http://chud.com/nextraimages/gizmocasio.jpgLet’s make the magic happen. The magic… of Box Office

BATTLE ROYALE – THIS WEEKEND

National Treasure: Book of Secrets – 3832 screens. Prelim report: Well, people liked it the last time…

Positives: It’s a sequel to a surprisingly successful first film (final tally $173 million), and though Cage is coming off of Next, Ghost Rider did at least $115 Million, which made it a break-even on DVD. NT2 is a PG action movie with no real alternatives on the market, and promises adventure, the likes of which won’t be satiated until the man with the fedora and bullwhip hit in about six months. Helen Mirren is an automatic box office draw from people with GILF fetishes. With Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel and Ed Harris (along with Mirren) it’s obscenely well cast, even if everyone is cashing a check. It’s the most family friendly film on the market, and people turned off by the darkness of Will Smith’s turn in I Am Legend can get their action and thrills without anything resembling angst or ennui. It’s a film made for popcorn sales.

Negatives: Jon Turteltaub’s directorial career includes the film Instinct, starring Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. It’s a film that – frankly – should be made fun of every chance one has. Alas, saying “well, it might be good, but it’s no Instinct” would probably only make me (and possibly Jeremy) laugh. Still, if you see either of us after a screening, say it and see what happens. Turteltaub seems be in good with the fine folks at Disney, where he’s remained anchored – making mostly pabulum – for the last ten years, with Phenomenon, Instinct, The Kid, and National Treasure. At this point he must know where to point a camera. Though I’m sure some people here have a soft spot for his 3 Ninjas. No comment.

Final Analysis: If the second film charms audiences as the first one did (and it was a crowd pleaser, make no mistake), then a near-$150 take is in order. What this says about audiences or the film has nothing to do with that gross though. I would give myself a good wiggle room on that final number. It could go higher.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story – 2650 Screens. Prelim report: Should open. May be Apatow backlash picture. May not be Apatow backlash picture.

Positives: Earned goodwill from the collective run of Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up and Superbad. The trailers and TV spots are mostly funny. Ads seem to have hit saturation point. Though Charlie Wilson’s War may be a comedy, this looks like a laugh-a-minute affair, playing slightly to the Airplane sensibility. If it delivers, then it should be a solid hit.

Negatives: Stars Academy award nominee John C. Reilly, who had a delicious comic turn in TN, but is not the first person people think of as a comic lead. Hard R without the youth appeal of Superbad and Knocked Up may hurt. Doesn’t look to have the same sweet sensibilities that made those last two so well regarded. With crowded marketplace will need word of mouth like oxygen (not the channel). The Christmas release date seemed a good idea before the market got flooded with pictures (and Superbad was helped by its August release date), and here the comedy comes from being familiar with the bio-pic formula and specifically (it appears) Walk the Line, with some Ray and a number of others thrown in there. Though no one actually wants to suggest that a backlash is in order, the Judd Apatow backlash will likely happen with one of the pictures coming down the pike. Why? Because people are assholes. Though the picture will likely open, the market is crowded.

Final Report: I’m going to predict a solid near-20 opening, and if people like it, if WOM is strong, I think it could get to 100. If not, it tops out around $50.

Charlie Wilson’s War – 2,574 screens. Prelim report: Skews Older, won’t play with the under eighteen set at all.

Positives: Tom Hanks is still one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Last major release: The Da Vinci Code (Gross: 217 Million stateside, sequel in the works). And costars Julia Roberts, also one of the biggest movies stars on the planet, though her last major appearance was in Ocean’s Twelve (final tally $125 Million). It’s a smart adult alternative, something that you can likely watch with the parents whilst home for the holidays (if you’re not watching Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays, though that might play different now that the director’s been outed). Should be smart entertainment, with a clever script by Aaron Sorkin, who took such a beating on Studio 60 that he might get some critical support for this one, and is directed by old pro (though arguably one who’s decended into classy hackery) Mike Nichols. Nominated for best Musical or Comedy by the Goden Globes, along with performance nods for Hanks and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Even if it’s not working as Oscar bait, it is toplined by three academy winners.

