''The Covenant'': No. 1 by default? Probably, predicts Michelle Kung -- the warlock flick debuts with the biggest theater count this dismal weekend

By Michelle Kung
September 08, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Forgive me, moviegoers, for being the bearer of bad news: It’s a sad, sad weekend to want to see a film. I apologize on behalf of Hollywood.

The biggest debut, on 2,681 screens, is Sony’s The Covenant, directed by Renny Harlin (remember him?). Essentially a remake of 1996’s The Craft, only with dudes, the supernaturally flavored flick concerns four warlocks who must recapture an evil they previously let loose into the world. While Sony has a history of delivering with PG-13-rated horror films directed at younger audiences (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which opened this same weekend last year, grossed $30.1 million its first three days), The Covenant‘s complete lack of stars (the alliteratively named Steven Strait and Sebastian Stan are the names above the title) and less-than-ubiquitous advertising campaign will keep opening-weekend figures in the $10-12 million range.

Debuting with much bigger names but on far fewer screens (2,681 vs. 1,548) is Hollywoodland, TV director Allen Coulter’s take on the mysterious death of ’50s Superman George Reeves (Ben Affleck). Although the always-gorgeous Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins round out the cast, the noirish mystery is primarily about Adrien Brody’s Louis Simo, the fictional LAPD cop assigned to the case. While perfect as a playwright or Holocaust survivor, Brody is harder to accept as a swaggering detective. The last time the Oscar winner played a heavy, in 2003’s The Singing Detective, the film grossed a measly $337,174. Total. Distributor Focus Features can expect an opening in the $7-9 million range, and should also be crossing their fingers: Next Friday, Universal is releasing Brian DePalma’s The Black Dahlia, a similarly themed film (period cop investigates unsolved murder) with equally pretty people (Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart).

Rounding out the new releases are the Weinstein Co.’s The Protector, a Thai martial-arts flick starring Ong Bak‘s Tony Jaa, and Sherrybaby, an indie from IFC starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as an ex-con returning home. While the former bears the ”Quentin Tarantino Presents” moniker, don’t expect numbers in the Hostel or Hero range, the previous two films to benefit from QT’s ”recommendation.”

As for last week’s box office toppers, expect Disney’s feel-good football drama Invincible to relinquish its No. 1 title after two weeks and drop another 40 percent from its gross. A similar drop will probably befall Lionsgate’s adrenaline rush Crank, while Nicolas Cage’s awful remake of The Wicker Man will quietly continue to slink off the charts.

Chin up, fellow film fans. The pickings get juicier starting next week!