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Box Office Rap Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

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Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard would undoubtedly be amused with the August traffic jam Hollywood has made for itself, as 14 wide releases will debut within the next four weeks. June 2013 saw just eight new releases, but even then, a mega-budgeted film such as Man of Steel only managed to stay in theaters for seven weeks, so the likelihood of any August films sticking around for longer than a month becomes a near impossibility. Has the summer market always been so saturated? Looking back to June 1993, seven major studio films saw wide releases, only one less than 2013. However, Jurassic Park played in theaters for 71 consecutive weeks. Even Last Action Hero, a film that brought a studio to its knees, lasted 12 weeks during that 1993 summer.

The casualties this summer have been numerous. Most notable is, perhaps, The Lone Ranger, a $215 million production that fell to just 553 theaters in its fifth weekend and is likely to be out of theaters by Friday by the time this week’s four mega-wide releases drop. What’s an onlooker to make of these developments? On the one hand, from a cultural capital perspective, these are dire days. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent, and spot-on, positive review of Gore Verbinski’s film, in which he bets that, like Steven Spielberg’s 1941, 20 years from now The Lone Ranger will be “re-evaluated” and discussed as “misunderstood.” Seitz’s thoughtful and contemplative review shuns much of the mob-mentality demonstrated by the film’s embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes score and reveals the underlying problem with such an adopted critical system: emphasis on scores and figures over ideas and commentary. Yet his perceptive insights are lost amid this contemporary climate because, in turn, the marketplace cannot hold such a product long enough to receive honest feedback and critique; the “critical consensus” passes immediate judgment on The Lone Ranger to expedite the film’s financial (and cultural) execution. On the other hand, a neo-Marxist couldn’t help but delight in Mouse House miscalculation, as the film appears unlikely to match its budget through even its worldwide haul, which currently stands at $175 million.

This weekend, studios cross their fingers that audiences are in the mood for a fresh sci-fi concept originally intended for Eminem, an animated spin-off originally slated for direct to DVD, a McDonald’s shaming Jennifer Aniston as a stripper turned mom, and/or the sequel to a Harry Potter knockoff.

As is inexplicably trendy now, two of these films (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and We’re the Millers) open on Wednesday, presumably looking to build on positive word of mouth heading into the weekend (though that strategy failed for the underperforming The Smurfs 2 last week). Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief opened to $31 million in February 2010, almost 35% of its total domestic gross, and there has been a fairly lengthy gap between installments. That often spells trouble for longevity and immediate interest, which puts Sea of Monsters between a Chiron and a Dumbledore. Expect a $16 million weekend and a $24 million five-day. We’re the Millers, however, appears primed to capitalize on its raucous premise and attractive cast, especially given that The Heat is winding down its leggy summer run. Critics should mostly approve and audiences are likely to be even more enthusiastic. Expect this film to start fast and stay steady. A $24 million weekend and a $31 million five-day should be in order.

Once the weekend actually arrives, two even higher profile films look for box-office room to breathe. Undoubtedly the most anticipated and likeliest to bank is Elysium, Neil Blomkamp’s sophomore effort following surprise-hit District 9. While his first film landed nearly four summers ago, TriStar and Sony have done an excellent job cutting trailers and TV spots, which emphasize equal parts narrative and spectacle. That balance, along with the film’s seemingly serious tone, should verge on “must-see” territory for many young males. Opening in IMAX, but with a suspiciously low 2,700 estimated theater count, Elysium should nevertheless overcome the deficit with an opening that equals or surpasses Oblivion’s $37 million in April. Closer to $40 million is likely. Lastly, Disney hopes the kindergarten set is just as much into flight data recorders as fuel economy with Planes, made in an identical animation style and just as merchandise ready as the Cars films. The difference here is the absence of Pixar’s label and a fairly transparent visual mimicking of Lightning McQueen and friends. Moreover, it’s likely that parents are more concerned with “back to school” tasks than hustling the kids to multiplexes. Cars opened to $60 million in June 2006. Expect a third of that for Planes.

Box Office Weekend Predictions

1. Elysium: $39.7 (NEW)

2. We’re the Millers: $24.2 (NEW)

3. Planes: $20 (NEW)

4. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: $15.9 (NEW)

5. 2 Guns: $14.3 -47%

6. The Wolverine: $9.4 -56%

7. The Conjuring: $8.6 -34%

8. The Smurfs 2: $8.5 -52%

9. Despicable Me 2: $6 -41%

10. Grown Ups 2: $5 -37%