The first weekend of September sees the release of the last movies from the summer movie season: The American, Going the Distance and Machete. Starring George Clooney as an assassin hiding out in Italy, The American gets a jump on the weekend with a Wednesday opening. Mr. Clooney is coming off an Oscar nomination for the hit Up in the Air ($83.8 million), and his American title character seems to fit in to the suave, well-dressed persona that worked well for him in the Ocean's Eleven series. The commercials, though, play up ambiguous action and make the movie seem like a foreign movie that happens to star Mr. Clooney, and neither of these are positive indicators for box office returns.
Director Robert Rodriguez's Machete is based on one of the fake movie trailers from Grindhouse, rising from the wreckage of that $25 million-grossing flop from 2007. As such, Machete may generate some interest from niche fanboy circles, but that's not likely to be enough to yield sizable business, as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World found last month.
Starring real-life couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, romantic comedy Going the Distance was recently delayed a week to Sept. 3. Ms. Barrymore has had decent showings in romantic comedies like Fever Pitch ($42 million) and Music and Lyrics ($50.6 million). Long, on the other hand, has only headlined one other major movie, Accepted, which opened in Aug. 2006 and earned $36.3 million. Going the Distance received an R rating, which is very rare for the genre, though The Ugly Truth carried the rating and grossed $88.9 million last summer (though it had better positioning and more bankable leads in Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler).
Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth installment in the Resident Evil series, is the only major release on Sept. 10. The last two movies in the series also opened in September and grossed $51.2 million and $50.7 million, respectively. Afterlife will be the first movie in the series to feature 3D presentations, and it's the first live-action movie since Avatar to be made with 3D cameras. The Final Destination series also added 3D for its fourth entry, which was the highest-grossing installment. In Box Office Mojo reader polling, Afterlife was the top vote-getter for the top choice to see in September, scoring over 21 percent of the vote.
While Sept. 10 only sees one new release, Sept. 17 is loaded with four debuts, none of which are guaranteed winners. Crime drama The Town marks director Ben Affleck's follow-up to Gone Baby Gone, which earned a mere $20.3 million in 2007 before developing a solid reputation on home video. Aside from the Gone Baby Gone association, The Town also has a recognizable up-and-coming cast including Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and Blake Lively (Gossip Girl), along with Affleck himself in a lead role. Distributor Warner Bros. is pumping up the fact that they released the similarly Boston-set crime drama The Departed, though even in the best case scenario it seems unlikely The Town would come remotely close to matching that movie's $132.4 million gross.
Supernatural horror movie Devil was originally slated for release in early 2011, but distributor Universal recently moved it all the way up to September. The movie has a potentially attention-grabbing trailer and premise (a group of people are trapped in an elevator with the devil), and it's the only pure horror movie opening in September. Its marketing is pushing M. Night Shyamalan's association with the project, which based on anecdotal evidence (loud booing when his name appears during the trailer) might not be the best idea. If the movie itself proves appealing, though, it should be able to overcome whatever animosity audiences feel towards Mr. Shyamalan.
Remarkably, each of the four 3D animated movies of 2010 have made over $215 million, but Alpha and Omega won't keep that streak alive. A generic tale of boy wolf meets girl wolf, the animation doesn't appear to come remotely close to the quality of established animation houses like Pixar and Dreamworks. Also, distributor Lionsgate has yet to release a successful animated picture. Its top-grossing entry was Happily N'Ever After, which grossed $15.6 million in 2007.
High school comedy Easy A rounds out the Sept. 17 schedule. Emma Stone headlines a cast of well-known actors like Amanda Bynes, Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Haden Church and Patricia Clarkson. Aside from Ms. Bynes, none of these performers have had any noticeable bankability, though, and the movie's previews suggest greater similarity to average high school movies like John Tucker Must Die and I Love You Beth Cooper than to Mean Girls.
It's tough to call which movie will stand out on Sept. 24, with all three entries looking like legitimate contenders a month out. Based on a young adult fantasy series, the awkwardly-titled Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is Australia-based animation house Animal Logic's follow-up to Happy Feet, which earned $198 million back in 2006. It's also the first animated movie from director Zach Snyder, who was responsible for monster hit 300 ($210.6 million) back in 2007. While all of this makes it seem like Ga'Hoole is poised for immediate hit status, the trailers don't put forth much of a plot, and it's hard to say if audiences are genuinely interested in a movie about talking owls.
Nearly 23 years after Oliver Stone's Wall Street earned $43.8 million (or around $87 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) and turned "Greed is good" in to one of the most quotable movie lines ever, sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps finally hits theaters. While never exactly a box office darling, Mr. Stone had a particularly lousy last decade with monumental failures Alexander ($34.3 million) and W. ($25.5 million) bookending a decent performance from World Trade Center ($70.3 million). For Money Never Sleeps, Michael Douglas reprises his role as Gordon Gekko and is joined by Shia LaBeouf. The promise of Gekko's return probably won't be enough to drive huge attendance, but if distributor 20th Century Fox manages to put together a compelling advertising campaign (something they weren't able to do all summer), the Wall Street sequel could reap solid earnings.
You Again rounds out September's nationwide releases. This is the second Disney comedy starring Kristen Bell this year, following the disappointing When in Rome ($32.7 million). While Bell may be top-billed, the real star of You Again may be Betty White, whose popularity has skyrocketed in the last year. Disney will surely focus at least part of their marketing on highlighting Ms. White's presence, which could translate into decent attendance.
While it's still relatively quiet compared to the other remaining months this year, a handful of noteworthy limited releases are set to launch in September. The Virginity Hit, a faux-documentary sex comedy produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, opens on Sept. 10. A week later, Keira Knightley-Carey Mulligan thriller Never Let Me Go and mysterious documentary Catfish debut. On the 24th, Ryan Reynolds-in-a-box movie Buried opens in limited release prior to a planned Oct. 8 nationwide expansion. Also hitting select theaters that day are Davis Guggenheim documentary Waiting for "Superman" and Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
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