Sam Raimi out of Spider-man, Conan out of Tonight Show. Strange week for interesting creative people. You know who’s going to be collateral damage in this fiasco? Jimmy Fallon. Leno’s not a good intro for him.

-

WILL TAKE ALL COMERS (NON-SEXUALLY)

If you set your way-back clocks tot he start of 1998, it’s interesting to ask: Did films like Phantoms or Spice World, or Mortal Kombat: Annihilation stand a chance of dethroning Titanic? Survey says: No. Though Titanic didn’t really hurt films (Good Will Hunting was able to do $138 Million in the tail-wind), what was interesting about Titanic was how long it stayed at the top. And though it’s possible that Avatar could very easily reclaim the number one slot were it to lose it this week to Book of Eli next week, that will at least give prognosticators and box office summarizers something to talk about.

Ironically enough (if Denzel wins), or interestingly enough, Cameron went head to head with Washington (in a Warner Brothers genre picture, no less) all those years ago when Denzel opened Fallen during 1998’s Martin Luther Kind weekend. Denzel did $10 Million for the four day, Titanic $36 Million. Arguably Denzel is a bigger star now than then, perhaps boosted by his Oscar-winning performance in Training Day, though he often plays niche, and guarantees generally around $60 for a commercial effort. And Book of Eli should be able to do comfortably in the $60-$70 range. I wonder how much of the Avatar audience is white, especially since the film has some interesting colonization fantasy elements. With something like this, though, the fanbase is rather large, so it probably crosses a lot of normal boundaries.

The problem with box office is that often commentators like to insert false drama to mak-e things interesting, and there’s a reason for that. It makes numbers exciting. Sort of. More to the point, it drives the rabid fanbase, who has no real understanding of what’s going on a little nuts. At least on the Internet. Avatar will be close to $500 Million by the end of the holiday weekend, and looks to have no problem trumping Titanic‘s international gross. If I’m not entirely convinced about being the #1 domestic of all time, it’s only because of that 3/5 Alice date I keep talking about. They’re going to lose a lot of theaters at that point, and that may be the moment where the fact that much of the gross is 3-D related becomes all too evident.

The fact is that Avatar will be going into this weekend at $450 Million dollars domestic, and over $1.4 Billion international. The only thing left for this film is records, but this is the first weekend since Christmas of direct competition (which was not that long ago). It will probably take Book of Eli, all things, unless there is a significant drop-off. What others will raise is if Titanic trumps Avatar for the four day, which will be the first “legs” question. But by the end of Monday, it could well be over half a billion domestic, and over 1.6 Billion international. Worse comes to worse, I think everyone’s going to be okay.

The Lovely Bones opens wide this weekend. I have no doubt that the film was part passion play for Peter Jackson. But if no lessons were learned from King Kong, this is the film the public outright rejects, and some of my fellow critics on the Twitter have suggested it is the worst film ever directed by an Oscar winner (I would say The Next Best Thing, but that’s just me). It takes a lot of ego and drive and lots of other things to make movies, and Peter Jackson is going to take a critical and fiscal drumming on this film (perhaps owed from King Kong). Like R.E.M. sang, “Everybody Flops,” but Jackson could at least feel that The Frighteners was misunderstood and poorly marketed (it was, and it’s still one of my favorites by him). Jackson might be able to say to himself that this was another one of those times where he was misunderstood, but we’ll see if he can find something to interest him. Obviously, he’s involved with The Hobbit films, and Tintin. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes George Lucas, and he needs to reinvent something, because he’s been treading water for a while now. Steven Spielberg has a bit of a gearheaded brain as well, but he has never forgotten his audience when it comes to spectacle, or even his dramas (you could argue he didn’t care what they wanted with A.I., but that’s different, and you could argue against Indy IV all day long, and no one would say anything), but you can see a lot of the guys who do the big movies falling in love with the tech over story. I hope that hasn’t happened, but The Lovely Bones is a clear example of someone favoring the effects over the narrative.

SHOCK ME LIKE AN ELECTRIC EEL, TURN ME ON WITH YOUR PREDICTION FEEL

Guess that Avatar holds. Guess that The Spy Next Door dies. Guess that Book of Eli opens solid, but not spectacular, guess that Alvin and Sherlock hold okay. Guess jeans.

On the one’s and two’s and three-day predictions:

1. Avatar - $40.7 Million
2. (Every Day I Write) The Book Of Eli - $27 Million
3. The Spy Next Door – $11 Million
4. The Squeakquel – $10.5 Million
5. Sherlock Holmes – $9 Million

And then Sunday we’ll sing a song of happiness and joy.