By Anthony D'Alessandro | Thompson on Hollywood April 14, 2011 at 10:53AM
Studios keep insisting that spring doldrums will give way to summer-level box office when the right product hits the marketplace. Well, that might be this weekend, reports Anthony D'Alessandro:
Looking to buck the box office blues, 20th Century Fox is banking that families will cha-cha into theatres for their 3-D toon Rio, while Dimension Films is planning to scare both old fans and new into its horror four-quel Scream 4. Per Box Office Mojo, the annual box office through yesterday is at $2.4 billion, off 22% from the January – mid April frame a year ago.
Unlike last weekend, when Warner Bros., Universal and Focus Features ganged up on the 18-34 crowd with respective titles Arthur, Your Highness and Hanna, the promise for distributors and exhibitors this weekend is that the three new offerings are aimed at three distinct groups: Rio with families, Scream 4 for the millennials and Gen Xers and The Conspirator with adults. So far critics are mostly high on both Rio (at 74% fresh) and Scream 4 (at 65% fresh) while reviews are mixed for Robert Redford's adult-targeted drama Conspirator (56% rotten, which could use critical support).
Rio, in play at 3,826 locations tomorrow, is estimated to take the top spot with a weekend haul that’s anywhere from the high 20s to low 30s. Some B.O. bean counters think Rio could fly to greater heights based on the recent bows of Rango ($38.1 million) and Hop ($37.5 million), but Fox is cautiously optimistic, particularly in this depressed marketplace. Even if Rio charts at the low end of expectations, “we should leg out for some time,” says Fox senior vp of distribution Chris Aronson. “It should be smooth sailing until Kung Fu Panda 2 arrives (in late May).”
With just 2-3% of all schools on spring break, both Fox and Weinstein Co.'s genre label are trying to gain traction going into the Easter holiday. Good Friday boasts 80% schools on vacation, while the week following Easter touts the highest spring break share of 30% schools off. Currently working in Rio's favor is the upbeat swing of family moviegoing, which exhibitors and distributors label "moviegoing spurs moviegoing." Thus the Gnomeo & Juliet ($97.3. million) crowd rubbed off on Paramount’s Rango ($118 million) which has in turn led families toward Hop ($70.6 million). Already, Rio has been aflame overseas with $71.3 million to date from such territories as Russia ($13.2 million) and Brazil ($9.7 million). Rio takes flight in Italy, France, Thailand and Eastern Europe this weekend.
Scream 4 should hook second place with $24-$27 million at 3,305 venues. While that figure is below the opening of Scream 3 ($34.7 million) and Scream 2 ($32.9 million), keep in mind that the first three films unspooled back-to-back over a four-year frame while the franchise was fresh. In addition, Scream 3 bowed unopposed during the first frame of February 2000. On the upside for Scream 4: April is a fertile month for horror reboots, i.e. 2005’s Amityville Horror and 2008’s Prom Night nabbed $20 million-plus openings.
“Scream changed the moviegoing pattern for horror films," observes Weinstein Co.’s new distribution president Erik Lomis. "It’s not entirely a comedy, nor is it entirely a horror film. Scream is its own genre. The hope is that a whole new generation who’ve seen the first films on DVD will see it on the big screen.”
Elsewhere, Roadside Attractions has booked 707 playdates for its Toronto Film Festival acquisition The Conspirator, directed by Robert Redford. Conspirator follows the trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright Penn), the sole female charged in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. James McAvoy stars as her lawyer Frederick Aiken. In addition to cities, Roadside booked Conspirator in upscale suburban multiplexes, particularly in the heartland. The film’s PR was bolstered by a Parade Magazine cover, two premieres in New York and Washington, D.C. as well as a 50-minute National Geographic channel special, The Conspirator: The Plot to Kill Lincoln. In addition, Roadside partnered with the American Bar Association in previewing the film to attorneys. Typically films playing in under 1,000 playdates aren’t tracked, but Roadside hopes that Conspirator will pierce the top 10.
Rio, produced by Ice Age animation house Blue Sky Studios, tells the tale of a near-extinct flightless Macaw bird who returns to his native Rio de Janeiro and finds love during carnival. The toon is toplined with voiceovers by Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez and will.i.am. Fox generated headlines with its Rio marketing partners and ancillaries, specifically the Angry Birds Rio game. (The app became the No. 1 iPhone and iPad game in the U.S. and 49 countries.)
In addition to the McDonald Happy Meal toys, Fox music churned out a hip Latino soundtrack through Interscope Records featuring tracks by will.i.am, Sergio Mendes and Taio Cruz. Two weeks after playing on Fox’s American Idol with the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am returned to the show to croon “Hot Wings (I Wanna Party).”
Dimension, in an effort to curb Twitter and Facebook spoilers, capped advance screenings of Scream 4. The challenge for director Wes Craven and scribe Kevin Williamson this time around was improving upon the original Scream trilogy, which was iconoclastic in its parody of ‘70s and ‘80s slashers. Dimension also toured its actors around to about 30 TV talk shows, an unheard number for a horror film. However, nothing has generated more pre-buzz for Scream 4 than the melodrama surrounding the rocky break-up of Scream leads Courteney Cox and David Arquette, who fell in love during the production of part one.