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Well, never underestimate the power of a movie star. And the phrase ‘movie star’ describes Will Smith about as well as any actor working in Hollywood today. The wise-cracking, action hero roles will be his bread and butter for some time to come, but he’s managed to parlay that tremendous box office success into a true demonstration of his range as an actor without having to leave the studio system. The Pursuit of Happyness opened to $27 million and a $9k average in spite of modest reviews (67% rottentomatoes) that mostly praise Smith’s performance in an otherwise mediocre film. In recent years, the former Fresh Prince escaped his Independence Day typecasting by mastering the vocal inflections and body language of Mohammed Ali in spite of barely resembling the man, en route to his first best actor nomination, then showing himself as a capable romantic lead in Hitch minus all the special effects. Happyness takes him even further from his I, Robot persona, with peppered hair and a total lack of Ali’s biceps, and yet still audiences turn out in droves to see him. I’m dwelling on all this because next up for Smith is the long anticipated (especially by yours truly) third incarnation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which calls on Smith to carry a big-budget blockbuster much the same way Tom Hanks had to with Castaway, which is to say the screen will belong almost solely to him as the last survivor in a world overrun with vampires.
Legend is filming as we speak, and set for a December ’07 release, with Francis Lawrence (Constantine) directing and a script revised multiple times by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman. I read at least two different drafts years ago, and every one botches the novel’s brilliant ending, but otherwise I have high hopes for this, in large part because of Smith’s involvement. A lot of Legend fans are skeptical, but I argued, even back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was attached, that the one thing the movie required was a true movie star. Because Neville, the story’s hero, spends such a tremendous amount of time with no costars to work off of, no Rob Schneider, if you will, it will take that ineffable, movie star mystique to work. Hanks had it in Castaway. Arnold certainly had it in his heyday. And I’m telling you Will Smith has it now, so as long as Goldsman didn’t screw up the script too badly (sorry, not a fan of the man’s work), this could be a hell of a movie. Watch out for it almost exactly a year from now.
But enough about that. Eragon came in second with a surprisingly decent $23.4 million and a $7.7 thousand average, even though it’s pulling an abysmal 14% on rottentomatoes. Pretty much everyone is noting that this really puts Peter Jackson’s achievements with Lord of the Rings in perspective. Eragon will do decent business over the holiday, but the hopes for another Rings-like trilogy have to be dashed by both reviews and returns. Even more surprisingly, Charlotte’s Web came in third with just $12 million, in spite of very good reviews, name recognition, a star in Dakota Fanning, and appealing to that seemingly-insatiable family audience during the holiday season. Word of mouth could carry this along through the holidays, but carrying an $85 million price tag will make it difficult for this one to get in the black.
You can legitimately tell when the season is in full swing by the percentage drops on the holdovers from last week. Kids are out of school, everyone’s at the malls anyway… just about everything holds up well. Happy Feet, for instance, dropped just 34% to $8 million even after five weeks in release. Total stands at $149 million (please, George Miller, use the success to make Mad Max!)
The Holiday dropped 35% to $8.2 million for a total of $25 million. However, Holiday also demonstrates the drawbacks of movie stars; with no fewer than four names over the title, the budget on this one is $85 million, almost as much as Eragon’s budget but without any CG dragons. (I’m assuming. Haven’t gotten out to see that one yet.) Apocalypto was hit harder than most, falling 48% to $7.7 million and a $27 million total. Budget is reported at $40 million, but word around the campfire puts it up as high $80 million, but I still think you have to count the returns on this a success for Gibson. And let’s not forget that, after Passion, the man has more money than God. Seriously, there was talk of him buying Disney a while back. So no tears if he drops a few bills on this one.
Blood Diamond held up very well with $6.2 million, down 27%, but with $18.3 million in the bank on a $100 million budget (movie stars again) and no serious award consideration, Warner Bros. is going to think twice about giving Ed Zwick that much money again. The reviews aren’t great, but I’ve heard nothing but good things from friends and non-professionals. Any thoughts from the moviegasm readers?
Casino Royale was eighth with $5.7 million, down 36%, for a $137 million total. The Nativity Story really is showing great legs, falling just 17% for a $23 million total. Maybe the news isn’t all bad for Fox Faith and the Weinstein’s new specialty arm, but they’d be wise to keep their budgets under control, given the modest returns. Unaccompanied Minors finished tenth with $3.6 million, down 36%, with $10 million in the bank.
DÃ©jÃ Vu fell out of the top ten, falling an even 50% to $3 million and a $57 million total. With that and Apocalypto taking the biggest hits, I guess the lesson here is to get your action pics out sooner next year. Dreamgirls did very well in limited release, pulling in $360 thousand from just three theatres for a $120 thousand average. Steve Soderbergh’s The Good German did reasonably well in five theatres, pulling in $78 thousand for a $15 thousand average.
That’s it for this week, folks. Tune in next week when a glut of films compete for family audiences desperately trying to escape their families, including Night at the Museum, which will open very big, and The Good Shepherd, which won’t. We Are Marshall gives McG the chance to reinvent himself as an entirely different kind of studio hack, and Stallone has one last go at it with Rocky Balboa, which, on the one hand, I’m pulling for, but on the other hand, could lead to another Rambo.