September was the third-straight month where the box office declined year-over-year, which puts a lot of pressure on October to turn things around. With major sequels Taken 2 and Paranormal Activity 4 on the schedule, along with other potential hits like Frankenweenie and Argo, there's a good chance that this month winds up ahead of last year's $611 million; however, topping October 2009's record $693.4 million will be tough without any significant surprises.
October 5 - 'Taken 2' Vs. 'Frankenweenie'
The first weekend of the month features the long-awaited release of Taken 2, which finds Liam Neeson once again beating up evil Eastern Europeans in an attempt to save his family. After opening to $24.7 million in January 2009, the original Taken went on to become a huge hit with $145 million total. While it has become a bit of a punchline in some circles, it has an avid fan base and a generally-strong reputation among regular moviegoers (it has a great 7.9 rating on IMDb).
The plot for Taken 2 is nearly identical to the first movie—this time his wife is taken instead of his daughter—but that shouldn't be a big drawback for people looking to see Liam Neeson kicking ass again. Distributor 20th Century Fox has been marketing the hell out of the movie, and it could top Paranormal Activity 3's $52.6 million to set a new October opening weekend record. The movie will be incredibly front-loaded, though, given the pent-up demand, and it will ultimately have a tough time matching its predecessor's total.
While it isn't going to be able to compete with Taken 2, Tim Burton's stop-motion animated Frankenweenie also looks well-positioned to be one of the higher-grossing movies of October. The movie has a clever concept that's broadly appealing—who doesn't wish they could bring their beloved dog back to life?—and the whole thing fits in better with Burton's brand than anything he's done in years (the movie is based off his 1984 short of the same name).
Unfortunately, there is a ceiling to how high stop-motion animated movies can go: Burton's Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas topped out at $53.4 million and $50 million, and Coraline is the highest-grossing entry in the genre in the last decade with just $75.3 million. It's a safe bet that Frankenweenie winds up somewhere between Corpse Bride and Coraline.
After a week in limited release, a capella comedy Pitch Perfect is expanding nationwide on Oct. 5. The movie has an appealing cast including Anna Kendrick and Bridesmaids scene-stealer Rebel Wilson, and should do a decent job tapping in to the younger female audience that's made Glee such a hit. Still, the campaign seems overly-reliant on social network word-of-mouth, which is tough to quantify, and the relatively-untested release strategy could backfire as well.
October 12 - 'Argo', 'Boom', 'Sinister' and 'Psychopaths'
The second weekend of October is one of those busy weekends where at least one movie is destined to disappoint big time, though it's often hard to tell which one it will be. In this case, at least, it's easy to tell which one won't bomb: Iran hostage crisis thriller Argo has generated great buzz out of the early September film festivals, and Warner Bros. has been supporting it with the kind of robust, confident marketing campaign that guarantees at least average opening weekend returns. One of the biggest selling points for the movie is the director: after getting put in Hollywood jail after starring in a handful of bombs, Ben Affleck has kick-started the second act of his career by directing Gone Baby Gone and 2010 hit The Town, which opened to $23.8 million on its way to a $92.2 million total. Boston is a more-appealing movie setting than the Middle East, so replicating those grosses is going to be tough, but Argo should still see good returns.
Here Comes the Boom star Kevin James rattled off a set of $100 million-grossing movies a few years ago, but took a step back last year with The Dilemma ($48.5 million) and Zookeeper ($80.4 million). Here Comes the Boom looks like it will be another underperformer: the movie is clearly targeting family audiences, but the violence inherent in UFC fighting is going to be a major turnoff for that crowd. It's not likely to generate much interest from UFC fans either, as last September's Warrior ($13.7 million) proved they prefer to stay at home and watch the real thing.
Supernatural horror movie Sinister has a terrifying marketing campaign, and early reactions suggest it lives up to that distinction. Some fans of the genre are guaranteed to turn out on opening weekend, and it should do at least as well as House at the End of The Street ($12.3 million opening). However, the numbers across the board are going to be muted by the fact that it's opening in the shadow of supernatural heavyweight Paranormal Activity 4, which is going to keep Sinister from truly breaking out during its theatrical run.
Seven Psychopaths is the latest movie from Martin McDonough, the writer-director of In Bruges. That movie made a meager $7.8 million in 2008, but has built up an impressive cult following in the years since. CBS Films is pushing Seven Psychopaths pretty hard, and it's getting good reviews thus far, but it's the kind of genre-blending movie that can get lost in the pack on a weekend like this. Discerning adult audiences are going to be faced with deciding whether to go with Argo or Seven Psychopaths, and chances are they side with Argo.