March 2011 Preview
by Ray Subers
March 2, 2011
While February wasn't quite as barren as January, it still failed to reverse 2011's downward trajectory. Things aren't looking much better in March: March 2010 scored a record $832.3 million, fueled in large part by Alice in Wonderland's huge $299.5 million. It's going to take above-average performances across the board, particularly from Rango, Battle: Los Angeles and Sucker Punch to come anywhere close to matching that total.
The first weekend of March features a major animated comedy and three movies that were originally scheduled for release last year. Rango is opening the same weekend that Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland debuted to over $116 million last year. It's also taking a similar marketing approach, putting Depp's name and character front-and-center in all billboards and commercials. Alice obviously had a lot of other things going for it, namely a more instantly recognizable story and Avatar-fueled 3D interest. Also, Rango will likely be held back a bit by its more mature content (the movie truly earns its PG rating with a relentless onslaught of crude humor, violence, smoking and mild profanity) and its Western setting, though True Grit proved that audiences can be receptive to the genre.
Out of the remaining March 4 movies, it appears The Adjustment Bureau has the best chance for success. While it was delayed from last July, distributor Universal Pictures has shown renewed confidence in the project, so much so that it aired a commercial during the Super Bowl pre-game show last month. Star Matt Damon is coming off a string of non-Bourne disappointments as his last four vehicles have all finished in the $30 million range. The Adjustment Bureau should be able to end this trend, if only by a bit.
The weekend's other two releases seem like they are being dumped by their nascent distributors. Beastly was delayed from last July, and CBS Films hasn't done much in the interim to build anticipation. It looks even worse for Take Me Home Tonight. Production took place way back in 2007, when 1980s nostalgia was approaching critical levels. Since then, it's undergone at least one title change (from Kids in America) and at least one studio change (from Universal to Relativity Media), and is now positioned to appeal only to a select group of college and older high school students. That demographic is far too small to yield major results, and Relativity seems poised for another disappointing release.
Two very different extraterrestrial-themed movies and one reimagined fairy tale open on March 11. With its Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day vibe, Battle: Los Angeles seems like a clear winner at this point. Alien invasion movies are one of the most consistently successful genres, with last November's Skyline standing as the exception that proves the rule. Distributor Sony/Columbia has already generated high levels of awareness for Battle: Los Angeles, and the movie has topped Box Office Mojo' reader poll on top choice to see in March with 29 percent of the vote. Previews haven't done a great job showcasing much in the way of story (aside from "aliens invade, marines fight back") or character (the very recognizable Aaron Eckhart is hard to spot in many commercials), which could hold the movie back a bit. Ultimately, though, Battle: Los Angeles is about as much of a sure-thing as there is this March.
Mars Needs Moms also involves aliens, albeit slightly less malicious ones. The animated feature uses Robert Zemeckis's motion capture technology, which was used in past successes The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol. Those were both adaptations of timeless Holiday stories, though, while Mars Needs Moms is a random entry in to the typically disappointing sci-fi animation genre. It's also going to have an uphill battle to siphon off family audiences from Rango and Gnomeo and Juliet. Still, it has repeatedly proven futile to bet against 3D animated movies, so Mars Needs Moms could honestly still find some success.
In the wake of the success of Twilight and Alice in Wonderland, a darker reimagining of the Red Riding Hood story must have seemed like a bankable idea. Unfortunately, the commercials and trailers have been uninspiring to say the least, lacking story and characters, and werewolf movies often struggle anyway. The main selling point has been that the movie is from the director of Twilight, which is not likely to grab many. Distributor Warner Bros. may be punting on this one and putting their full strength behind Sucker Punch, so it would be a surprise if Red Riding Hood breaks out.
Thanks to an abundance of original fare, the March 18 weekend is one of the hardest to predict so far this year. Sci-fi comedy Paul has already had a strong $9 million opening in the United Kingdom, though stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are far more popular there. While the movie is currently positioned to be most appealing to the Comic Con crowd (Pegg and Frost's characters encounter the title alien, voiced by Seth Rogen, while en route to a similar convention), it does appear to have the same R-rated humor that propelled director Greg Mottola's Superbad to $121.5 million in 2007. If the last stretch of the movie's campaign emphasizes broadly appealing humor and adventure elements, Paul should be in line for solid returns.
Limitless is probably the biggest wild card of the month. The movie has an intriguing "what if" premise which is clearly articulated in the previews, even if the use of Kanye West's "Power" was already beaten to death by The Social Network last September. Additionally, Limitless mixes an up-and-coming star (Bradley Cooper) with a sort-of elder statesman of the industry (Robert DeNiro) for what could be an explosive matchup. Distributor Relativity Media is putting its full weight behind this project, even going so far as to purchase multiple Super Bowl spots. However, it's still unclear if they have what it takes to successfully open a major release.
Courtroom drama The Lincoln Lawyer also opens on March 18, though it appears to be a lock for nothing more than modest results. Star Matthew McConaughey's biggest hits are romantic comedies, not dramas, as evidenced by the performances of We Are Marshall ($43.6 million) and Two for the Money ($23 million). The Lincoln Lawyer is based off a reasonably popular novel and could end up somewhere between these two examples.
After an unsuccessful foray in to the animated realm with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, Zach Snyder is back to live-action with Sucker Punch. Snyder's last two March releases, 300 ($210.6 million) and Watchmen ($107.5 million) were both based off of reasonably popular comic books, while Sucker Punch is essentially an original idea. Previews emphasize visuals over story, targeting younger males. If the dramatic aspects are properly highlighted, though, the movie could crossover to women as well.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is the closely-timed sequel to last March's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which surprised many when it earned $64 million. Children-oriented sequels often come close to matching their predecessors, and that could be the case again.
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• Box Office Woes Continued in February
• February 2011 Preview
• January 2011 Preview
• December Preview
• November Preview
• October Preview
• September Preview
• August Preview
• July Preview
• June Preview
• May Preview
• Opening Weekends - March
• Biggest Aggregated Months - March