Forecast: After four years away from theaters, iconic British superspy James Bond is finally back for his 23rd adventure in Skyfall. Pent-up demand for a new installment should combine nicely with strong buzz and an eye-catching marketing campaign, and it's almost a foregone conclusion that Skyfall sets a new opening weekend record for the franchise. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg's historical drama Lincoln opens in very limited release this weekend ahead of a nationwide expansion on Nov. 16.
The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—Dr. No kicked things off in May 1963, and the series is now on its sixth actor playing the character. The most-attended Bond movies remain 1964's Goldfinger and 1965's Thunderball, both of which starred original Bond Sean Connery, though the highest-grossing entries are recent Daniel Craig outings Casino Royale ($167.4 million) and Quantum of Solace ($168.4 million).
From a quality perspective, the franchise has been hit-or-miss, though the character is so ingrained in our collective psyche that a previous entry's reception isn't much of a bellwether for the performance of the next one. For example, while it was the highest-grossing movie ever in the franchise, Quantum of Solace was considered a major letdown in relation to Casino Royale, but that doesn't seem to have much, if any, effect on anticipation levels for Skyfall.
If overseas markets are any indication, Skyfall will not only overcome the Quantum stigma, but also drastically exceed that movie: it's already opened in most foreign territories, and is consistently outgrossing Quantum and Casino Royale by large margins. Through Tuesday, it had already earned $321 million, and it's now the highest-grossing movie of 2012 in the U.K. with over $91 million. It will pass Casino Royale's franchise-record $427 million by early next week at the latest, and with China, Japan and Australia still on the way, a $500 million total is a lock at this point.
Domestically, Skyfall is debuting at 3,505 locations, which is the most ever for a James Bond movie. The corresponding marketing effort has been fairly comprehensive: previews have been airing across a wide variety of programming (including election coverage on Tuesday), and nicely mix stark, iconic imagery with salivating quotes from critics ("Best Bond Ever" being the favorite). The ads have for the most part focused on character over story, which should work well-enough with an established character like Bond. In the product placement department, Heineken has been consistently running an amusing Bond-themed ad, which has also helped raise awareness.
In 2008, Quantum of Solace set a new Bond opening weekend record with $67.5 million, which is about where Sony is expecting Skyfall to wind up this weekend. Adjusting for inflation, though, Quantum's debut would be closer to $75 million, which seems like a safe level given all the positive indicators for Skyfall right now.
One thing working against Skyfall's opening weekend figure, though, is its Thursday IMAX debut. Sony isn't currently releasing theater count information, though the assumption is that it's playing in at least 300 of IMAX's over 330 domestic locations. Based on IMAX's track record, Skyfall could earn as much as $2 million on Thursday, which is money it would have earned over the traditional three-day weekend.
Lincoln is opening at 11 locations this weekend in an effort to build positive word-of-mouth ahead of its nationwide release next weekend. The historical drama is currently receiving a decent amount of awards buzz, most of which surrounds Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal of the 16th president of the United States. Based on the prestige-factor alone, it's going to do huge business this weekend (at least $50,000 per location, probably much more than that), but it's going to be a lot trickier to make the sell to mainstream audiences when it reaches over 1,500 locations next weekend.
Weekend Forecast (Nov. 9-11)
1. Skyfall - $78.2 million (4-day, including Thursday's IMAX shows)
2. Wreck-It Ralph - $33 million (-33%)
3. Flight - $16 million (-36%)
4. Argo - $6.5 million (-36%)
Bar for Success
Quantum of Solace opened to $67.5 million; since Skyfall is definitely going to play better in the long run, it can stand to do a bit worse on opening weekend. Still, Skyfall needs to earn at least $60 million by Sunday to get a pass.
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