Two big summer flicks open this weekend, The Incredible Hulk and The Happening, and both come loaded with negative baggage. In one corner we’ve got the second feature in five years to be based on Marvel’s Hulk character, following Ang Lee’s tepidly received 2003 installment. In the other corner is The Happening, whose director, M. Night Shyamalan, well, he’s seen better days in his career.
Still, there must be a winner, so read on for my picks and then take a try at EW.com’s Summer Box Office Challenge, where you can weigh in on which film you think will finish No. 1 — and which will live up (er, down?) to its low expectations.
THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE
The Incredible Hulk
Universal/Marvel · PG-13 · 3,505 theaters · NEW
As the success of Iron Man (and X-Men and Spider-Man and Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider and So On) shows, movies based on Marvel comics are white-hot these days. Which is a good thing for this film (directed by The Transporter‘s Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton and Liv Tyler), which needs all the help it can get. As everybody knows, 2003’s Hulk was a disappointment, earning just $132.2 mil at the domestic box office; the producers of this film are basically pretending that Hulk ’03 never happened. Also, there is no hard evidence that anybody was really thirsting for another movie based on Marvel’s not-so-jolly green giant. And as Entertainment Weekly reported a few months ago, the bad buzz has been building for months now. Certainly, those snafus should prevent The Incredible Hulk from having a major blockbuster opening. Then again, considering its positives (comic-book-movie popularity, good star power, and generally favorable reviews), it is hard to fathom a steep drop from Hulk ’03‘s $62.1 mil debut.
Weekend prediction: $59 million
Kung Fu Panda
Paramount/DreamWorks · PG · 4,136 theaters · 2nd weekend
It’s not just for kids. That’s the lesson to take away from the impressive bow last weekend of Jack Black’s animated movie, which drew an audience that was about 50 percent adults. That it has been banking big bucks (some $6 mil per day) during the week, when kids are in school, proves the point even further. Thus, Kung Fu Panda is destined to pass the $100 mil mark this weekend and, heck, it could repeat as champ if both The Incredible Hulk and The Happening falter.
Weekend prediction: $35 million
Fox · R · 2,986 theaters · NEW
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest bone-chiller is being boastfully advertised as his first R-rated movie…and it’s opening on Friday the 13th! (Boo!) What a gimmick! So of course you want to see it, right? Weeeeeeell, that’s a good question. Shyamalan may still be considered one of the top directors in the business, but that might change after this weekend. His last film, Lady in the Water, flopped two summers ago, with $42.3 mil (after opening with just $18 mil), and the movie he made before that, 2004’s The Village, earned an okay $114.2 mil domestically. Fact is, he hasn’t been able to repeat the $293.5 mil success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense (a challenge, yes, but one the director seemed up to), and interest in his work has clearly waned since Signs banked $228 mil in 2002. Sure, there’s a sense that Shyamalan may be trying something new here, with a more adult rating and a new studio (or so he says), and having Mark Wahlberg in the central role could help attract some customers. But it’s not going to be easy.
Weekend prediction: $22 million
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan
Columbia · PG-13 · 3,466 theaters · 2nd weekend
The movie’s a hit (it’s got $50 mil in the bank in one week) — and did you see how Adam Sandler dressed when he was promoting it on The Daily Show last week? I want his life.
Weekend prediction: $19 million
Sex and the City
Warner Bros./New Line · R · 3,155 theaters · 3rd weekend
Fifth place is a toss-up this weekend, between Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Carrie & Co. So I’m going with the ladies (domestic gross to date: $110 mil), because I expect them to stand up well against another influx of boy-baiting competitors. That and, you know, I’m getting tired of writing out that preposterously long Indy 4 title.
Weekend prediction: $11 million