WEEKLY TRACKING: 'Chuck & Larry' likely 2nd to 'Potter' w/$35M+; 'Hairspray' w/widest opening in modern history for a musical, but is New Line opening too wide?
by Steve Mason
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Universal) will probably challenge Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.) for the weekend crown, but Hairspray (New Line) is the movie that holds the most box office intrigue.
In the last decade, the movie musical has made a comeback. First into the fray was Evita starring Madonna, which hit $50 million domestic in its 1996 release. Next up was Moulin Rouge in 2001, which was anything but a traditional movie musical. It rode huge buzz and multiple Oscar nominations to $57.3 million domestic. The monstrous success of Chicago in 2002, with the Best Picture Oscar and a cume of $170.6 million, got multiple projects green-lighted, including Phantom of the Opera, Rent and The Producers. The most recent film musical was Dreamworks/Paramount's Dreamgirls, which hit $100 million domestic and turned Jennifer Hudson into a major star.
Hairspray is the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Hairspray, which was, in turn, adapted from John Waters's uncharacteristically mainstream Baltimore period comedy of the same name. That little indie picture grossed a surprising $6.6 million and launched the career of Ricki Lake. It should be noted that the original low budget Waters film has a 94 percent Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes so it was a critical darling. The new musical version, starring John Travolta as Edna (a role originally played by the subversive Divine) and Nicole Blonsky in the Ricki Lake role, is getting almost as many rave reviews with an overall Rotten Tomatoes score of 90 percent Fresh.
Directed by Adam Shankman (Bringing Down the House), Hairspray is getting the widest opening for any film musical in the modern box office era with 3,121 locations (and an even higher print count with a fair number of multiple screen locations). I have no doubt that Hairspray will deliver the biggest opening weekend for a movie musical in the past 30 years.
TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR MUSICALS
1. Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, $11.8 million [$69.7 million cume]
2. Rent, $10 million opening [$29 million cume]
3. Grease, $8.9 million opening [$188.3 million cume]
4. Blues Brothers 2000, $6.1 million [$14 million cume]
5. Idlewild, $5.7 million opening [$12.5 million cume]
6. The Blues Brothers, $4.8 million [$57.2 million cume]
7. Grease 2, $4.6 million opening [$15.1 million cume]
8. The Phantom of the Opera, $4 million opening [$51.2 million cume] (622)
9. Little Shop of Horrors, $3.6 million opening [$38.7 million cume]
10. Yentl, $3 million opening [$40.2 million cume]
Until now, the widest opening for a musical was 2,433 locations for Rent (Sony) at Thanksgiving in 2005. The result was the second-biggest opening ever for a movie musical, but the adaptation of Jonathan Larsen's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical died quickly, finishing with just $29 million domestic. In fact, the box office successes in the musical genre in the past decade have all been platform releases. Chicago ($2 million opening) opened at just 77 locations, while Evita ($195,000 opening) opened on two screens and Moulin Rouge ($167,500 opening) and Dreamgirls ($379,000 opening) both debuted on three. When these movies opened in select markets, they created buzz and demand from coast-to-coast.
From the beginning, New Line has approached Hairspray as mainstream summer entertainment as opposed to a Broadway adaptation in need of careful nurturing. The movie is a lot of fun with an extremely entertaining John Travolta performance, on the heels of his biggest-ever opening for Wild Hogs.
TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR JOHN TRAVOLTA FILMS
1. Wild Hogs, $39.7 million opening [$167.7 million cume]
2. Be Cool, $23.4 million opening [$56 million cume]
3. Face/Off, $23.3 million opening [$112.2 million cume]
4. The General's Daughter, $22.3 million opening [$102.7 million cume]
5. Ladder 49, $22 million opening [$74.5 million cume]
6. Swordfish, $18.1 million opening [$69.7 million cume]
7. Michael, $17.4 million opening [$95.3 million cume]
8. Phenomenon, $16.1 million opening [$104.6 million cume]
9. Broken Arrow, $15.5 million opening [$70.7 million cume]
10. Domestic Disturbance, $14 million opening [$45.2 million cume]
Hairspray also features High School Musical star Zac Efron and X-Men alum James Marsden giving it lots of appeal with Under 25 Females, but will men allow themselves to be seen buying a ticket in public? According to industry tracking, the answer is not just, "No." It's, "Hell no!"
