The final weekend of September will be its busiest yet, with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 poised to make a run for a new opening weekend record. Also, romantic comedies Don Jon and Baggage Claim are debuting, while Rush is expanding nationwide after a decent week-long run in New York and Los Angeles.
Opening at 4,001 theaters—the widest release ever in September—Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 arrives four years after the first Cloudy movie, which opened to a solid $30.3 million. Loosely based on a popular children's book of the same name, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was generally well-liked by audiences, and ultimately closed with $124.9 million. While that's a modest gross for a major animated movie, it's in the upper-tier for Sony Pictures Animation, which has yet to reach the heights of other animation houses Pixar, DreamWorks and Illumination.
For a sequel in any genre to be successful, the marketing campaign needs to toe the line between the familiar (so audiences connect it with the first one) and the fresh (so it doesn't look like a complete retread). Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has executed brilliantly on this. The first movie's charming characters, vibrant visuals, and off-the-wall humor are once again on display. At the same time, the "Foodimals" (food animals) are new to this movie, which helps differentiate it in a fun, interesting way. It's also allowed Sony's marketing team the opportunity to come up with a ton of clever food-related puns—Fruit Loose," "Fast Food," "Run For Your Chives," etc.—which will help rope in older kids and adults (a key to success with animated movies).
Aside from a strong marketing campaign, Cloudy 2 will also benefit from good scheduling. After a crowded Summer for family fare, the studios have avoided releasing anything original in the past six weeks—as a result, Planes was the highest-grossing animated movie in the marketplace last weekend with just $2.7 million. Sony Pictures Animation's Hotel Transylvania had a similar situation on the same weekend last year and set a September opening record with $42.5 million.
Fandango is reporting that Cloudy 2 is currently out-selling Wreck-It Ralph ($49 million) and The Croods ($43.6 million), among other titles, through the same point in their sales cycles. This suggests the movie could take the September opening record away from Hotel Transylvania; Sony is more modestly projecting low-to-mid $30 millions.
Opening at 2,422 theaters, romantic comedy Don Jon finds Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulling triple duty as star and, for the first time, writer and director. Gordon-Levitt has been doing a ton of publicity for the movie, and his multiple roles have been a focus in most of the marketing material. Otherwise, marketing has been trying to position the movie as a good date night option for adults: it's reaching out to women with the romance with Scarlett Johansson, and to men with the crass humor (specifically surrounding pornography).
Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that are going to keep Don Jon from really breaking out. The movie appears to have some satirical elements—including the thick New Jersey accents—which rarely work well with mainstream audiences. Also, pornography doesn't have as much of a stigma today as it may have had a decade or two ago, but Don Jon's focus on it is still going to be a turn-off for many potential moviegoers. Finally, while Gordon-Levitt has a solid fanbase, there's no data to suggest that his name is strong enough to open a movie: 50/50 only debuted to $8.6 million on the same weekend in 2011, while Premium Rush disappointed with just $6 million last August.
Still, this is Gordon-Levitt's first romantic comedy following (500) Days of Summer, whose fanbase is significantly bigger than its $32.4 million box office haul suggests. That puts Don Jon firmly in Gordon-Levitt's wheelhouse, which means it could open a bit higher than 50/50. Distributor Relativity Media, who acquired the movie at the Sundance Film Festival, is expecting $8 to $10 million this weekend.
After a week in limited release, Ron Howard's Formula 1 drama Rush expands in to 2,297 theaters this weekend. The movie averaged $37,458 across five locations in New York and Los Angeles last weekend, which is a fine tally that doesn't really give a good indication of how it will perform in its nationwide expansion. Rush is based on the true story of the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s. Unfortunately, this is a story that has little built-in appeal with U.S. audiences, who are mostly indifferent to Formula 1 and as a result have almost no knowledge of Hunt and Lauda. In spite of this, Universal's marketing has put the rivalry front-and-center in their marketing with the hope that adult audiences will turn out to see a well-made sports drama anyway. Rush does have a few advantages, including the drawing power of director Ron Howard and star Chris Hemsworth, who has built a solid following thanks to his work in The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman. It has also been getting very good reviews—as of Thursday afternoon, it has an 86 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes—and Universal's marketing blitz has raised awareness to a solid level.
Sports movies are often slow out of the gate, and Rush faces pretty direct competition from holdover Prisoners. Universal is expecting between $10 and $12 million, which would be a decent start. Ultimately, the domestic box office is only a small portion of Rush's earning potential: considering the popularity of Formula 1 racing elsewhere in the world, the movie is likely to do disproportionally well overseas.
Fox Searchlight is releasing romantic comedy Baggage Claim in 2,026 locations this weekend. That's a very wide release for Fox's arthouse division, which has previously opened only three movies in over 2,000 theaters. Baggage Claim has an ensemble cast made up mostly of African-Americans, who have been the target audience for this movie. This is reminiscent of 2010 Searchlight comedy Just Wright, which opened to $8.3 million at 1,831 theaters. A result in that same neighborhood is likely for Baggage Claim. Metallica Through the Never, which is a hybrid movie that mixes Metallica concert footage with a related narrative, opens in 308 IMAX 3D locations this weekend. Metallica's fanbase probably isn't as engaged as that of Justin Bieber or One Direction, but the IMAX exclusive run should help make this an event of sorts. It's likely that the movie earns over $1 million this weekend ahead of a planned nationwide expansion on October 4th.
After averaging $58,200 at four theaters last weekend, Enough Said is expanding to 227 theaters. With the broadly-appealing Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, and with very good reviews, this ought to be grossing at least $1 million this weekend. Forecast (September 27-29) 1. Cloudy 2 - $43 million 2. Prisoners - $13.4 million (-36%) 3. Rush - $11.9 million 4. Don Jon - $10.2 million 5. Baggage Claim - $7.1 million 6. Insidious Chapter 2 - $6.1 million (-56%) Bar for Success At over 4,000 theaters and without any competition, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 really ought to be earning at least $35 million this weekend. Don Jon and Rush are both fine with over $10 million, while Baggage Claim would be in great shape at $10 million.