Remember last weekend, when I was talking about how the box office sometimes makes for strange bedfellows? Well, as that 40th President guy might have said, here I go again.
The big movie odd couple of the past three weeks, Happy Feet and Casino Royale, will be unseated this time around. No doubt about that. Another 50 percent drop will bring them in at around $8 million each. But replacing them will be another strange pairing, Apocalypto and The Holiday — Mel Gibson’s violent, R-rated period drama in ancient Mayan, and Nancy Meyers’ sugary, PG-13 romantic comedy in, um, contemporary English. I mean, these two movies couldn’t be more different! But which one will win? Let’s discuss.
There’s no doubt that Apocalypto, which Disney is releasing in more than 2,000 theaters, is the most buzzed-about new release of the week. Of course it is. It’s one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Even before Malibu Mel’s drunken anti-Semitic tirade last summer, every eyebrow in Hollywood was raised over this film. Nobody knew what to make of it. It has a strange title. It’s in a dead language. It has no famous stars. It was introduced in strange little clips featuring a wild-bearded Mel and a bunch of white-painted Mayans. And so on. Well, now I’ve seen the movie and my eyebrows are still raised. I can add to that list the fact that it’s excessively violent — like, twisted pre-Columbian blunt-force-trauma stuff — and, dare I say it, kinda cool. Professional reviewers, it seems, feel the same way: As of Thursday afternoon, Apocalypto was scoring a high 78 out of 100 on Metacritic.com.
How will all that translate into money at the box office? There’s some speculation that the same churchgoing crowd that turned out in record numbers for Mel’s The Passion of the Christ (which opened to $83.8 mil nearly three years ago) will follow him here. Now, I’m not so sure about that. The two movies are linked in their intensity and devotion to period realism, but otherwise they’re very different. Not a lot of Christianity in this flick. And without that crowd, really, we’re just talking about a standard, high-buzz, R-rated action movie opening around $17 mil.
That should be enough for Apocalypto to edge out The Holiday, which Sony has coming out in more than 2,500 venues. The closest comparison for this film is director Nancy Meyers’ last grownup romance, Something’s Gotta Give, which premiered three years ago with $16.1 mil. But don’t forget: That movie starred Jack Nicholson, who’s always a box office draw. This one has Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black, and Kate Winslet. Everybody loves them, sure, but they all have spotty track records. In fact, all of their recent starring vehicles — Diaz’s In Her Shoes, Law’s Alfie, Black’s Tenacious D, and Winslet’s Little Children — failed to earn big bucks. Or, really, many bucks at all. Taking all of that, plus The Holiday‘s moderate critical response, into account, I see it earning a good-but-not-great $15 mil this weekend.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Warner Bros.’ Blood Diamond, in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou play two men caught up in African diamond smuggling and civil war. (Full disclosure: I’ve written several stories on this movie for Entertainment Weekly; you can check out my interview with Leo here.) This movie won’t contend for the top spot — it’s playing in under 2,000 locations. But a mix of political intrigue and star power (thanks to The Departed, Leo is hotter than ever, across all audience demographics) should help the R-rated adventure kick off its Oscar campaign with a solid $13 mil.
And as for Warner Bros.’ other release of the weekend, the teen Christmas comedy Unaccompanied Minors (in more than 2,500 theaters), well, that one I think I can pretty much forget about, since, at just $6 mil, I expect you will, too.