On the first weekend in February, three new movies will try to steal eyes away from the Super Bowl, which is easily the biggest entertainment event of the year. Chronicle opens in 2,907 locations, while The Woman in Black haunts 2,855 venues. Big Miracle has a more modest launch at 2,128 theaters, though it has the best chance of serving as counterprogramming on Sunday.
Chronicle is the latest entry in to the incredibly popular found footage sub-genre. Between Cloverfield, the Paranormal Activity series and other supernatural horror flicks like last month's The Devil Inside, found footage movies have been a consistent money maker for the past few years. The reason is simple—they perform well at the box office, and are comparatively very cheap to make. The trademark imprecision (read: spotty lighting and sound) and lack of above-the-line talent (you won't see Brad Pitt in Paranormal Activity 4) are both storytelling tools and budget-savers. Even Chronicle, which is very effects-heavy throughout, wound up with a reported budget of just $12 million.
Chronicle documents the struggles of three teens who wind up with telekinetic powers following an interaction with some sort of supernatural (extraterrestrial?) object. It generally follows the superhero origin story model (act one: get powers, act two: experiment with powers, act three: go in to battle against villain who also has some kind of powers), though it puts enough of a spin on it that it should be a solid draw for young males. Chronicle probably won't open as high as past found footage movies, since it's lacking the horror elements and only really has a two-day weekend (its core audience will be preoccupied on Sunday), but it still looks like a first place contender. Distributor 20th Century Fox is modestly forecasting an opening in the high single-digits, though tracking has the movie closer to $15 million.
The Woman in Black marks Daniel Radcliffe's first major role outside of the Harry Potter series, which came to an end this past Summer. While supernatural horror movies are always very popular, they tend to be more successful when either shot in the found footage format or dealing directly with exorcisms, neither of which seems to apply in this case. The Woman in Black also marks CBS Films' first release since Beastly ($27.9 million) last March, and none of their first five movies have opened to more than $12.2 million (The Back-Up Plan). The studio acquired the movie for $3 million, and they are anticipating around $11 million this weekend.
Big Miracle fits firmly in to "cute animals in trouble" genre, which generally performs well with family audiences. A recent example was Dolphin Tale, which was also a true story about a challenged sea mammal and wound up opening to a strong $19.2 million in September. That had 3D, a more assertive marketing effort and many more theaters (3,507 to Big Miracle's 2,128), so don't expect Big Miracle to come anywhere close to that figure. It will be a top draw on Sunday, though, by attracting moms and girls who could care less about football.
Weekend Forecast (February 3-5) 1. Chronicle - $17.5 million 2. The Woman in Black - $10.5 million 3. The Grey - $9.6 million (-51%) 4. Big Miracle - $8.1 million 5. One For the Money - $6.8 million (-41%)
Bar for Success Even though it has a small budget, Chronicle's merging of two appealing genres really should help it get up close to $20 million. Low-to-mid teens would be strong for Big Miracle, while anything in the double-digits is good for The Woman in Black.