March will not be coming in like a lion at the sputtering 2013 box office, which is already running about 13 percent behind last year.
“Jack the Giant Slayer,” the CGI action fantasy film directed by Bryan Singer (“X-Men”) and written by Chris McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”), is expected to dominate the weekend and should still wind up No. 1, ahead of three other wide openers: Relativity's R-rated youth comedy “21 and Over,” the CBS horror sequel “Last Exorcism, Part II” and RCR Distribution's Ed Harris thriller “Phantom.”
But ”Jack” is tracking at between $25 million and $30 million for the three days, very disappointing figures for a film with that kind of pedigree and a $190 million production budget. That will, as industry types say euphemistically, put a lot of pressure on its foreign performance (translation: New Line and Warner Bros. are going to lose money). The film opens in Asia this weekend and will gradually roll out in other foreign markets this month.
“Jack,” starring Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson and Ewan McGregor, has taken a twisting path to its big screen debut. Warner Bros. began developing it in 2005 but Singer didn't come aboard until 2009, and production didn't begin until 2011. By that time, Disney's “Alice in Wonderland” had already banked $1 billion at the global box office and “Snow White and the Huntsman” was on the way, so the idea of a CGI take on a classic fairy didn't seem so fresh. It was "Jack the Giant Killer" then, before Warner Bros. switched to a more family-friendly moniker.
It was originally scheduled for a June 2012 release -- summer is traditionally a more opportune time to launch a film that targets kids and families -- but had to be pushed to allow time for the visual effects work to be completed. Late winter is not only a tougher season, but it is landing the week before another action fantasy, Disney's “The Great and Powerful Oz,” which is tracking for a $70 million debut when it opens on March 8.
The PG-13 “Jack” will be in a market-high 3,525 theaters.
The stakes won't be as high for Relativity's R-rated teen comedy, “21 and Over,” a good bet to finish second with between $13 million and $15 million.
It's written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writers behind “The Hangover.” That and the storyline, which follows three young men -- Miles Teller, Justin Chon and Jonathan Keltz -- as they celebrate a 21st birthday should draw interest from its target audience, 17-25-year-olds.
The cast did extensive promos with MTV and has circulated 1.3 million “21 & Over”-branded plastic red cups -- the flagon of choice at keg parties -- on college campuses.
It feels a lot like “Project X,” the similarly R-rated teen comedy that opened to $21 million on the same weekend -- and also featured Teller -- and went on to make $55 million for Warner Bros. Relativity would love to see it, but doesn't need that kind of return to make money on “21 & Over,” which it produced for around $13 million. It will be in 2,771 theaters.
The Last Exorcism,” Part II” is CBS Films' first release of the year. The original film was a pleasant surprise for Lionsgate Films last August, when it debuted to $21 million and went on to make $67 million, not bad for a film with a budget under $2 million.
In this PG-13 rated film, Nell Sweetzer (the returning Ashley Bell) tries to build a new life after the events of the first movie, and the evil force that once possessed her returns with an even more horrific plan. Eli Roth returns to produce the sequel, but unlike the original, this one does not rely on found-footage.
Industry analysts see a debut weekend of roughly half what the original did, which would put it in the black, since its production budget is around $3 million.
It will be in more than 2,600 theaters.
The weekend's other wide opener, from independent distributor RCR, is the R-rated thriller “Phantom.” Harris and David Duchovny star in the tale of a Soviet submarine captain who holds the fate of the world in his hands. Todd Robinson (“Lonely Hearts”) writes and directs.
It will be in roughly 2,000 theaters but without a major marketing campaign behind it, will have to rely on word of mouth. Expectations for the three days are in the $2 million range.
On the specialty front, Fox Searchlight is rolling out “Stoker,” the horror thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Dermot Mulroney, in seven theaters. Reliance Big Pictures is debuting the Bollywood romance “I, Me aur Main” in 47 theaters.
With “Oz the Great and Powerful” debuting next week, and DreamWorks Animation's “The Croods” (March 22) and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (March 29) on the way, the month should pick up. But even with those films, it will have a tough time keeping pace with last March, which saw huge openings from "The Hunger Games” ($152 million) and “Dr. Seuss' The Lorax” ($70 million).