Theatrical Releases

February 01, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

According to sources, the box office this January is up 18% over last January. No doubt, this makes the Suits in Hollywood very happy. Unfortunately, I suspect they may not be divining the right message from the increased dollar amounts. Their read is probably that they're making a great product and movie-goers are deliriously happy about it. To me, that's at least a partially fallacious interpretation of the tea leaves. Meteorologists might agree with me.

While it's true that some of that percentage is the result of unusually strongly performing 2007 holdovers (Juno and No Country for Old Men in particular, both of which have greatly exceeded expectations) and a rare January "event movie" (Cloverfield), there may be something at work that no movie studio can control: unseasonably warm weather. The fact is that the majority of the United States was stuck in a snowless pattern for the majority of the month. The brutal cold and wave of storms that molested the Great Lakes region and Northeast during December backed off after the first of the year. Two major cities typically buried in white by now had telling numbers in January: Philadelphia 1" of snow; New York 0" of snow. The most densely populated portion of the United States had multiplex-friendly weather in January, and there's no doubt that contributed to the upsurge.

If Hollywood thinks January is a harbinger of things to come, I would advise caution. Four months are not good barometers: January, February, August, and September. If the numbers are still up in March, then a little excitement is warranted. But, from my position, there hasn't been enough of an upsurge in either quality or viewer excitement in January to merit the movie execs throwing a ticker tape parade.

What about this weekend?

Super Bowl weekend is typically a slow three days for multiplexes. Certainly, the two most widely distributed features would seem to support the historical trend. Neither The Eye, a Jessica Alba-starring Asian ghost story remake, nor Over Her Dead Body, an Eva Longoria-starring ghost story romantic comedy, is the kind of feature that will set the box office afire. But there's something else out there, a powerhouse in teenage clothing (her own line, no less)...

Conventional wisdom indicates The Eye should make the most money. It's a popular genre for teens and is opening in the most number of theaters. But anyone making that prediction didn't see what I saw at 11:00 this morning when I arrived to view the unscreened-for-critics The Eye. Every show of the day for Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour was sold out. Before noon. In a multiplex where the digital theater seats 400. Think this movie doesn't have punch? It's so review-proof I didn't bother and neither did anyone else. Every tween girl in the country will want to see this. The impediment for Hannah Montana is that because it's digital-only, its number of theaters is limited to 700. Still, let's do the math. 6 shows per day x 300 seats (average) per theater x $6 admission price (averaging student, parent, and matinee prices) x 700 theaters x 3 days. That's nearly $23M. That assumes sold out shows all weekend but, considering the popularity of this phenomenon, there's no reason to doubt that's possible. $23 million, or even 75% of that should be more than enough to trounce the competition. For that reason, I'm willing to go out on a limb and crown Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus as this week's Box Office Champion.

When it comes to recommendations, I have to go to the indie box. Caramel is an okay diversion but not really reason enough to head for the local art house. Honeydripper, on the other hand, is a good excuse to spend a few hours away from home - if you can find a theater playing it. It offers a solid story, excellent character development, and some great music. This isn't going to get the February box office off to a roaring start (we'll leave that to Hannah), but it's the best thing opening this weekend and is my Pick of the Week.

Next week: the release schedule starts getting busy again, but is anything good? And could the Paris Hilton movie possibly be as bad as it looks? (In a word: YES!)