Forecast: Judgment Day Arrives for 'John Carter'
Midnight Update: The first numbers are in for John Carter, and they aren't looking good at all. The movie earned an estimated $500,000 from midnight shows last night, which is about on par with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. That movie wound up with $30.1 million in its opening weekend—considering Prince of Persia is a slightly more recognizable brand and opened during the Summer, it's likely John Carter's debut is a bit higher.

Forecast: With a budget estimated at around $250 million and a marketing campaign that never really seemed to connect, John Carter's box office prospects have been a source of ceaseless speculation among movie journalists for most of the last year. That all comes to an end this weekend when the movie goes before actual audiences at 3,749 locations nationwide, 290 of which will be presenting the movie in IMAX (a 3D location count is not currently available). Silent House (2,124 theaters) and Eddie Murphy comedy A Thousand Words (1,890 theaters) also open this weekend, though the battle for the top spot will be between John Carter and last weekend's box office sensation The Lorax.

John Carter's rocky journey to the big screen has been widely reported on, and Box Office Mojo has already covered its bizarre marketing effort in the March Preview. Since then, though, dire tracking numbers resulted in a last minute shift in the campaign. Nearly all commercials for the past week or two have featured the following voiceover: "Before Star Wars, before Avatar, there was John Carter. From the studio that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean…" Those are very bold references—collectively, those two franchises and Avatar have earned over $11 billion worldwide. Unfortunately, making comparisons to those widely-loved properties only further reinforces how incoherent John Carter looks.

Another last hope for John Carter was that Disney's marketing department just did a poor job, and that the movie itself was actually quite good. Unfortunately, while it has received some nice marks from the fanboy crowd, reviews on the whole haven't been kind—it's hovered around 50 percent fresh all of Thursday afternoon on Rotten Tomatoes.

By dating the movie at the beginning of March, Disney was surely targeting an opening similar to past early March genre fare 300 ($70.9 million) and Watchmen ($55.2 million). All signs point to a debut more in line with 10,000 B.C. ($35.9 million) and Battle: Los Angeles ($35.6 million), which was fine for both of those movies but not very impressive for a movie as heavily marketed as John Carter.

While all the media attention will be on John Carter, there are two other nationwide releases this weekend as well. From the makers of Open Water ($30.6 million), Silent House is a real-time, "single shot" horror movie that premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was ultimately picked up for distribution by Open Road Films. Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley) plays a character being terrorized in the titular house. Unfortunately, whatever menace is coming after her hasn't been clearly identified—is it some kind of supernatural being, or is it a bunch of home invaders? It seems to be of the home invasion variety, which puts it in the same arena as March 2009's The Last House on the Left. That movie opened to $14.1 million at more locations, and Silent House will likely end up below that mark.

A Thousand Words was shot way back in 2008, but sat on the shelf for years while star Eddie Murphy appeared in a handful of disappointing movies like Imagine That ($16.1 million) and Meet Dave ($11.8 million). Those movies opened at over 3,000 locations, while A Thousand Words is being released in to fewer than 1,900 theaters. Still, advertisements have clearly articulated the main premise (Murphy's character only has 1,000 words left until he dies), and so an opening around Imagine That's $5.5 million is within reach. Based on tracking, Paramount is currently projecting between $6 and $8 million for the weekend.

While it's not technically getting a nationwide release (that requires 600 or more theaters), Friends with Kids is opening at 374 locations and is receiving a substantial push from Roadside Attractions. Cast members like Jon Hamm, Adam Scott and Megan Fox have been doing the talk show rounds, and at least in the Los Angeles market commercials are getting decent airtime. Reuniting what seems like half of the cast of Bridesmaids (including Kristen Wiig), the Jennifer Westfeldt movie should be an attractive date night choice for adults.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen gets a limited release this weekend in 18 theaters. CBS Films, which to this point has only released movies on a nationwide level, is hoping that the movie generates strong word-of-mouth which will allow for a substantial expansion over the next few weeks.

Weekend Forecast (March 9-11)

1. The Lorax - $43.5 million (-38%)

2. John Carter - $38.9 million

3. Silent House - $10.5 million

4. Project X - $9.9 million (-53%)

5. Act of Valor - $8 million (-41%)

A Thousand Words - $5.7 million

Bar for Success

Ignoring its outlandish budget, John Carter has been marketed so aggressively that it really ought to be opening at least in the mid-$40 million range. Silent House and A Thousand Words are both in fine shape over $10 million.

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