ReelThoughts: January 01, 2009

"I'm Not Nostradamus"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


It's prediction time. A lot of people make predictions on or around January 1, but few bother to revisit them at the end of the year. However, I am a firm believer in reminding myself and my readers of what a terrible prognosticator I am. So, before looking ahead, let me return to those bold predictions made a year ago. (Link here)

The WGA strike will not be settled but the writers will go back to work. Uh, not quite. But the strike did make the Golden Globes irrelevant, so we can be thankful for small favors.

The High Def DVD format war will not end in 2008. Tell that to all those who own HD-DVD players.

There will only be one movie in 2008 that crosses the $300 million (domestic) mark. Actually, there were three. The one I saw coming, Indiana Jones and the Disappointment of a Lifetime, got there, but I didn't see Iron Man soaring that high and I really didn't see The Dark Knight blowing past everything else by about $200 million.

The 2008 Box Office will be down compared to 2007. I got one right! In gross dollars, the domestic box office was down about half a percent. In terms of tickets sold (a better measurement because it eliminates the effects of rising ticket prices), it was down more than 3%.

The new Star Trek will win a legion of supporters from the "non-fan sector" but will alienate many die-hards. Grade this as an "incomplete" since Paramount decided to move the release date to 2009.

Now, this year's five fearless predictions:

If there is an actors' strike, it will not seriously derail either TV or movie production schedules. In this economy with as much at stake as there would be if a wholesale strike created massive film and TV production shutdowns (effectively throwing thousands out of work for the duration of the strike and screwing up another TV season as well as the 2009-2010 movie release schedule), not even the most stubborn hardheads could be that stupid. There will probably be a lot of posturing and maybe some minor labor unrest, but nothing like what happened with the WGA job action.

Slumdog Millionaire will win the Best Picture Oscar. Not my official prediction (that won't come until February), but that's the way it looks from this distance. Yes, it's a dark horse because (1) half of it is subtitled and (2) it features no major stars. But what's its biggest competition? Frost/Nixon? Okay, I admire that film but I can't see it winning Best Picture.

Two movies will gross more than $300 million (domestic) in calendar year 2009. The wording is important, but I'll get to that in a moment. As far as the summer movies are concerned, I expect the second Transformers movie to cross the threshold. The first one did and there's no reason to expect sequel deflation for this one. Also, the delayed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I recognize that no previous Harry Potter movie has crossed the $300 million mark since the first one, but the last two have come tantalizingly close and the release date for this one is ideal for a big score. Despite massive hype and trailer-love, I don't envision Star Trek playing with the really big boys (although it should do well). Despite being re-tooled to appeal to modern, mainstream audiences, it's still Star Trek. Finally, there's an excellent chance that James Cameron's Avatar will streak past $300 million, but not all in 2009. The film is an end-of-the-year release and will likely garner a portion of its riches in 2010. (Consider the box office patterns of Cameron's previous feature.)

2009 ticket sales will be down more than 5% versus 2008 ticket sales. The reason: there's just not a lot of exciting stuff out there, especially during the summer. Take a look at the release schedule. That kind of drop is not unprecedented: we saw it most recently in 2005. And, to be frank, the 2009 roster looks weaker than 2005's. A double-digit slide is not impossible, but I'm not going to predict that.

Watchmen will see the light of day, but not on March 6. The only way the legal issues surrounding this property will be resolved is for Warner Brothers and Fox to reach a compromise. That will eventually happen but not until after a lot of posturing and finger-pointing has gone on. The release date could be in April but even that seems like a long shot. August or October is more likely. This, of course, will leave March without a big release, but that's what happened last year when 10,000 B.C. took a nosedive. My guess regarding Watchmen is that Warner Brothers will offer Fox a percentage of the gross box office in exchange for full distribution rights. That's the obvious solution. And, while Fox looks like the "bad guy" here, WB wasn't too smart making a movie for which the rights weren't free and clear. This is something that should have been addressed before production started not after the movie was in the can.

Bonus Prediction (Having nothing to do with movies): The Phillies will not win the World Series again. But they will make the playoffs as the NL Wild Card. It's hard to define "success" for a World Series winning team the following year. Finishing above .500 and making the playoffs would qualify in my book. Only a Yankees fan would define success in these circumstances as winning the Series a second time. I'd love for that to happen but, realistically, it's about as likely a possibility as the Eagles making the playoffs at the end of the 2008 season. (Yes, this happened, and it may be the closest thing to divine intervention I have seen.)


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