At the end of what could become the highest-grossing February in history, four new releases enter the fray this weekend. Act of Valor is targeting first place with a very wide release (3,039 theaters), though it will face tough competition from Tyler Perry's Good Deeds (around 2,800 screens at 2,132 venues). Wanderlust (2,001 theaters) and Gone (2,186 locations) are also debuting this weekend, though it's unlikely either of them creates much of a stir.
Act of Valor is easily one of Relativity Media's most aggressively marketed movies so far. Beginning with the debut trailer last October and continuing through four Super Bowl commercials earlier this month (two pre-game, one in-game, and one post-game spot), the studio has clearly gotten the message out that Act of Valor is "a motion picture event starring active duty Navy SEALs." Whether that's an event that's interesting to a wide audience remains to be seen—most previews skirt over any type of story or character, both of which are usually key components to getting people in to theaters.
Military movies are few and far between lately, though Battle: Los Angeles scored around this time last year with a $35.6 million debut (of course, that movie also had lots of aliens). Going back a little further there's 2002's We Were Soldiers ($20.2 million debut) and 2003's Tears of the Sun ($17 million opening), both of which hit theaters on the first weekend of March. Those movies had major stars in Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis, though, while Act of Valor is devoid of recognizable faces. Regardless, Relativity's campaign has done a nice job reaching out to men (sporting events), gamers (Battlefield 3 cross-promotion), and the heartland audience (a country music-heavy soundtrack), all of which should lead to a debut around $20 million (Relativity is more modestly projecting between $15 and $17 million).
As he's done many times in the past, though, Tyler Perry could be a spoiler this weekend. The prolific writer-director-actor has made 10 movies in the past six years, which have combined to gross over $522 million for distributor Lionsgate. To this point, The Family That Preys and Daddy's Little Girls are the only Perry-branded movies to open to less than $20 million ($17.4 million and $11.2 million, respectively), though For Colored Girls also debuted below that mark ($19.5 million). Similar to all of those, Good Deeds is Madea-free and leans dramatic, so it's also likely to wind up in this range. Lionsgate is currently forecasting between $12 and $15 million.
Exactly one month before it was set to open last October, Wanderlust was bumped back to its current Feb. 24 release date. That late move, combined with the fewest theaters for a Judd Apatow production in over a decade, seems to indicate that distributor Universal Pictures has had a tough time coming up with the right strategy for the movie. Star Paul Rudd and director David Wain's last collaboration, Role Models, opened to $19.2 million in November 2008, and one would think adding Jennifer Aniston for Wanderlust would only help matters. Unfortunately, while Aniston is coming off of two $100 million movies, she's also recently starred in duds like The Switch and Love Happens, which debuted to $8.4 million and $8.1 million, respectively. Based on current tracking, Universal is expecting an opening of less than $10 million.
Gone will likely be the big loser this weekend, though it could surprise if young girls turn out in unexpected numbers. Prior to Gone, Amanda Seyfried received sole top-billing in Letters to Juliet and Red Riding Hood, which opened to $13.5 million and $14 million. Gone has had a much less-energetic marketing effort, though, and with its generic title and non-descript plot it should fall far short of those numbers. Summit is predicting an opening in the mid-to-high single digits.
Weekend Forecast (February 24-26) 1. Act of Valor - $20.5 million 2. Good Deeds - $19.2 million 3. Journey 2 - $13.9 million (-30%) 4. Safe House - $13 million (-45%) 5. The Vow - $11.5 million (-50%) 6. Wanderlust - $10.2 million 7. This Means War - $10.1 million (-42%) 8. Ghost Rider 2 - $9 million (-59%) 9. Gone - $6.1 million
Bar for Success Act of Valor and Good Deeds both need to get in to the high-teens for a pass, while Wanderlust's fairly light release means $15 million would be a great start. Gone is in good shape anywhere over $10 million.