It's been a depressing few months at the box office, but April hopes to be the month that finally turns things around. First off, there will be significantly more nationwide releases than April 2010 (16 versus 12). It's also the first month in 2011 that has a healthy supply of would-be blockbusters, including sequels like Fast Five and Scream 4 and accessible family fare like Rio and Hop. Still, last April was by-far the highest-grossing on record with $752.6 million, so another down month could be in the offing. April 1 Hop, Source Code and Insidious aim to kick things off on a strong note this weekend. From Illumination Entertainment, the company behind Despicable Me, Hop is the latest entry in the increasingly tired CGI star genre. The movie essentially looks like Alvin and the Chipmunks with a holiday angle, two factors which should work in its favor. Even if the movie doesn't open hugely, it will inevitably hold up well through the Easter holiday at the end of the month.
Neither Source Code's director (Moon's Duncan Jones) or star (Jake Gyllenhaal) have much box office clout, and the movie's time travel premise appears a bit derivative of Groundhog Day. However, character-driven sci-fi fare has been a bright spot in the 2011 landscape so far (The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless), and Source Code's generally enthusiastic reviews could help draw in more discerning adult audiences. If the movie performs in line with Adjustment Bureau and Limitless ($60-70 million), it will probably be viewed as a mild success. Insidious is from Saw director James Wan and is produced by Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli, and it falls in to the usually consistent supernatural horror genre. There would appear to be some pent-up demand for horror fare, considering there has been a dearth since The Rite and The Roommate. While it's unlikely that Insidious becomes a breakout hit, it may prove to be a modest diversion until Scream 4 hits two weeks later.
With nothing that exciting lined up, the second weekend of April feels like a transitional one. Medieval comedy Your Highness features well-known actors like Danny McBride, James Franco and recent Oscar winner Natalie Portman. Unfortunately, its advertising has largely avoided showing any chemistry among the cast members or any hint of the movie's R-rated humor. Instead, it has focused on Portman's character engaged in mediocre medieval action, a move that seems short-sighted. Ads have also emphasized that it's from the director of Pineapple Express, though reaching that movie's $87.3 million total seems unlikely.
In an odd scheduling decision, the Arthur remake comes out the same day as Your Highness, despite the fact that both movies are adult-leaning comedies. The original Arthur from 1982 was a huge hit, earning $95.2 million (or $260 million adjusted for ticket price inflation). With advertising that focuses on star Russell Brand's childish antics and ignores the romantic comedy angle, it would be shocking if the new Arthur comes anywhere close to the original in dollars and cents, much less ticket sales.
The weekend's other two nationwide releases, Soul Surfer and Hanna, each have young female protagonists, but that's about where the similarities end. Soul Surfer tells the true sports story of a teenage surfer who loses an arm in a shark attack, only to get back on the board just weeks later. With the exception of The Blind Side, recent inspirational sports stories like We Are Marshall and Pride have disappointed. The movie appears to have Christian underpinnings, though that hasn't been emphasized enough to have much of an impact. Hanna looks like The Bourne Identity if Matt Damon was replaced with Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones), though a more relevant comparison may be last April's Kick-Ass. Both movies feature a young girl violently murdering people, which is generally a turn-off for audiences. Kick-Ass, though, had two major attributes that Hanna lacks: a raft of buzz and a sense of fun. Hanna should fall far short of that movie's $48 million total.
April 15 Rio and Scream 4, easily two of the biggest movies of the month, go head-to-head on April 15. Rio is the sixth movie from Blue Sky Animation, which is responsible for the Ice Age series, Robots and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!. So far, distributor 20th Century Fox has been going all out in its marketing, including working with game developer Rovio to release Angry Birds Rio, a spin-off of the ridiculously popular Smartphone game Angry Birds. While it's a stretch to assume Rio can reach Ice Age levels, landing in the ballpark of Robots would be a reasonable expectation.
Adjusted for ticket price inflation, Scream 2 and Scream 3 each opened north of $50 million. Similar numbers don't seem out of the question for Scream 4, even if 11 years is an awfully long time to wait between sequels and tends to result in lower attendance. The first three movies were consistent draws, though attendance did wane with each entry. Still, interest in Scream 4 seems high: Box Office Mojo readers have voted it as their top choice to see in April (though that hasn't been a successful indicator since January).
Robert Pattinson and Tyler Perry face off on the fourth weekend of April. Unlike last year's Remember Me, Pattinson actually has a legitimate chance of scoring a post-Twilight hit with Water for Elephants (with the help of Reese Witherspoon). The period drama is based off a New York Times bestseller, and its forbidden romance angle seems like a clear fit for Pattinson's core audience of younger females.
After an unsuccessful foray into Oscar bait with For Colored Girls, Perry returns to his most bankable property for Madea's Big Happy Family. His last movie with Madea in the title, Madea Goes to Jail, opened to $41 million over two years ago on its way to a Perry-best $90.5 million total. That movie had a more specific premise, though, while Big Happy Family is relying entirely on the appeal of its central character (a set of posters place Madea in parodies of popular movies like True Grit and The King's Speech). Madea Goes to Jail numbers are likely out of reach, though this should at least fall in line with other Perry comedies.
Finally, Disneynature is back on Earth Day for the third straight year, this time with African Cats. These movies seem to be less successful as they get more specific: Earth opened to $8.8 million in 2009, while Oceans debuted to $6.1 million in 2010. It's possible that African Cats follows this pattern, though Earth Day is on a Friday this year, which might give it a bit of a weekend boost. April 29
Hollywood has tried before to move up the summer season's start to the last weekend of April, but 2011 seems like the first year where the ploy might be successful. The latest entry in the Fast and the Furious series, Fast Five, has all the makings of a big hit. It's coming off Fast and Furious, which was the franchise's top grosser with $155.1 million. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel return along with assorted supporting characters from previous movies, and the addition of The Rock ups the ante. With marketing in the same stunt-heavy, action-packed vein as Fast and Furious, Fast Five is revving to go.
Out of the remaining new releases, Prom seems to have the best chance. The movie is aimed very specifically at the Disney Channel crowd, which just a few years ago drove High School Musical 3: Senior Year to a massive $42 million opening. Prom obviously doesn't have that kind of built-in brand awareness, though, and no matter how much the movie cleans up the shadier aspects of prom (drugs, booze, sex, etc.), it's surely going to be less family-friendly than the aforementioned musical.
Cult comic book adaptation Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is also currently slated for a nationwide release on April 29, though it's unlikely to receive the kind of marketing push necessary to reach a mainstream audience.