Runaway train thriller Unstoppable marks the fifth teaming of star Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott, following Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Though the attendance has waned with each movie, they all opened solidly, contributing to Mr. Washington's reputation as a consistent box office draw. With their train-related action, a comparison between Unstoppable and Pelham will be unavoidable: the latter debuted to $23.4 million on around 4,400 screens at 3,074 locations in 2009 and derailed at a relatively disappointing $65.5 million total. Unstoppable lacks a strong villain, a seemingly vital element to the success of thrillers like this (Speed, Die Hard, etc.), and the marketing has tried to fill the void by trumping up the train's corporation as an antagonist. The ads have largely been a blur of action, marginalizing the lead characters (played by Washington and Chris Pine from Star Trek) when their rapport should be a primary selling point.
Alien invasion and disaster spectacles tend to lure in a lot of people, boding well for Skyline, which looks like a low-rent version of Independence Day or War of the Worlds with a dash of Cloverfield. Its advertising has been all about the special effects of aliens attacking and has emphasized the movie's survival and mystery aspects, though it has been light on characters.
Morning Glory was decaffeinated in its mid-week launch, grossing $2.6 million on Wednesday and Thursday, which doesn't augur well for its weekend. Headlined by Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton (reuniting after The Family Stone) and Harrison Ford, the comedy is not lacking for star wattage, but its premise of a young woman working as a producer on a morning show may appear dated and generic, typified by the movie's lazy posters showing the actors in black and white with the slogan "What's the story, Morning Glory?" (note to the marketers: it's your job to tell us) written over them. In its ads, Morning Glory is one of those movies that feels like it's been done many times, but, in actuality, directly comparable movies are few and far between in recent years (the television producer angle is what throws one off, as that profession is featured in many romantic comedies and TV shows). Much of the marketing has gone for an empowerment theme, hoping to relate to audiences with the first big job storyline of Ms. McAdams' character and by pointing out the movie is from the screenwriter of The Devil Wears Prada, but ads have also tried to cram in a perfunctory romance, giving short shrift to the working girl comedy that might have set the movie apart.
In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, Skyline has had the strongest tracking: nearly 25 percent of the votes have been for "opening weekend" and over 24 percent have been for "sometime in theaters." Given its genre, it's not surprising Skyline would have the highest score among new releases, and it ranked much lower than other alien invasion movies for "opening weekend," but its "sometime" share was significantly higher than the norm. Skyline's good polling results suggest that it's the wild card.
Meanwhile, Unstoppable mustered a nearly 20 percent "opening weekend" vote, and its scores were a bit better than The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Morning Glory, predictably, had the least amount of interest in polling, logging an under ten percent "opening weekend" score and coming closest to Definitely, Maybe among past movies.
• 'Mastermind' Devises Brawny Start, 'Due Date' Pays Off
This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2009 - '2012' Plagues the Box Office
• 2008 - James Bond Takes 'Quantum' Leap
• 2007 - 'Beowulf' Can't Fell Box Office Blahs
• 2006 - Penguins Tip-Tap Past Bond
• 2005 - Harry Potter's 'Goblet' Runneth Over with Cash
• 2004 - Superheroes Slay Santa: 'Incredibles' Tops 'Polar' 2-to-1
• 'Morning Glory'