The first really busy weekend of Fall finds four new nationwide releases (and possibly a nationwide expansion of The Master) competing for attention. This far out, it's almost impossible to say which one will come out on top, though the safe money is on Clint Eastwood baseball drama Trouble with the Curve.
82-year-old movie legend Clint Eastwood has spent most of the last decade behind the camera, though the two movies he also starred in were both huge hits: Million Dollar Baby earned just over $100 million, while 2008's Gran Torino grossed an incredible $148.1 million. While the prospect of a new Eastwood movie is already an exciting one, the actor unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally?) raised his profile even further with a baffling appearance at the Republican National Convention this week. That might have turned off some liberal audiences, but conservatives go to the movies too, and a father-daughter baseball drama seems right up their alley.
Being the savvy marketers that they are, Warner Bros. is releasing Trouble with the Curve at the exact same time as 2011's Moneyball, which also dealt with the backroom aspects of major league baseball. If Curve can match Moneyball's $75.6 million, it will be one of the highest-grossing movie of the month and a nice win for Clint and the studio. Dredd is the second attempt at bringing the popular comic book character to the big screen following 1995's Judge Dredd, which earned just $34.7 million and is generally disliked (5.1 rating on IMDb). This new incarnation received good word-of-mouth out of a screening at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, though that's preaching to the choir. The model for violent, R-rated niche comic book adaptations, from a box office perspective, is 2010's Kick-Ass: fanboy interest got the movie to $19.8 million on its opening weekend, though it quickly petered out at $48.1 million. Those figures are probably the best-case-scenario for Dredd. House at the End of The Street is Jennifer Lawrence's first post-Hunger Games role (though she filmed it way earlier), and distributor Relativity Media is working this angle hard in their marketing. That should give the movie a bit of a boost among younger audiences, but it still can't escape the fact that it looks like a standard-issue home invasion movie without a clearly-defined supernatural angle. March's Silent House had the same issues and only wound up earning $12.8 million; House at the End of the Street will do better, but it's unlikely to turn in to a hit.
The final movie this weekend is End of Watch, which seems like the biggest wild card of the weekend. On the surface, it seems like a tough sell: cop dramas are generally unsuccessful, even ones associated with Training Day (director David Ayer's last movie, Street Kings, only earned $26.4 million). At the same time, found footage has proven time-and-time again to be a very popular sub-genre, and early word on End of Watch is strong at the moment. The safe bet is that this is going to come and go without earning much, but it's worth keeping an eye on. September 28 - 'Looper' Vs. 'Transylvania' Vs. 'Won't Back Down'
Time-travel action movie Looper goes up against animated flick Hotel Transylvania and public school drama Won't Back Down on the last weekend of the month. Looper's twisty plot finds Joseph Gordon-Levitt tasked with killing his future self (played by Bruce Willis), and the impressive trailer and enthusiastic rumblings from early screenings has set online film communities abuzz. While that often doesn't translate to mainstream attention, you don't have to look further than District 9 ($115.6 million) to see that audiences can turn out for original sci-fi movies. With the right late-game marketing push, Looper (from the same distributor as District 9) could be in for similar success.
Bizarrely, Sony is distributing Looper (through its TriStar label) and Hotel Transylvania on the exact same day. They do, at least, target completely different audiences: with its R-rating, Looper is aimed squarely at adults, while Hotel Transylvania is being positioned as family entertainment. The movie's fun concepta regular guy accidently vacations in a monster hotel run by Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler)and unique animation should make it a bit of a draw, though darker animated movies can't seem to get above $75 million or so. It's also coming out a week before Frankenweenie, which targets an identical audience and will likely steal a lot of the movie's thunder coming off opening weekend. The goal here was probably to match Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs ($124.9 million), and that looks almost impossible at this point. Won't Back Down stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as two parents standing up against their children's school district, and it will target the same older female crowd that made The Help (which also starred Davis) such a hit last year. That's the exception, not the rule, though, and nothing about Won't Back Down currently suggests it will break out of the $30 or $40 million range that's typical for these types of movies.