For the first round in October, it's futuristic actioner Real Steel against George Clooney political thriller The Ides of March. With its combination of robots, boxing, and Hugh Jackman, Real Steel seems like a perfect blend of escapist entertainment. The most bankable of those three areas is probably the robots (all three Transformers movies made over $300 million!), and Disney/DreamWorks marketing team has put them front-and-center in the campaign so far. Finally, while this reporter didn't love the movie, it's definitely a crowd pleaser with great visuals and a nice father-son story, and it will almost certainly be one of the top movies this month.
The Ides of March is undoubtedly a tougher sell than Real Steel. With the barrage of primary election coverage right now, it's hard to imagine the average audience will be eager to see more of the same in a movie theater. Still, star Ryan Gosling is red-hot right now (though that didn't go a long way for Drive), and this kind of politically-minded fare seems right up George Clooney's alley. The movie should at least get close to Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck. ($31.6 million) and should be deemed a success if it passes Michael Clayton ($49 million).
Bottom Line: Real Steel will win this bout.
The second weekend of October sees two remakes from the 1980s and an under-the-radar bird watching movie. Recent remakes like Arthur, Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night have failed to connect with audiences, and if one of this weekend's remakes is going to reverse that trend it will probably be Footloose. The original made $80 million in 1984, or the equivalent of around $190 million today, and recent dancing movies like Stomp the Yard ($61.4 million) and the Step Up series (average of $55.2 million) have been reasonably successful. Still, the notion of a town outlawing dancing seems outdated, and it's hard to see why the original was desperately in need of a remake to begin with.
The Thing is going to have a harder time than Footloose, if only because the 1982 version was more obscure (it made $19.6 million, or $53 million adjusted for inflation) and at the same time has a more intense fan base that's unlikely to welcome the new movie with open arms. It's also tricky because the movie is functioning as a prequel as well, and anyone who has seen John Carpenter's The Thing has a reasonable idea how the new movie is going to end. It's at least nicely positioned as the first horror movie in October, but even if it starts well it should get crushed by Paranormal Activity 3 the following weekend.
Considering it's from the director of megahits Marley and Me and The Devil Wears Prada, and stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, it's hard to understand why it took so long to begin aggressively marketing The Big Year. Now that the marketing is gearing up, The Big Year is being sold as a feel-good mid-life crisis flick, while the actual plot of the movie (a bird-watching competition) is entirely ignored. Awareness is incredibly low right now, and it's tough to imagine this getting off to a strong start.
Bottom Line: Barring a surprise performance from The Big Year, Footloose should be tops among the newcomers.
The big event on the third weekend of October is the now perennial release of the latest Paranormal Activity movie. The first Paranormal Activity earned $107.9 million in 2009, then Paranormal Activity 2 was off a bit to a still impressive $84.7 million last year. However, the second one was poorly received (it received a "C+" from Box Office Mojo users, off from the first one's "B" grade), and so Paranormal Activity 3 has its work cut out for it to avoid another sharp decline. At least it's mixing things up a bit by going the prequel route (it's set in 1988), though it's still employing the found footage gimmick which may be getting old for some viewers.
October's third remake is Paul W.S. Anderson's The Three Musketeers, which has already grossed over $20 million in foreign markets. It's no surprise that it's got an early start overseas: the emphasis appears to be on the (somewhat anachronistic) visuals and 3D, and so it's unlikely that a large part of its worldwide box office is going to come from the U.S. Anderson's last movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife, made $60.1 million domestically, and Three Musketeers will be lucky to come close to that figure.
Another movie with an early overseas debut is Johnny English Reborn, which actually just got bumped up a week to Oct. 21. Again, this is a case where the U.S. box office is gravy: the first Johnny English earned over $160 million worldwide in 2003, and less than 18 percent of that was earned domestically ($28 million). With $36.1 million in foreign coin so far, a similar imbalance seems inevitable for Johnny English Reborn.
Long-shelved basketball drama The Mighty Macs is also currently scheduled for a wide release on Oct. 21, though without major studio backing it's unlikely to make much of an impact.
Bottom Line: While it probably won't open as high as last year's Paranormal Activity 2 ($40.7 million), Paranormal Activity 3 is a lock to win this weekend.
The last weekend of October just received a major shakeup, with Paramount/DreamWorks deciding to move Puss in Boots up a week. The titular character was first introduced in Shrek 2 and quickly became a fan favorite, and the prequel/spin-off move is a nice way to get a few extra dollars out of a franchise that reached its conclusion last year with Shrek Forever After. Because of its specificity, it's tough to imagine Puss in Boots matching the final Shrek's $70.8 million opening, but with a dearth of new animated movies lately it should be able to open around last November's Megamind ($46 million). (Note: Puss in Boots only plays for four days in October, and will therefore make the majority of its money in November.)
After a string of very commercial fare, Johnny Depp returns to Hunter S. Thompson territory in The Rum Diary. The last time he played a Thompson stand-in was 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which made a meager $10.7 million but has since gained a major cult following. Depp's brand has obviously become much stronger in the past 13 years, but that still doesn't guarantee a big opening (see last December's The Tourist as an example). Without much of a clear story besides Depp's character getting involved in rum-related hijinks in Puerto Rico, The Rum Diary will almost certainly be one of Depp's lowest-grossing movies in the past decade, though that leaves room for a solid run nonetheless.
Futuristic thriller In Time is the latest movie in the year-long campaign to officially transition Justin Timberlake from pop star to movie star. The Social Network ($97 million) and Bad Teacher ($100.2 million) were both very successful, though he was a supporting player in both, while his first truly lead role in July's Friends with Benefits earned a solid $55.8 million. With the uninspiring advertising material that's been released so far, In Time will be the biggest test so far as to whether Timberlake has actually established any box office strength yet.
The final release on this crowded weekend is also the oddest: instead of destroying the world, director Roland Emmerich is setting his sights on destroying William Shakespeare with period thriller Anonymous. The movie has actually been receiving solid reviews out of a few festivals, though a period piece with no big names (and few, if any natural disasters) seems like a tough sell.
Bottom Line: Puss in Boots appears to be in line for the top opening in October, which will be enough for an easy first place finish this weekend.
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Past Monthly Previews
• September 2011 Preview
• August 2011 Preview
• July 2011 Preview
• June 2011 Preview
• May 2011 Preview
• April 2011 Preview
• March 2011 Preview
• February 2011 Preview
• January 2011 Preview
• December 2010 Preview
• November 2010 Preview
• Opening Weekends - October
• Biggest Aggregated Months - October