This weekend, historical action-adventure Robin Hood storms approximately 5,900 screens at 3,503 locations, while romances Letters to Juliet and Just Wright shoot for different audiences, respectively playing on around 3,600 screens at 2,968 venues and 2,100 screens at 1,831 venues. Iron Man 2 remains the broadest release with around 10,000 screens at 4,390 sites.
Though the last dramatic attempt theatrically was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991, Robin Hood has seemingly been brought to the screen thousands of times, so much so that any new version carries baggage and has a lot to prove to get audiences to consider it a must-see beyond the norm. The new Robin Hood differentiates itself by attempting a serious, gritty origin story, scuttling the color and gaiety of previous incarnations. However, such an approach led to disaster for King Arthur.
Robin Hood's packing the pedigree of director Ridley Scott and actors Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett among others. The movie's marketing has played up Mr. Scott and Mr. Crowe's Gladiator connection explicitly with title cards and implicitly with scenes of Crowe in warrior mode, fighting for justice. With its setting and freedom references, Robin Hood's advertising has also recalled Braveheart.
Gladiator and Braveheart were May releases as well, and the month has been the battleground of similar titles with mixed results. Medieval-themed movies typically struggle at the box office, so Braveheart's $9.9 million start in 1995 (or over $18 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) was fairly solid, and the picture went on to gross $75.6 million. Five years later, Gladiator single-handedly resurrected the sword-and-sandal epic, wielding $34.8 million out of the gate (or over $51 million adjusted) and ultimately pulled in $187.7 million. Both Braveheart and Gladiator went on to win Best Picture Oscars.
The comparable May titles that followed were not as fortunate: A Knight's Tale didn't go far in May 2001, Troy was widely seen but not commensurate with its spectacle in May 2004 and Mr Scott's Kingdom of Heaven was one of the nadirs of the genre in May 2005, drawing $47.4 million in its entire run.
The big movie opening on the second weekend of May usually has commercial inhibitors and flounders in the wake of the bigger first movie, almost invariably seeing a smaller opening weekend. Last year, Star Trek was an exception in how it ultimately became one of 2009's top success stories (though it did open lower than X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but Speed Racer crashed in the wake of the first Iron Man in 2008, while Poseidon sank in 2006. Often, studios don't even bother scheduling a big movie for this weekend, as was the case in 2007.
In a statement to Box Office Mojo, distributor Universal Pictures stressed that Robin Hood should be looked at on a global basis, not just domestic. These types of movies are known to do triple the business overseas. To that end, the studio launched the picture at 6,945 foreign sites on Wednesday. They believe that they have an adult alternative for the summer (though Iron Man 2 also has adult appeal) and that a $35 million domestic opening weekend is likely (and twice that internationally). In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" polling, almost 31 percent said they'd see Robin Hood on opening weekend, but the voting pattern lacked the urgency that high fliers often achieve.
Letters to Juliet marks the second letter-writing romance of the year for actress Amanda Seyfried, following the success of Dear John, while Queen Latifah headlines her first romantically-themed picture since Last Holiday in 2006. Neither type of picture tends to spark as much interest in Box Office Mojo reader polls as movies like Robin Hood, but Letters did significantly trail Dear John's results in an apples-to-apples comparison.
Distributor Summit Entertainment intended Letters to Juliet as counter-programming to Robin Hood and Iron Man 2, and they garnered good exposure attaching the movie's trailer to The Twilight Saga: New Moon last November. Summit reported that, predictably, women have shown the strongest interest and that a first weekend in the high teen millions range is in order, based on pre-release research.