They don’t call them the dog days of summer for nothing. In the movie business, August is known as a dumping ground for leftover, less-hyped films that don’t fit into the overcrowded weekends of June and July. (Think last year’s Kiss homage ”Detroit Rock City” or ”The Avengers” from 1998.) Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, says late summer audiences are less enthusiastic due to ”blockbuster fatigue,” adding, ”by August, everyone has seen all the big movies, and they’re ready to wind down.”
Usually, Dergarabedian says, studios cut their losses in August by releasing films that aren’t expected to do well anyway — or they schedule movies they want to keep away from serious competition. And most lag at the box office, with rare exceptions: The record smashing thriller ”The Sixth Sense” came out a year ago this month, becoming only the fourth August release in movie history to break $100 million.
EW Online asked Dergarabedian and two other movie business analysts — Gitesh Pandya, editor of Boxofficeguru.com, and Robert Bucksbaum, president of Reel Source — to help us rate six of this month’s potential hits and misses.
Opening Aug. 4
Pitch ”Cocktail” + ”Flashdance”
Players Piper Perabo, Maria Bello, Tyra Banks, and first time feature director David McNally
Buzz With a cast of sexy newcomers plus one supermodel, ”Ugly” could score at the box office. It doesn’t hurt that the film’s producer is action-meister Jerry Bruckheimer (”Gone in 60 Seconds”), who also succeeded in August 1995 with the Michelle Pfeiffer drama ”Dangerous Minds.” Says Pandya, ”story wise it’s average, but it’s got obvious sex appeal.” Bucksbaum agrees that ”style over substance” works for ”Ugly.” ”This could be a sleeper hit — every red blooded American male from 15 to 28 wants to see it.”
Predicted box office take $50 million
Opening Aug. 4.
Pitch ”The Invisible Man” + ”Friday the 13th”
Players Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, Josh Brolin, and director Paul Verhoeven (”Basic Instinct”)
Buzz By far August’s only blockbuster in waiting. Though Bacon is not seen as a bankable star, the invisible man concept is cool enough to bring in crowds. And after a summer of action and comedy flicks, Pandya says an adult oriented thriller like ”Hollow Man” could be just the right antidote. Dergarabedian adds that his audience awareness surveys give ”Hollow Man” the strongest numbers of the month, with more than 90 percent of respondents ready to buy tickets: ”It’s not going to blow us away like ‘Sixth Sense,’ but it is going to be big,” he says.
Predicted take $100 million.
Opening Aug. 4
Pitch ”Grumpy Old Men” + ”The Right Stuff”
Players Director and star Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner
Buzz This roundup of four tried and true actors will definitely draw in the twilight matinee crowd — if it can hang around a while. ”Older audiences don’t need to see a movie the first weekend it’s out to impress their friends, ” says Pandya. Explains Bucksbaum: ”Adult films tend to open slower but good word of mouth can leave them in theaters longer. And you can’t beat this cast.” Dergarabedian says that the mature ”Cowboys” will rope in some younger moviegoers too: ”Regardless of the age of the actors, it’s got a real crossover feel. It excites the hell out of me, and I’m 39.”
Predicted Take $65 million
BLESS THE CHILD
Opening Aug. 11
Pitch ”The Omen” + ”The Sixth Sense”
Players Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, and director Chuck Russell (”The Mask”)
Buzz ”It ain’t gonna cut it at the box office,” Bucksbaum says bluntly. After the dud ”I Dreamed of Africa,” which grossed $6.5 million earlier this summer, he says it’s hard to imagine Basinger carrying a movie, and Jimmy Smits has yet to break out as a leading man. ”Kim Basinger is definitely not an opener,” says Pandya. ”It’s got a spooky feel to it, but it’s no ‘Sixth Sense.”’
Predicted take $20 million
Opening Aug. 11
Pitch ”Rudy” + ”Major League”
Players Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Orlando Jones, and director Howard Deutch (”Pretty in Pink”)
Buzz With his post-”Matrix” popularity at an all time high, Reeves’ logical follow-up to the sci-fi smash is… a football dramedy? ”People are not sure what to make of it,” says Bucksbaum. ”It’s got funny moments and then touching moments, but together they just don’t mix.” Pandya says ticket buyers won’t respond well to Reeves in a nonaction film: ”It’s Keanu outside of his most commercially successful genre. It will do OK, but nothing to jump up and celebrate.”
Predicted take $50 million
Opening Aug. 18
Pitch ”The Silence of the Lambs” + MTV
Players Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, and TV commercial/ music video director Tarsem (R.E.M.’s ”Losing My Religion”)
Buzz According to Pandya, New Line has a tremendous track record with its modest-budget August films: consider ”Mortal Kombat” ($70 million), ”Spawn” ($55 million), and ”Blade” ($70 million). ”The Cell,” however, has yet to generate serious watercooler buzz. ”Jennifer Lopez is a draw, but the studio will really have to start advertising hard,” he says. Bucksbaum thinks the film looks too ”weird and out there” to garner a non-Lopez following. But that may change if New Line beefs up its media campaign. After all, who doesn’t want to know what she’s wearing that neck brace outfit for?
Predicted Take $50 million