This musical's tracking puts it at about 90 percent Total Aware with Definite Interest in the low 30s. That's a huge chunk of the audience, mostly men, with absolutely no interest whatsoever. In fact, Definite Interest with Males Under 25 and Males 25-plus are both below 20 percent. Meanwhile, Definite Interest with women is through the roof, with Females under 25 above 50 percent and Females 25 Plus above 40 percent.
Complicating things for Hairspray is the fact that Definite Interest for I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry with that same Female Under 25 demo is in the mid-50s. In fact, the strongest quadrant for the Adam Sandler-Kevin James gay spoof in terms of Definite Interest is young women. When Under 25s show up at the multiplex on Friday and Saturday night for their weekend dates, they'll have a choice. There's one movie that only Under 25 Females have any interest in seeing (Hairspray) or another picture that has appeal with both genders (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry). My guess is that Chuck & Larry wins out in a high percentage of cases.
This gender-split dynamic makes Hairspray a real box office wild card. It could open anywhere from $15 million to as much as $30 million, but I'm putting the movie on the low end of that range, maybe $20 million-$23 million. Less than $20 million will mean that New Line should have been more judicious in its opening-week screen count. I, for one, am rooting for this picture's success. It's a cut above an awful lot of the cookie-cutter blockbuster wannabes that have hit the marketplace this summer.
Adam Sandler's last movie was the well-reviewed, but barely-seen Reign Over Me (Sony), which delivered just $7.4 million on opening weekend and $17.6 million in domestic box office. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is a return to Sandler's "bread and butter" of dumb comedy for guys. The reviews for Chuck & Larry, are awful with a 13 percent Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but bad reviews have never been a problem for Sandler before. Here are Sandler's all-time Top 10 openings with the Rotten Tomatoes score for each movie.
TOP 10 OPENINGS FOR ADAM SANDLER FILMS
1. The Longest Yard -- 30 percent Fresh, $47.6 million opening [$158.1 million cume]
2. Anger Management -- 43 percent Fresh, $42.2 million opening [$135.6 million cume]
3. Big Daddy -- 32 percent Fresh, $41.5 million opening [$163.4 million cume]
4. Click -- 32 percent Fresh, $40 million opening [$137.3 million cume]
5. 50 First Dates -- 44 percent Fresh, $39.8 million opening [$120.9 million cume]
6. The Waterboy -- 30 percent Fresh, $39.4 million opening [$161.4 million cume]
7. Mr. Deeds -- 22 percent Fresh, $37.1 million opening [$126.2 million cume]
8. The Animal -- 31 percent Fresh, $19.6 million opening [$57.7 million cume]
9. The Wedding Singer -- 55 percent Fresh, $18.8 million opening [$80.2 million cume]
10. Little Nicky, 23 percent Fresh, $16 million opening [$39.4 million cume]
The fact is that reviews don't help or hurt an Adam Sandler comedy, and the tracking is solid, if not spectacular. Chuck & Larry has a Total Aware right at 90 percent, Definite Interest approaching 50 percent and a double digit First Choice score. That should add up to $35 million-$38 million and a No. 2 finish, right behind Harry Potter's second weekend.
Here are my predictions for the top 10 at the box office for Friday, July 20 thru Sunday, July 22:
1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.) -- $40 million
2. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (Universal) -- $35.7 million
3. Transformers (Dreamworks/Paramount) -- $22.5 million
4. Hairspray (New Line) -- $21.75 million
5. Ratatouille (Buena Vista) -- $11 million
6. Live Free or Die Hard (Fox) -- $7.1 million
7. License to Wed (Warner Bros) -- $4.1 million
8. 1408 (MGM/Weinstein) -- $3.5 million
9. Evan Almighty (Universal) -- $2.9 million
10. Knocked Up (Universal) -- $2.8 million