With three new nationwide releases, along with a handful of strong holdovers, President's Day Weekend seems poised to be a busy time at movie theaters. Five years after the first Ghost Rider earned over $115 million, Nicolas Cage is back in the title role in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which opens at 3,174 locations (2,352 of which are in 3D). This Means War reaches 3,189 venues following mildly successful Valentine's Day previews, and Disney unveils the latest Studio Ghibli import The Secret World of Arrietty at 1,522 theaters. With The Vow, Safe House and Journey 2 still in the mix, five movies could wind up at over $20 million for the four-day weekend.
When the first Ghost Rider opened in 2007, Nicolas Cage was still generally considered a true movie star: National Treasure had earned $173 million just two years earlier, and he even managed to help World Trade Center get to over $70 million in 2006. Lately, though, his questionable project choices and over-the-top acting style has made him a bit of a punch line. That wouldn't really matter if his movies were still cashing in, but Cage is coming off a string of bombs that started with 2010's The Sorcerer's Apprentice ($63.2 million) and continued through last year's Season of the Witch ($24.8 million) and Drive Angry ($10.7 million).
The Ghost Rider brand isn't particularly strong either right now. In 2007, Ghost Rider marked the long-awaited introduction to a popular, unique comic book character, though that built-in goodwill seems to have evaporated thanks to a widely-maligned result (the movie has a terrible 5.2 rating on IMDb). Add in a five-year wait, which is abnormally long and usually leads to declining domestic sales, and Spirit of Vengeance looks to be in bad shape.
Fortunately, directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (the Crank movies) have brought a kinetic, action-packed energy to the trailers and commercials, which have received plenty of airtime. That's not enough to get Spirit of Vengeance anywhere near the first movie's $52 million debut, but it should still win the weekend with at least $30 million (Sony is projecting high-$20 to low-$30 millions for the four-day frame).
After weeks of marketing This Means War as a romantic comedy perfectly suited for Valentine's Day, distributor 20th Century Fox made the last minute decision to push the movie back to Friday and only show "sneak previews" on Tuesday night. The movie earned $1.65 million at 2,500 locations, which is a fine figure that doesn't ultimately say too much about the movie's weekend prospects.
This Means War finds two up-and-coming stars (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) battling for the affections of rom-com veteran Reese Witherspoon. That didn't work so well when the movie was called How Do You Know ($30.2 million), though This Means War at least adds an action element to make it a bit more appealing to men. Still, outside of Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($50.3 million opening) and True Lies ($25.9 million debut in 1994), spy rom-coms don't generally play very well. The best recent example is Knight & Day, which only opened to $20.1 million despite its prime Summer release date and stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Fox is currently anticipating around $14 million for the four-day weekend.
The Secret World of Arrietty hits U.S. shores a year-and-a-half after debuting in native Japan, where it earned over $110 million. At over 1,500 locations, the movie tops 2009's Ponyo for widest U.S. release ever for a Studio Ghibli movie. With reasonably well-known source material (the children's book The Borrowers) and a notable marketing commitment from Disney, Arrietty could double Ponyo's $3.6 million debut, though it probably won't go much higher than that.
4-Day Weekend Forecast (Feb. 17-20) 1. Ghost Rider 2 - $34.5 million 2. Safe House - $26.1 million (-35%) 3. The Vow - $23.9 million (-42%) 4. Journey 2 - $22.8 million (-17%) 5. This Means War - $19.7 million -. Arrietty - $6.9 million
Bar for Success Even though it is arriving five years after a poorly-received original, the Ghost Rider sequel still needs to retain a good portion of the first movie's audience to justify its existence—$40 million for the four-day weekend would be a very healthy start. This Means War is fine around $20 million, and Arrietty would be in exceptional shape if it got close to $10 million.