A lethargic box-office season is about to receive a jolt of pizzazz this weekend, as four new movies, each appealing to a different audience segment, hit theaters. But that makes it a particularly tough weekend to predict. The logical winner should be Just Go With It, Sony’s romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Few actors are as dependable at the box office as Sandler, who has opened seven of his last 11 films to at least $30 million. But the 3-D concert pic Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is a wild card that could conceivably open anywhere from $20 million to $40 million. And even Disney’s animated Gnomeo & Juliet could threaten for first place. The family market has been seriously neglected for more than a month, creating a scenario in which any new family film could overperform. The only new movie that won’t be competing for the top spot is the Channing Tatum historical action film The Eagle. My predictions:
1. Just Go With It: $31 million
With Valentine’s Day on Monday, this weekend is the perfect release date for this PG-13 romantic comedy, in which Adam Sandler plays a bachelor who pretends to be in a destructive marriage as a way to attract other women. When Sandler finally meets someone he genuinely falls for (it helps that this romantic interest looks like Brooklyn Decker), he enlists Jennifer Aniston to become his imaginary wife. Initial reviews are awful, but that’s never stopped Sandler’s fans in the past. The actor’s last proper romantic comedy, 2004’s 50 First Dates, also debuted around Valentine’s Day and scored a bountiful $39.9 million. But Just Go With It‘s premise isn’t as high-concept as 50 First Dates, nor is its title as appealing. Still, the film is the safest bet to win the weekend, even if it doesn’t approach some of Sandler’s biggest openings. However, watch out for…
2. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: $29 million
The G-rated 3-D concert film/biopic/Canadian propaganda is a tricky movie to gauge. Is it Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, which tallied $31.1 million from just 683 theaters its first weekend? Or is it Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, which restored order to the universe by debuting to only $12.5 million from 1,271 locations. Never Say Never is playing in 3,105 theaters — far more than either Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers. And Bieber, who’s made as many media appearances last week as there are programs to appear on, has never been more prominent in the pop-culture zeitgeist. And yet, although I should probably listen to my gut and predict Never Say Never to conquer the weekend, I just can’t see the 16-year-old singer toppling a box-office giant like Adam Sandler. At least not yet. Never Say Never, which cost only $13 million to produce, may start the weekend in first as tween girls rush out on Friday to feed their Bieber Fever, but Just Go With It should ultimately inch ahead by Sunday night.
3. Gnomeo & Juliet: $20 million
There hasn’t been a movie aimed directly at kids since December’s Yogi Bear and Gulliver’s Travels, so Gnomeo & Juliet (which is being released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures label) will be filling a glaring void at the multiplex. (As well as a void of Shakespearean films starring inanimate objects.) So, family-friendly G rating + 3-D price hike + cute talking gnomes + Elton John songs + little competition = $20 million opening. Making box-office hits is easy!
4. The Eagle: $9 million
This 2nd-century Roman Empire epic, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, was directed by the talented Scottish filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void). But the $25 million Focus Features movie has a comparatively smaller 2,296-theater release, and Tatum hasn’t had much luck launching titles that weren’t romances (like Dear John) or part of a franchise with built-in awareness (G.I. Joe). With such a crowded marketplace, The Eagle will be lucky to reach $10 million this weekend.
5. The Roommate: $7 million
This college thriller had its moment in the spotlight last weekend. Now comes the brutal fall, as The Roommate‘s core audience of young women will be lured away by the cornucopia of the new choices. A drop of at least 50 percent seems inevitable.