To allow breathing room for the swarm of movies that hit theaters each December, Hollywood has historically burnt off its less-exciting fare in January. With a few exceptions, that seems to be the case again in January 2011. Without an Avatar-like holdover from December, it's inevitable that January 2011 will fall short of January 2010's record-setting $1.06 billion gross.
The first weekend of January finds Nicolas Cage movie Season of the Witch facing the planned nationwide expansion of Country Strong. Season of the Witch, which was delayed from March 2010, doesn't seem to have much going for it. Medieval-set movies that don't involve Robin Hood rarely make much money, and Mr. Cage's drawing power has been spotty, including relatively soft returns for Kick-Ass ($48.1 million) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice ($63.2 million). Additionally, Season marks distributor Relativity Media's second nationwide release following The Warrior's Way, which was botched so badly that it earned less than $6 million since opening early December.
Country Strong, on the other hand, targets the same underappreciated Southern audiences that helped turn The Blind Side in to one of the biggest box office successes in recent years, and, between a performance at the Country Music Awards and a guest spot on Glee, star Gwyneth Paltrow has been relentlessly showing off her vocal talents. Country Strong is positioned similarly to the country music drama Crazy Heart from last year, which earned $39.5 million.
I Love You, Phillip Morris was also scheduled to expand nationwide on Jan. 7, though that's in doubt after the movie's lukewarm take in limited release.
Arguably the two most anticipated movies of January, The Green Hornet and The Dilemma, are scheduled to go head-to-head on Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. The Green Hornet has had a lengthy marketing campaign dating back at least to Comic Con in July, and will receive a ticket-price boost from its 3D and IMAX 3D presentations. However, the trailers and commercials awkwardly blend superhero action and Seth Rogen comedy, which may ultimately confuse and turn off prospective audiences.
The Dilemma seems poised for success. It has an appealing cast (Vince Vaughn, Kevin James), a relatable and well-conveyed premise (how would you tell your best friend about a duplicitous significant other?) and a little bit of controversy (the "gay" joke in the original trailer). Being a broad comedy, it's also likely to sustain box-office interest longer than The Green Hornet.
Long-delayed comedy-drama The Heart Specialist is also slated for nationwide release on this weekend, though it has little chance of having an impact.
In comparison, it's going to be tough for distributor Newmarket Films to build much interest in Peter Weir's The Way Back. Stars like Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Jim Sturgess are well-liked, but not significant box office draws. The grueling storyline, which finds prisoners escaping from a Soviet gulag during World War II, may do little to entice audiences as well.
The Mechanic remake battles supernatural thriller The Rite on the last weekend of the month, though neither will likely light up the charts. The Mechanic is yet another Jason Statham action vehicle, which has become a genre in-and-of-itself over the past few years. None of them do tremendous business (Transporter 2's $43.1 million makes it his top movie with solo billing), though they are generally consistent.
The Rite is the latest in a recent series of exorcism thrillers, this time starring Anthony Hopkins and relative-newcomer Colin O'Donoghue. Typically, these movies max out in the low $40 million range, though there are examples on the high-end (The Exorcism of Emily Rose's $75.1 million) and the low-end (The Haunting of Molly Hartley's $13.6 million). So far, there's nothing to indicate that The Rite will differ from the norm.