After box office receipts were down nearly 29 percent in January, the big question is whether the month of February can reverse this startling downward trend. With an Adam Sandler romantic comedy, the big-screen debut of pop sensation Justin Bieber, a sci-fi action movie set in high school and the latest Farrelly Bros. comedy, it's unlikely that February will fare as poorly as January. With no major holdovers, though, it's going to be tough to reach February 2010's $754.7 million, much less February 2009's record-setting $769.3 million.
While February as a whole doesn't look too bad, the first weekend should continue January's negative trend. The movie with the most hype is easily Sanctum, which has executive producer James Cameron hitting the press circuit as aggressively as he did for Avatar's opening (he recently created a Twitter account for the sole purpose of promoting the movie). Besides the its 3D presentation and Cameron's association, though, Sanctum is in a whole different league than Avatar. The movie is an Australian production featuring actors and actresses largely unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, and the somewhat-recognizable Ioan Gruffudd is almost entirely absent from previews. The previews seem to ignore both story and character, and major competition from the Super Bowl should translate to only the most die-hard Cameron fans showing up for Sanctum.
The Roommate is this Winter's entry in to the PG-13 rated horror genre. Starring Leighton Meester as the titular psycho and Minka Kelly as her unassuming prey, the movie appears geared primarily towards teenagers and college-aged women, which is a relatively limited audience. The best direct comparison is When a Stranger Calls, which opened on the same weekend in 2006. If The Roommate can match or exceed that movie's $47.9 million, it should be considered a success.
After a dull start to the month, things get interesting on the second weekend of February when Adam Sandler faces off against Justin Bieber, some animated gnomes and ancient Romans. Sandler's Just Go With It seems like the weekend's safest bet. It reunites Sandler with director Dennis Dugan, and this duo's last four collaborations have averaged a whopping $136.4 million. Also, the ubiquitous previews nicely blend a deception premise with the usual Sandler hijinks. Add Jennifer Aniston to the mix and this should be a strong date night choice over Valentine's Day weekend
Sandler has some stiff competition from a young pop star, though, with 3D documentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never expected to attract a lot of attention. At essentially the same time three years ago, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour opened to $31.1 million before crashing hard in following weeks. Bieber's fan base is at least as large and rabid, and with Paramount Pictures' full marketing muscle and an estimated 3,000 screens (or nearly five times as many as Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus), Never Say Never is poised to at least reach similar levels.
Gnomeo and Juliet appears to be the latest in a batch of second-tier animated offerings like Alpha and Omega, Planet 51 and Astro Boy among others. Walt Disney Pictures, which just recently took full responsibility for the movie, is still giving it a good-sized marketing push, and it could benefit from a lack of animated or family offerings, though many children are probably more likely to drag their parents to see Bieber.
The Eagle looks likely to come up short on this weekend. Modestly-budgeted period action movies tend to do little business, with The Last Legion's $5.9 million being an extreme example. The commercials haven't been doing the movie any favors either, as they've been failing to clearly establish a compelling storyline or give a sense of who the good guy is (the trailer shows Jamie Bell turning against Channing Tatum, while the commercials make them out to be friends). The Eagle was delayed almost an entire year, and that lack of confidence from distributor Focus Features is telling.
President's Day Weekend sees the release of I Am Number Four, Unknown and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. I Am Number Four is the first of 2011's Twilight-inspired movies: it's based off a young adult novel and features a high-school-set love story in which one of the characters is imbued with superpowers. While the book is probably too new to have established much of a fan base (it's only been on shelves since August), alien-related movies tend to draw large crowds, and Disney is pushing this hard with hopes for a franchise. Just under 24 percent of Box Office Mojo users list I Am Number Four as their top choice to see in February, placing it atop the month's most-anticipated list.
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son will attempt to revive both the Big Momma franchise and star Martin Lawrence's career. The original Big Momma's House made $117.6 million back in 2000. Over five years later, Big Momma's House 2 was a step down with just $70.2 million. After another five years, it's doubtful that the addition of Brandon Jackson as Lawrence's son will drive people back to theaters, and Like Father, Like Son will be lucky to reach the second movie's grosses.
Unknown stars Liam Neeson as a man who wakes up from a coma only to be told that he isn't who he thinks he is. With its European-set action, this seems like Mr. Neeson's first real attempt to repeat the success of Taken(the tagline even features the word "take"). That movie had an exceptional marketing campaign, though, and Unknown seems fairly generic in comparison.
After a bustling President's Day weekend, the box office should quiet back down again on Feb. 25. Hall Pass is the latest from the Farrelly Bros., and its storyline seems like a return to form after disappointments like The Heartbreak Kid, Fever Pitch and Stuck on You. While many of its advertisements have concisely conveyed the premise of married men (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) haplessly trying to pick up women after being granted permission by their wives, recents ads have focused more on a random mushroom trip on a golf course. With the pedigree involved this could do decent business, but Warner Bros. will have to refine its marketing in the next few weeks to turn this in to a real hit.
Drive Angry is the latest in a line of movies that has advertising focused primarily on the 3D experience. This approach worked well for Drive Angry director Patrick Lussier's last project, My Bloody Valentine 3-D, which earned $51.5 million in January 2009. The novelty of 3D has faded since, though, as has star Nicolas Cage's box office drawing power. Drive Angry looks outrageous enough to be a cult hit, but that usually doesn't come with impressive upfront box office.
Shelter is the final nationwide release scheduled in February, though three weeks out there isn't a U.S. trailer or poster available. The Julianne Moore thriller has been repeatedly delayed, and, with all of their resources tied up with The King's Speech right now, there's no reason to think that The Weinstein Company will give this generic thriller much of a push.