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Weekend Briefing: 'I Am Number Four' Aims for Franchise-Worthy Numbers

by Brandon Gray
I Am Number Four
 

 
February 18, 2011

This Presidents' Day weekend, three movies enter the nationwide fray: I Am Number Four beams into 3,154 locations (including 230 IMAX sites), Unknown wakes up at 3,043 locations, and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son bounces into 2,821 locations.

I Am Number Four is the first DreamWorks movie distributed by Walt Disney Pictures (through its Touchstone label, like Gnomeo and Juliet). Though based on a recently-published "young adult" novel, the movie looks like a pumped-up adaptation of the television series Roswell (both about alien refugees in high school being hunted down and featuring romance with a human girl). It also seems partially inspired by the Twilight series (substituing aliens for vampires), but it strays from that successful formula by making the supernatural boy the main character, instead of seeing the proceedings through the eyes of the relatable, normal girl.

Because it's intended to be a franchise starter and because DreamWorks typically spends a lot on advertising, I Am Number Four has been backed by a massive marketing campaign, appealing to both girls and boys. Top priority was to explain the movie's title, which was intriguing albeit easily lampooned (i.e., "Number Two"). After that, boys seem to have been the main target, despite the Twilight-ish premise: most ads have been a barrage of action and flashlight hands, oddly jumping to the butt-kicking "Number Six" girl instead of the love interest (Dianna Agron) after "Number Four" (Alex Pettyfer) was barely introduced (adding to the muddle is that all three characters are blondes). For the girls, there have been some ads focusing on the romance between Pettyfer and Agron, namely one that aired during the post-Super Bowl episode of Agron's Glee, as well as spots interviewing the actors about their characters. Short-shrifting the girls seems strange in light of Twilight's success. All in all, Number Four will rely on its general bombardment to carry the day over any marketing panache.

Among past movies, I Am Number Four may be most comparable to Jumper, another intended franchise starter about a super-powered boy being hunted down with a dash of romance. It opened on the four-day Presidents' Day weekend in 2008 to $32.1 million at 3,139 locations (or the equivalent of nearly $36 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) and ended its run at $80.2 million. Also comparable though perhaps younger-skewing, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief from last Presidents' Day weekend attempted to kick-off a new franchise, debuting to $38.7 million and closing with $88.8 million. Neither movie earned a sequel.

As for Unknown, first they took Liam Neeson's daughter, and now they've taken his identity. So Mr. Neeson's going to take back his life, to paraphrase the movie's tagline. There's a whole lot of taking going on to capitalize on Neeson's success with Taken, including the word "take" in all bold caps in the commercials and a poster that features a side profile shot of Neeson just like Taken's. In effect, Unknown has been cast as Taken 2, which is understandable given that it's Neeson's first real star vehicle since the surprise success of Taken two years ago. That picture packed a $24.7 million punch in its first weekend and ultimately made $145 million. On tap for Unknown are ads with slick, blue-tinged, European-set thrills and a mystery element, though it would be surprising if it appeals as much as the more relatable and harrowing set-up of Taken.

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son marks the first of 2011's record number of sequels, and, while its existence probably makes most people cringe, there was some box office merit to milking this Martin Lawrence franchise. The first Big Momma's House was a big hit back in 2000, debuting to $25.7 million and ending its run at $117.6 million ($175 million adjusted). In early 2006, Big Momma's House 2 did much less business, opening to $27.7 million and closing with $70.2 million ($86 million adjusted), but it was still a success, considering the long wait and how comedy sequels usually lose steam. More importantly, fat-suit comedy has been a popular subgenre, featuring such hits as the Madea and Nutty Professor movies, and it's been a couple of years since the last one (Madea Goes to Jail). Big Mommas' advertising has offered the same type of gags that have worked in the past. In an attempt to grab younger audiences, Brandon T. Jackson gets in on the cross-dressing antics as Lawrence's son, and he's even featured in Lawrence-free ads.

In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, I Am Number Four logged the most "opening weekend" interest at 23.6 percent and a relatively decent "never see it" score of 20.8 percent. While its interest levels were greater than Percy Jackson's, it had much less heat than Jumper (33.6 percent opening weekend). Unknown boasted a solid 18.3 percent opening weekend score, which was behind Taken's 21.5 percent but better than Edge of Darkness's 14.5 percent. Big Mommas brought up the rear with a three percent opening weekend score, which was less than Big Momma's House 2 and Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins.

(Due to technical difficulties, estimated screen counts are not available at this time.)

Comps for:
'I Am Number Four'
'Unknown'
'Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son'



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