Summer 2011 is poised to close with an even quieter whimper than normal. Unless any of the new releases break-out, this Labor Day weekend will go down as the least-attended one since 1992.
Opening nationwide are Apollo 18 at 3,328 nearly single-screen locations, Shark Night 3D on over 3,500 screens at 2,806 locations (including around 2,500 showing it in 3D) and The Debt at 1,826 single-screen locations, but The Help has an excellent shot at topping the box office for the third weekend in a row. The drama continued to hold well on the weekdays, and it's the type of crowd-pleasing movie that people catch up on over the holiday weekend.
All Apollo 18 has going for it is the intrigue of its moon landing premise ("Discover the reason we never went back."), and whether or not its "found footage" aspect has tricked anyone into thinking it's real. Other than that, the movie doesn't look like a pleasant experience as far as horror movies go, with its standard "someone-gets-infected-in-claustrophobic-setting" scenario, nondescript characters and murky camera gimmick. The market for this type of movie relates more to supernatural hauntings, such as Paranormal Activity and The Last Exorcism, or something more grounded, like Quarantine. Space horror has been a mixed bag. Outside of Alien, there's duds like Pandorum, Ghosts of Mars, Doom, Supernova and Jason X, not to mention countless straight-to-video-or-cable titles.
Normally, a shark thriller should score a decent audience or at least a greater turn-out than lesser chompers like Piranha. In the case of Shark Night 3D, though, the movie's marketing campaign has neither built up the shark menace nor displayed much of the sharks. The tagline says "your worst fears are about to surface," but that's not sufficiently shown beyond a shift from party music to ominous tones. What's more, the ads haven't promised much in the way of over-the-top thrills and gore, and the premise of different kinds of sharks attacking people in a lake seems as random as Snakes on a Plane. Both Shark and Snakes were directed by David R. Ellis, but the ads cite him as the director of The Final Destination (odd given that movie's poor reputation). At the end of the ads, the announcer tacks on "also showing in 2D" in a feeble bid to overcome the perceived limitation of the "3D" in the title. (On top of that, most of the action seems to take place in the day, not the titular night.)
Box Office Mojo's reader polling has reflected the slowness at the box office. Apollo 18 has scored 10.4 percent for opening weekend so far, or a few ticks behind The Fourth Kind among past comparable titles. Shark Night has come in close to 10 percent for opening weekend, trailing Final Destination 5's 15.9 percent and, perhaps more alarmingly, Piranha 3D's 17.4 percent (which suggests just $7 million for Shark). The rosier comparisons indicate openings no higher than the low teen millions for both Apollo and Shark. The Debt brought up the rear with 6.2 percent for opening weekend, or less than half the interest in The American at the same point last year.
The Forecast, Sept. 2-5 (Four-day weekend) 1. The Help - $17 million 2. Apollo 18 - $13 million 3. Shark Night 3D - $12 million 4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - $8.5 million 5. The Debt - $8.5 million
Bar for Success To get a pass, modest horror movies like Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D should be hitting the high teen millions over the long Labor Day weekend, while The Debt would be fine with around $10 million.