More so than in past years, March 2012's releases look like they could have been plucked straight from a Summer lineup. The Lorax, The Hunger Games and Wrath of the Titans will all likely reach $100 million, while John Carter is shooting for well over that mark despite a troubled production and marketing history. Comedies Project X and 21 Jump Street are also receiving strong advanced buzz, and could be hits in their own right as well. The March record was set in 2010 ($832.3 million), and with all these major titles reaching theaters there's an awfully good chance March 2012 reaches a new high mark.
March 2 - The Lorax Vs. Project X
Aside from The Hunger Games, Dr. Suess' The Lorax looks like the safest bet this March. Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment has only made two movies prior to The Lorax, and both Despicable Me ($251.5 million) and Hop ($108.1 million) were very successful. Additionally, the Dr. Seuss brand has a strong track recordHow the Grinch Stole Christmas made $260 million in 2000, and The Cat in the Hat overcame terrible reviews to earn $101.1 million in 2003. Finally, the best comparison for The Lorax is Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, which was also an animated movie produced by Chris Meledandri and grossed $154.5 million in 2008.*
While The Lorax story isn't quite as popular, the previews nicely blend the look and feel of a Dr. Seuss book with a light tongue-in-cheek quality in a way that should attract young and old audiences alike (getting Danny DeVito as the voice of The Lorax is some kind of stroke of genius). There hasn't been a major animated hit since Puss in Boots in October ($149.1 million), and it looks like that streak is about to come to an end when The Lorax opens.
Project X is targeted towards teens and young adults that won't have the slightest interest in seeing The Lorax this weekend. The found footage party movie, produced by The Hangover's Todd Phillips, is being marketed as a movie-going event that resembles "Superbad on crack." Superbad opened to $33 million in August 2007 but, unlike Project X, it actually had characters to latch on to (Remember McLovin? Of course you do.). Still, Warner Bros. is giving this edgy, high-concept flick a good push, and it should be in line for at least moderately strong grosses.
March 9 - John Carter Vs. Silent House Vs. A Thousand Words
Over the past few months, plenty of the conversation among entertainment journalists regarding John Carter has been about its outlandish rumored production budget (at least $250 million, which would be a new high for a first-time live action director). Outside of Los Angeles and New York, though, production budgets really don't influence movie-going decisions. However, the other part of the conversation has been the astonishingly bad marketing campaign, which is obviously something that does impact attendance.
The problems really started around a year ago when Disney shortened the title from John Carter of Mars to just John Carter in what could have been a reaction to the epic failure that was Mars Needs Moms ($21.4 million). By attempting to broaden the appeal, Disney stripped the title of any kind of identity, and have since doubled-down by making the title a key part of the campaign (they bizarrely shelled out millions of dollars for a Super Bowl spot only to form the title out of dozens of tiny clips).
Out of the footage that has been revealed across numerous trailers and commercials, little of it is very inspiring. One scene in particular, which finds John Carter facing off against giant beasts in a stadium filled with green aliens, evokes a similar scene in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, which is never a good sign. Other clips give off a Prince of Persia vibe, while there's also a feeling that it's all a bit derivative of Avatar (which is ironic considering Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter stories are widely considered a major influence on modern day science fiction).
Early word coming out of last week's junket screenings is that the movie is good, not great. Also, recent ads have done a slightly better job outlining a story with the tagline "When Evil Rises, One Hero Stands," though that's still pretty vague. While both of these are positive steps, neither are substantial enough to drastically improve the movie's fortunes. Since it's a heavily-marketed sci-fi tentpole, it needs to open over $50 million to get a pass, and even then it will need to hold on well to qualify for a sequel (which is the true sign that it's viewed as a success).
Single-take horror flick Silent House and Eddie Murphy family comedy A Thousand Words are bold enough to take on John Carter on March 9. Distributor Open Road Films is coming off a mild success with January's The Grey ($49.4 million and counting), and Silent House is the sort of high-concept horror movie that consistently scores with a niche audience. It won't open anywhere near paranormal thrillers like The Devil Inside ($33.7 million), but it still has a solid chance of becoming another hit for Open Road.
The long-shelved A Thousand Words, on the other hand, looks like the latest hiccup in Eddie Murphy's ongoing attempt to tap in to the family crowds that drove Daddy Day Care and the Doctor Dolittle movies to over $100 million. Unfortunately, Murphy's most recent stab at reaching that audience was 2009's Imagine That, which bombed with $16.1 million. A Thousand Words should do better, but probably not by much.
March 16 - 21 Jump Street
Falling in between John Carter and The Hunger Games, March 16, 2012 seemed like a place where tough movies could go to die. It doesn't look like that's going to be the case, though, as 80s TV revamp 21 Jump Street is shaping up to be a potential surprise hit. While Jonah Hill has his share of misses (The Sitter being a recent example), he's at his best when paired with a strong co-lead (Get Him to the Greek and Superbad). For 21 Jump Street, Hill is playing opposite heartthrob actor Channing Tatum, who recently helped The Vow get to $93 million in just two weeks.
Trailers and commercials have been spot-on so far: they successfully introduce Hill and Tatum's characters, outline the semblance of a plot, and mix in plenty of action and laughs. With very strong advanced word-of-mouth and high levels of awareness, 21 Jump Street is sitting pretty three weeks ahead of its release.