Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Suzanne Hanover
August 04, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

To quote Paul Newman in The Color of Money, ”Hey, I’m back!” Many thanks to the esteemed Dave Karger for stepping in to write these box office columns while I was off in France analyzing Floyd Landis’ B sample. Results on that are forthcoming. In the meantime, I have a few testosterone-laden box office predictions to announce.

Four new movies open wide this weekend, and a few strong holdovers remain. But the race for No. 1 will be like a drive in the park for Sony’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. That’s right, our old friend Will Ferrell returns. Seems like forever ago, but when Elf broke out to earn $173.4 million way back in November 2003, Ferrell became an instant superstar and his future looked bright. One of the first things he did was stir up a little bidding war over a simple pitch that went something like, ”Will Ferrell and NASCAR.” And suddenly, the story of a man who could only count to No. 1 (man, I love that tagline!) was to star the SNL veteran who could only count to a reported $20 mil salary. But then the road got bumpy. While Anchorman made a solid $85.3 mil in the summer of 2004, Kicking and Screaming ($52.8 mil) and Bewitched ($63.3 mil) underperformed big time a year later, and The Producers ($19.4 mil) tanked. Out of gas.

So why do I think TN:TBORB will refuel Ferrell’s career? Simple math, really. The movie is getting strong reviews (a 69 percent ”fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com), it’s got some great buzz, and competition is light. Broad comedies — Click; You, Me and Dupree; Little Man — have fared pretty well so far this summer, and after last weekend’s dense, dark Miami Vice, a little more levity is in order. So look for TN:TBORB to earn $38 mil in 3,803 theaters and expect to see Ferrell once again chugging milk in the winner’s circle on Sunday.

That’s definitely the big news this weekend. So like Floyd Landis on Stage 17 or Justin Gatlin in the 100-meter dash, I’m going to move at superhuman speed through the rest of the big movies. I promise, however, that my writing is all-natural.

Lionsgate has scored with graphically frightening fare like Saw and Hostel in recent years, and now the indie distributor is releasing The Descent, a super-scary distaff Deliverance, in a sizable 2,095 venues. Critics love this movie (it has a huge 92 percent ”fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com), and, with mounting buzz, it will earn $18 mil. For the third week in a row, there’s an animated children’s film coming out, this one being Barnyard: The Original Party Animals, from Paramount/Nickelodeon. Damned if I can keep all these kiddie flicks straight, but in 3,311 locations, this one should do well enough, earning $14 mil. Miramax is rolling out The Night Listener on just 1,367 screens, and even though Robin Williams has shown new life at the box office (RV earned $70.4 mil earlier this year), this R-rated suspense drama has little publicity in its favor. A $5 mil bow is all it will muster.

Universal’s Miami Vice leads the holdovers; it’ll drop 55 percent to earn about $12 mil. And Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest will move a few bucks closer to the $400 mil mark with a $12 mil weekend of its own. Because when it comes to forecasting the holdovers’ grosses, I can only count to 12.

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