie. " 'Madagascar' benefited from having no competition for kids' money during its run, but it's winding down now. It likely makes $16 to $17M this weekend, but that won't directly harm 'Brave.' "
Bock predicted $17 million for "Madagascar 3" as well, which will make for an excellent three-week total for a kid-franchise threequel. Simanton placed much of the movie's success on its streamlined sense of purpose. "[It] went the same route as 'Ice Age 3,' almost dispensing with the need to continue to tell the story and heading instead to an almost purely comedic offering. The accountants would say that going for the laughs is good for the revenue stream. A parallel that I find interesting is 'Kung Fu Panda 2.' It opened better than 'Ice Age 3' with a higher per-theater average. However, it quickly suffered from its reviews and bad word-of-mouth. Things really changed when they hit the international stage: ['Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs'] made more internationally than 'Panda 2' made in total."
Where the third "Madagascar" movie goes straight for the laughs, the first-ever Pixar movie to feature a female protagonist at the center of the story is filled with action, swordplay, hulking bears and themes of tradition, honor and independence. "Pixar films aren't just family films, they reach out to every demographic, so having a film that is a bit more mature shouldn't affect business much," Bock said. "Female heroines have been hot, with 'Twilight,' 'The Hunger Games' and 'Snow White and the Huntsman.' It's just a surprise it's taken forward-thinking Pixar 12 films to give females a shot at headlining glory."
At times, "Brave" is much darker in tone than any previous Pixar movie. "It is much scarier than the standard Pixar offering and that will affect it," Simanton said, adding that he found the film to be better than "Cars 2" but not as good as "Wall-E." "Its comedic bits lack the Pixar touch. They're loud and clumsy and not very much in character," he said. As a result of all of these factors, he concluded, " 'Brave' won't likely have the same legs as other Pixar films in the coming weeks."
Whereas Pixar and the "Madagascar" franchise are well-known brands, the other big studio picture this weekend will likely suffer from a lack of awareness. Based on the book of the same name, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a mixture of action and horror that re-imagines the Civil War president as a stake-wielding badass.
" 'Lincoln' is looking at $20 million for the weekend," Ellwood predicted. "Considering the early buzz, that's face saving for 20th Century Fox."
"I think Fox would be fortunate if 'Abe' opened with $20+ million," agreed Bock. "Mash-ups are typically a difficult sell, and historical/horror has never had a hit that I'm aware of. This is probably the riskiest endeavor of the summer, and the fact that it looks more like a video game than a movie certainly doesn't help its cause."
"Director Timur Bekmambetov has gone up against Pixar before, when 2008's 'Wanted' opened against 'Wall-E' and held its own, grossing $50 million," Bock added. "But honestly, that had more to do with Angelina Jolie than anything else. With a cast of relative unknowns, 'Lincoln' may find itself without much public support."
Opening in more than 3,000 locations, "Lincoln" will need to match the $24 million collected by "Zombieland" in order to be considered a success, according to Simanton. "I'm putting it at $19 million, but it may be closer to $17 million," he said.
If "Lincoln" isn't a success, it could spell more trouble for "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which has already had a rough road going from the page to the screen. Even with Lionsgate behind the film and Natalie Portman attached as producer, the project has already been through three directors since it was first announced.
"If 'Abe' outright bombs this weekend, ['Pride'] may just be dead," Bock said. "Even the undead know that's not a good thing. With an estimated budget of $70 million, 'Abe' isn't that big of risk for Fox, but they need more than just fanboys to convert the masses. Odds are this is headed more towards pennies than $5 bills, though, as this is the strangest-looking film to open since 'Howard the Duck.' And we know how that ended."
Simanton likened "Lincoln" to one of last week's bombs. "It falls into that nether realm occupied by 'Rock of Ages.' Guys were supposed to go to it but didn't. Those exit poll demographics will harm 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' if they don't skew towards the coveted 18-35 male."
Whether or not "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" does decent business this weekend shouldn't have any long-term effects for Steve Carell and his post-"Office" career. "It's a low-budget indie he shot that is being released semi-wide," Ellwood noted. "If it was a big studio release, it would be much more important."
"It's not a big studio film and isn't being presented as one in the marketing or [as] a film Carell is supposed to carry," agreed Simanton.
"Steve Carell is already a bona fide movie star. 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' solidified that," Bock added. " 'The Office' certainly helped bring him to the forefront, but he's so popular now, he can afford to take some risks. 'Seeking a Friend' probably won't be a huge hit, but it will definitely have its fans."
"If the guy survived the mega-budgeted bomb 'Evan Almighty,' he can survive anything," Polowy said.
Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" will open in even fewer theaters than Carell's picture. Last year, Allen had his biggest success to date ($56.8 million domestically) with Sony Pictures Classic's "Midnight in Paris," which boasts a 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. This weekend's follow-up sat at 53 percent at press time.
"Woody Allen had the biggest gross of his career with 'Paris,' but as is the case with 'The Woodman,' for every amazing film he unspools, there are two or three misfires," Bock said."That's the risk you take making a movie every year as he has done. Nobody can churn out quality every time."
" 'Rome''s reviews have been unkind and that typically does handicap an Allen film," Simanton said. " 'Midnight''s immediate predecessor, 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' — which isn't all that bad, in my opinion — barely made $3.2 million domestically in its entire run."
Ellwood predicted that "Rome" will perform "closer to a traditional Allen movie" than "Paris," with somewhere between $5 million to $10 million domestically.
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