The Martin Luther King Day holiday is upon us, folks. But before I get into what has emerged in recent years as a big-money weekend at the box office, let me just offer my last college-football shout-out of the season to the University of Florida. Now, I’m no Gators fan — you’ll never see me do that corny chomping thing with my arms and Gatorade makes me ill — but, man oh man, how good was it watching them beat down Ohio State? There’s a little thing called schadenfreude, people, and I can’t deny that I’m guilty of it big time right now. Just look at this grin on my face! Anyway, on with the issue at hand. It’ll be another close battle at the multiplex over the three-day weekend, with several new movies going up against long-running champ Night at the Museum and the Oscar-baiting Dreamgirls, which is expanding its theater count and should eke out a win. And that’s something the Buckeyes can only dream about.
THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE
Paramount · PG-13 · 1,907 theaters · 5th weekend
The Motown-metaphor musical has banked $56.2 mil in moderate release, and with nominations from everybody and their rabbi, it’s got all the awards-season momentum. Finally widening its run, it will take top prize on a long weekend that will end with it winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy.
Weekend prediction: $16 million
Stomp the Yard
Screen Gems · PG-13 · 2,051 theaters · NEW
Set in African-American college fraternities, the dance drama may not feature major stars, but its pedigree is sound. You Got Served premiered with $16.1 mil in January 2004 and Save the Last Dance made a huge $23.4 mil in its debut exactly six years ago.
Weekend prediction: $15 million
Night at the Museum
Fox · PG · 3,612 theaters · 4th weekend
Ben Stiller is still slapping monkeys.
Weekend prediction: $15 million
Touchstone · R · 2,444 theaters · NEW
Hollywood continues to ignore my pleas to stop making horror thrillers that are indistinguishable from one another. I mean, I feel a little hurt, but to their credit, the fright flicks do awfully well at this time of year. (Witness: Hostel; Underworld: Evolution; Final Destination 3; and so on.) Still, what the hell is Disney, of all companies, doing releasing a scary movie about an African adventure gone terribly awry? Is it really worth tarnishing the good name of The Country Bears for a few million bucks?
Weekend prediction: $13 million
Arthur and the Invisibles
MGM/Weinstein Co. · PG · 2,247 theaters · NEW
The new year is just two weeks old and we already have our second animated fantasy adventure. Happily N’Ever After disappointed last weekend, but this cartoon/live-action hybrid is not your usual talking-animal flick: It’s the first movie in eight years from French auteur Luc Besson, if you can believe that. Yep, same guy who made The Professional and The Fifth Element. But he declined to dress his stars in Jean-Paul Gaultier this time around. Which, considering that they’re Freddie Highmore and Mia Farrow, is probably a good thing.
Weekend prediction: $12 million
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
Universal · R · 1,286 theaters · NEW
Emile Hirsch and Justin Timberlake star in this gritty fact-based drama about super-duper bad boy Jesse James Hollywood. The movie made a splash at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it’s from director Nick Cassavetes, whose two most recent features, The Notebook and John Q, were decent-sized hits, earning $81 mil and $71.8 mil respectively.
Weekend prediction: $10 million
Curse of the Golden Flower
Sony Pictures Classics · R · 1,234 theaters · 4th weekend
Courtesy of Hero director Zhang Yimou and major international stars Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li, this latest Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon imitation (which has tallied $2.2 mil in limited release but lacks the overwhelming buzz of the aforementioned colorful Chinese epics) goes wide.
Weekend prediction: $5 million