Over the past few months, the buzz has been slowly building for sci-fi thriller Looper, which is opening at 2,992 locations this weekend. Trailers and commercials have generated interest thanks to the slick visuals and unique premise, which finds an assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on the run after failing to kill his future self (Bruce Willis). Recently, a steady stream of enormously positive reviews have been coming in, some of which claim the movie is a new sci-fi classic (as of Thursday afternoon, Looper had a strong 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
Strong reviews and buzz within the film buff community can only get a movie so far, though, as Dredd proved last weekend with its $6.3 million debut. Original, violent R-rated sci-fi movies tend to be niche products that struggle to find a theatrical audience: there are obviously exceptions like The Matrix and District 9, but those are fringe cases. In Looper's case, one of the more interesting sci-fi elements may prove to be a drawback: the makeup used to transform Joseph Gordon-Levitt in to a younger version of Bruce Willis works well in the movie, but looks somewhat silly in the previews.
Those who know about Looper seem excited, but awareness isn't at particularly high levels: right now, the key older male demographic seems more aware of next weekend's Taken 2, which has been carpet-bombing the airwaves during male-oriented programming (Sportscenter, NFL games, etc.). Sony is forecasting high-teen-millions this weekend, which would put Looper slightly above Source Code and Surrogates (both just under $15 million) among similar recent sci-fi movies.
A section of Looper is set in China, and therefore production company Endgame Entertainment brought in the movie's Chinese distributor DMG Entertainment to be a partner. As a result, it's opening in China on the same weekend as the U.S., which is very rare. It's also debuting in the U.K., along with other foreign markets, this weekend.
Since Looper is going to have a tough time reaching $20 million, first place will likely to go to animated movie Hotel Transylvania, which is opening in 3,349 theaters. The movie's amusing concept—Dracula runs a hotel for monsters—should be broadly appealing to family audiences, for which there's currently a dearth of content.
Similar to how Looper is facing advanced competition from Taken 2, though, Hotel Transylvania is also having to share commercial airtime right now with next weekend's Frankenweenie. Another drawback is star Adam Sandler's fading brand: Jack and Jill was one of his lowest-grossing comedies ever at $74.2 million, but looked like a smash hit compared to this Summer's That's My Boy ($36.9 million).
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has the best opening ever for a Sony Pictures Animation movie at $30.3 million, and Sony is expecting a gross just below that for Hotel Transylvania this weekend ($28-30 million).
Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as two concerned parents who fight back against the inner-city public school system, Won't Back Down is opening at 2,515 locations this weekend. Distributor 20th Century Fox's marketing department hasn't been pushing the movie too hard, and awareness seems low right now. It should have some appeal among older and urban women, though it would be surprising if the movie cracked $10 million this weekend.
After executing their largest word-of-mouth screening program ever (even bigger than Bridesmaids), Universal decided to try out a unique platform release strategy for Pitch Perfect. The movie is opening in limited release at 335 theaters this weekend, which Universal hopes will translate in to even stronger word-of-mouth ahead of its expansion in to 2,700 venues on Oct. 5. This general strategy worked wonders for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol last December, though that's obviously a much different movie than Pitch Perfect. The a cappella comedy could wind up with around $2 million this weekend, which will keep it just out of the Top 10.
Forecast (September 28-30)
1. Hotel Transylvania - $25.8 million
2. Looper - $16.1 million
3. End of Watch - $8 million (-39%)
4. Trouble with the Curve - $7.7 million (-37%)
5. Won't Back Down - $7.6 million
Bar for Success
Sony Pictures Animation movies are generally in fine shape if they open to $20 million, which is a reasonable standard for Hotel Transylvania this weekend. Looper barely gets a pass at $15 million, while Won't Back Down ought to be getting to $10 million with such a wide release.
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