THANKSGIVING BOX OFFICE OFFERS FEAST
Offering everything from a princess to a menacing mist to a child prodigy, the five-day Thanksgiving box office will be the most crowded on record as seven wide releases unspool today domestically.
Crowded pack includes Disney's "Enchanted" (3,632 runs); Dimension Films' horror entry "The Mist," distributed by MGM (2,423); 20th Century Fox's bigscreen vidgame adaptation "Hitman" (2,401); Warner Bros.' family title "August Rush" (2,280); Sony's "This Christmas" (1,856); and the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men," which Miramax takes nationwide into 860 theaters.
On the limited side, the Weinstein Co. opens director Todd Haynes' experimental Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There" in 130 locations in 61 key markets. Cast includes Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger.
That doesn't include films fresh off their openings, such as Paramount and Shangri-La Entertainment's 3-D epic "Beowulf" and Fox-Walden's G-rated family entry "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," both of which unspooled last weekend. "Beowulf" won the frame with a haul of $28.1 million, while "Wonder Emporium" grossed $9.7 million.
Distributors have received a crash course this fall on what it means to have too many movies. They skedded numerous releases for September and October, particularly on the specialty side, but auds were underwhelmed, and the box office took a surprise downturn after the record-breaking summer.
Many attribute the lackluster B.O. to a glut of serious adult dramas. Thus, with most of the Thanksgiving titles more commercial in scope, distributors are hopeful that the five-day window will see strong holiday traffic.
But there are sure to be casualties as some titles fight for the same aud.
"I don't know what people think has happened to our business that it can withstand this number of releases," one distrib topper said.
Thanksgiving is one of the premiere family-going frames of the year. This year, there's a wealth of family titles, so it's going to be tough going for some, although "Enchanted" stands apart. Film, which ups its total theater count to 3,730 on Friday, is predicted to win the entire holiday frame.
"Enchanted" could prove something of a curse for "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" and "August Rush," which also have DreamWorks Animation's "Bee Movie" to contend with. "Bee," which beat "Wonder Emporium" this past weekend, continues to buzz happily at the B.O. heading into its fourth frame.
After "Enchanted," the Thanksgiving stretch should be a horse race for the top spots. "Hitman" is tracking strongly in the coveted young male demo, although it will have "Beowulf" to compete with, as well as "Mist." And, going for the African-American aud, Sony is hoping to post strong holiday numbers with "This Christmas."
A creative twist on the traditional Disney princess story, "Enchanted" begins in traditional, hand-drawn animation before the princess is banished to a live-action, modern-day New York.
Pic, which has taken almost a decade to get to the bigscreen, also stars Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon. Kevin Lima directed from a script by Bill Kelly; Barry Josephson and Barry Sonnenfeld produced.
Disney has relied on the Thanksgiving frame for years. In 2004, Mouse House used the holiday to unspool "National Treasure."
"August Rush," directed by Kirsten Sheridan, follows two musicians who are torn apart after a brief encounter, leaving their baby orphaned in New York City. The boy uses his exceptional musical talent as a clue to finding his parents. Film, which ups its total theater count to 2,301 on Friday, stars Freddie Highmore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell and Robin Williams.
The R-rated "Hitman" is based on the popular vidgame franchise of the same name and stars Timothy Olyphant as the genetically altered hitman named Agent 37. Pic, which has been tracking strongly for its genre, will compete with "Beowulf," which opened at $28.1 million. "Hitman," directed by Xavier Gens, also stars Dougray Scott and Olga Kurylenko.
Also going after younger moviegoers is Frank Darabont's "The Mist," based on a story by horrormeister Stephen King and starring Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher and Marcia Gay Harden. MGM is distributing the film per its deal with the Weinstein Co.'s Dimension. Story concerns a small community that comes under attack by a thick, evil mist.
Directed by Preston Whitmore, "This Christmas" features an ensemble cast that includes Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Loretta Devine and Nia Long, as well as recording hip-hop/pop music star Chris Brown. Story follows a family that all comes together after years of separation.Sony believes "This Christmas" could have crossover potential.
The highest-grossing Thanksgiving pic is "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," which cooked up $81.2 million over the five-day holiday frame in 2005 after opening at $102.7 million the previous weekend.
In 2005, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" grossed $73.5 million over the five-day Thanksgiving stretch.
Last year, four pics bowed on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, including Disney's "Deja Vu" and Fox's "Deck the Halls," which were outperformed over the five-day holiday frame by holdovers "Happy Feet" and "Casino Royale," both of which opened the weekend of Nov. 17-19. For the five-day holiday stretch, "Happy Feet" grossed $50.6 million over the five days, while "Royale" rolled in $44.8 million.
In other limited releases, Roadside Attractions bows "Starting Out in the Evening" in seven locations. Directed by Andrew Wagner and based on the novel by Brian Morton, film stars Lauren Ambrose and Frank Langella. Story revolves around a young woman who believes her thesis can return her professor to the limelight.
BRAD PITT DROPS OUT OF 'STATE OF PLAY'
Brad Pitt is out of “State of Play,” a development that has put that star-studded Universal Pictures drama in a state of flux, and has put studio and star on opposite sides of who caused his exit.
Pitt ankled the film early Wednesday, following two weeks of struggle and meetings with director Kevin Macdonald that prevented the film from making its original November 15 production start date. The studio considers Pitt to have walked out of a pay or play commitment, and is leaving open the option to sue him if the picture cannot be recast in time to keep the other actors in place.
The studio has already begun trying to replace Pitt. But while strike-related production postponements on films like “Angels & Demons” and “Shantaram” made stars like Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp suddenly available, Universal has a very small window to work with. If the studio doesn’t recast and begin production in L.A. and D.C., it will begin losing other cast.
Pitt was set to star with Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and Robin Wright Penn. Mirren had a stop date so that she can film “Love Ranch” with her husband, director Taylor Hackford, and Joe Pesci early next year.
Pitt’s camp disputes that he violated a pay or play deal, that he ever approved a final script, or that he even wanted to drop out of the film that he has been the driving force behind for 16 months. At issue is a disagreement with the studio over the final direction of the shooting script.
The film has been a high U priority since the studio and producers Andrew Hauptman and Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner landed the project after a hot bidding battle. Pitt became the first talent attachment, when he agreed to play a politico-turned-journalist whose loyalties are tested when he spearheads a newspaper’s investigation into a murder that leads to the fast-rising pol whose campaigns the journo once ran (Daily Variety, July 27, 2006).
Pitt sparked to a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who adapted the Paul Abbott-created British miniseries. While the actor went off and made several movies in quick succession, most recently “Burn After Reading,” Universal went through rewrites by the likes of Peter Morgan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. While the film attracted a sparkling cast, Pitt’s vision departed with that of the studio somewhere along that rewrite trail.