Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s $63 million stampede at the box office last weekend reminded Hollywood who was really king of the jungle. While the public eats up these mass-appeal flicks, studios sometimes overlook them during awards season and spend gobs of money and brainpower to promote bleak prestige pictures that don’t even stand a chance of covering their limo costs on Oscar night. The most notable thing about this year’s crop of holiday offerings is that the gap between art-house and packed-house movies seems wider than ever. Here’s our forecast for this season’s box office tally:
THE SURE BETS After the mega-grossing debuts of High School Musical 3 and Madagascar 2, it’s clear that kids are calling the shots on movie night. Families will have much more to feast on, starting with two Nov. 21 releases — Disney’s animated dog adventure Bolt (predicted to open just shy of $50 million) and the teen vampire romance Twilight (already leading the pack in advance-ticket sales). Hollywood also hopes to keep grown-up escape seekers satisfied with a stream of silly comedies: Jim Carrey can’t say no in Yes Man, Adam Sandler tells tales that come to life in Bedtime Stories, and Owen Wilson has pooch problems in Marley & Me. But it’s Sony’s Quantum of Solace, the latest Bond installment, that’s packing the most heat. It’s already generated more than $200 million overseas before bowing in the U.S. this weekend; at this rate, Quantum is poised to pass Casino Royale’s $594 million global take. ”With [Quantum] outperforming Casino Royale everywhere in the world, we think this will be the biggest Bond ever,” says Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
THE AWARDS BAIT By this time last year, Into the Wild, Gone Baby Gone, and No Country for Old Men had already premiered to rave reviews. But so far, studios’ indie divisions have been slow to roll out their high-end goods. December, however, is packed with them, and consequently, it’ll be tough for an indie to make even a modest breakthrough in such a crowded marketplace. The upside is that the A-list fire-power in Doubt (Meryl Streep), Revolutionary Road (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio), and Milk (Sean Penn) is bound to generate some serious coin in DVD business.
THE WILD CARDS The epics that clean up both at the box office and on Oscar night have become rare breeds for one good reason: It takes an act of God (or Peter Jackson) for studios to recoup their money. This year the stakes are especially high for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, a $130 million romantic Western, which features Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman — neither of whom have recently opened a movie based on name alone. There is similar doubt about whether The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, will generate enough love to compensate for the film’s $150 million budget and mammoth two-hour-and-40-minute running time. ”It could make its money back, but it’s not going to do it in one big-grossing day.” Hmm…is it too late to add some animated lions? — Additional reporting by Nicole Sperling