Negative: Once considered Oscar front runner. Now, not so much, and has not been getting hand-over-fist critical support necessary to be “the picture you have to see cause it’s going to win best picture.” Reported last-minute editing truncated the film into a compact 97 minute run time. Hollywood is not very good at selling pictures like this to older people without prestige, and Universal’s already given up the ghost for the Academy, though it did get those Golden Globe nominations – though no one really believes it’ll win anything.

Final outlook: Not so hot. If it goes for the long play (and it’s got a couple weeks to make some dollars with two four day weekends in a row) it could get to a high 80’s type figure. You’d think with the prestige it might do better, but when the Academy announces, it won’t get a bump. It will likely be a quiet, modest failure, and with the talk shows not realy coming back until the new year, all that Hanks hustle won’t be out there in the same way. At least not until after it’s sell-by date. It should be a quiet misfire, though.

P.S. I Love You – 2,454 Screens. Prelim Report: A chick flick starring that hot dude from 300 and a two time Oscar winner. But is the word out?

Positives: It’s a romantic comedy about a dead husband who sends his widow on a spiritual journey. Stars Gerald Butler as the late husband. Even if men were drawn to 300, women were just as happy to watch ol’ Butler get greased up Grecian style.

Negatives: Hilary Swank may be a two-time Oscar winner, but she can’t open a picture. She hasn’t courted an audience and may be best at selling something resectable. This ain’t that. What may have seemed an easy sell is now entering a boy’s market, and it may be easier to get a female to a new Apatow movie than males to such a weepie affair. If Butler has accured enough dude credit to make this a date movie, they may have something, but he isn’t Patrick Swayze post-Roadhouse, I’ll tell you what. And that Ghost flavor is what they’re going for. I’m sure Richard LaGravenese still has some chops, but he hasn’t shown them in a while.

Final Outlooks: I think this tank is empty. It’s taken a critical beating, though so do many of these sorts of pictures. If the audience gets behind it can do so, you’ve got something, but I see this being lost in the shuffle.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Beat Street – 1,249 Screens. Prelim report: It won’t open big, but it’s not supposed to.

Positives: Devin says that Tim Burton is finally relevant again, but also delivers. People love Johnny Depp, and Burton still has a cache, a built-in fan-base that will support most of his endeavors (Big Fish did $67 and Corpse Bride $53… still not terrible). It’s a famous and highly regarded Broadway musical. It also features Sacha Baron Cohen.

Negatives: I had to tell someone today that it was a musical… There are some people out there who have no idea what this is, and there has been some bait and switch. Though technically a wide release, Paramount is hedging their bets, hoping for not only critical support, but nominations. And if the SAG’s are any indication, the Academy might not go for it (which means it might be daniel Day-Lewis vs. Emile Hirsch in the Oscars). If the awards aren’t there (and the academy has never loved Burton), then it might fall by the wayside. The singing isn’t great for a musical, and this may not have the support or buzz that Dreamgirls did, which at least got to the nine digit mark. This weekend is a sloppy testing ground, but it has to get out before the end of the year for awards, and Paramount likely feels they can’t stagger it too much. At the same time, this may be as wide as it gets. This may be an awards picture, but it’s also bloody and may not do well as a Christmastime film.

Final Outlook: the core audience will turn out, that’s for sure, but right now, I feel like this is a miss. I’m going to say a final tally around $60 Million, with a strong life on home video.

ALL THESE PEOPLE DRINKING PREDICTION’S SPIT, THEY SIT AROUND AND CLEAN THEIR FACE WITH IT

It’s going to be a big weekend, and after last weekends $100-plus haul, you wonder how much the top films are going to generate. Will Smith, with all these competitions, will have to take a 50% tumble. But that means around $40 Million, and that’s not making bacon.

Still, I think National Treasure 2 top-lines, with solid showings from Walk Hard, and Alvin and the Chipmunks (yep). At the same time, it’s something of a five day weekend, so the numbers may get that much more impressive come Tuesday night, or something.

1. National Pleasure 2 - $51.8 Million
2. I Am Legend - $35.8 Million
3. Walk Hard - $19.7 Million
4. Alvin and the Chipmunks - $19.6 Million
5. Charlie Wilson’s War - $14.3 Million
6. Sweeney Todd – $9.8 Million
7. P.S. I Love You – 8.7 Million

My confidence level is very modest on this, though. but on Sunday I’ll fill myself with pith and then pith off.