Zombies Loose on Box Office!

Sony’s “Zombieland” looks to lead a weekend crowded with roller derbies, liars and animated toys.

Last Updated: October 3, 2009 @ 9:34 AM

Can the undead bring the box office back to life?

Coming off a downer weekend, during which ticket sales domestically slumped about 10 percent, hopes are high with Sony’s R-rated horror-comedy “Zombieland,” which stars Woody Harrelson as skilled hunter of shuffling flesh-eaters.
 
Also on the weekend slate: roller derbies, liars and a couple of retread animated toy characters. But after leading the box office the last two weeks with “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Sony looks to remain on top with the $23.6 million movie it believes will do $23 – $25 million during its opening weekend, at 3,036 screens.
 
“It looks to be the leader of the pack,” said a distribution exec for rival studio. “About the only group it’s not resonating with is older females.”
 
Sony officials concede “Cloudy’s” two-week reign will dry up a bit, since Disney’s 3D re-release pairing of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” is sapping up the bulk of the available 3D screens.
 
Put out as a three-hour double feature, the “Toy Story” twin bill will run in 1,745 3D-equipped venues.
 
Disney distribution head Chuck Viane cited the October 2007 re-release in 3D of “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” — which opened to $14.5 million — as an example of why the studio went to the expense of converting and marketing the 14-year-old “Toy Story” franchise for another go-around.
 
Collectively, the two “Toy Story” films have grossed more than $847 million, and a third leg of the franchise is slated for release in June.
 
Given that the “Toy Story” movies are being re-released in double-feature format with limited play cycles, however, Viane said he’s unsure about the revenue potential.  “I don’t know how to gauge it,” he said. “I don’t know that we can know anything, based on the research that we’ve done, other than the fact that it’s a beloved title.”
 
Disney, which is also working on a 3D re-release of “Beauty and the Beast,” didn’t disclose the price tag for this effort, but it certainly isn’t cheap.
 
According to a rival studio distribution official, Disney spent between $10 million to $16 million to convert both films to 3D format, and another $30 million or so to market the re-release.
 
“The franchise has had a hugely successful run, but let’s see how many parents are willing to rake up the charge for 3D when they already have the movie on DVD,” said the official.
 
While Sony zeroes in on the male audience with “Zombieland,” and “Toy Story” and “Cloudy” duke it out over the family portion of the market, Fox Searchlight is targeting primarily women with the Drew Barrymore-directed “Whip It,” a $15 million-budgeted feature that will be released in 1,720 venues.
 
“We just want to release it wide enough so that people sample the movie,” said Chris Aronson, senior VP of domestic distribution for Fox, noting that the studio hopes to sustain the roller-derby-themed comedy-drama’s legs with awards promotion leading into Oscar season. “We have a rare combination of critics and audience members liking this movie, which doesn’t always happen.”
 
Also debuting Friday in 1,707 locations, Warner’s “The Invention of Lying,” written by and starring Ricky Gervais, looks to compete with “Whip It” for the portion of the audience craving PG-13-rated comedy.
 
Co-financed with Media Rights Capital, the film’s production budget came in at less than $20 million, with Warner officials confident in an opening of around $8 million to $10 million.
 
“We don’t have a huge investment in this movie, but it plays well and the reviews have been pretty good,” noted Warner distribution chief Dan Fellman.
 
Meanwhile, among major expansions, Overture is pumping up the latest Michael Moore film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” to 962 locations Friday, and making it the largest Moore opening ever in the process.
 
In 2004, Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” opened to nearly $28 million on 868 screens, but Overture officials are conservatively predicting a $5 million to $6 million weekend for “Capitalism.” Last weekend, the film opened at four locations in Los Angeles and New York, enjoying the highest per-screen average of any film released so far this year.