Box office preview: 'John Carter' will be no match for the ferocious 'Lorax'

john-carter

Image Credit: Disney

The box office should calm down a bit from last weekend’s monster showing, and all eyes will be on Disney’s pricey John Carter. The question here isn’t whether the $250 million sci-fi epic will open soft — it’s how soft.

Also debuting this weekend is the shot-in-one-take horror flick Silent House and the long-delayed Eddie Murphy comedy A Thousand Words, the latter of which shouldn’t even place in the top five. And then there’s The Lorax, which will repeat last week’s No. 1 finish without even breaking a sweat. Here are my weekend predictions:

1. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax: $42 million

Universal’s 3-D animated fable stunned the industry by collecting $70.2 million last weekend — the best debut ever for a Dr. Seuss adaptation. Despite mediocre reviews, families seemed to adore the picture, which garnered an outstanding “A” rating from CinemaScore graders. And with weak competition this weekend (and nothing else that’s specifically targeting young kids), The Lorax should see a pretty good hold.

The best comparison point for The Lorax is 2008’s Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, which also opened in March to the tune of $45 million. It dropped 45 percent its second weekend, but I think The Lorax will fare a bit better than that, especially since Universal’s marketing campaign has been a thing of beauty. Expect a 40 percent drop.

2. John Carter: $26 million

Much has already been made of John Carter‘s $250 million budget — a colossal amount to spend on any movie, let alone one without any big-name stars and one that’s helmed by a filmmaker making his live-action debut. Andrew Stanton directed two of Pixar’s most accomplished films, Finding Nemo and WALL-E, and I really, truly hope he sprinkled some of that Pixar dust on this Mars-set sci-fi/Western hybrid.

But reviews have been mixed, and even more troubling is the fact that Disney’s marketing campaign only found its footing a couple of weeks ago. For months, John Carter suffered from muddled ads and trailers, none more misjudged than its Super Bowl commercial, which inexplicably assumed audiences were so familiar with the John Carter brand that simply seeing the movie’s title would excite them.

The problem is, aside from sci-fi aficionados, most people aren’t familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels. And the fact that Burroughs’ books have influenced everything from Star Wars to Avatar means that John Carter unfortunately winds up appearing derivative. So who’s going to see John Carter? Sci-fi fans, sure. Families with young boys that aren’t turned off by the PG-13 rating, perhaps. The general public? Not feeling it.

Last summer, Cowboys & Aliens — a similar mix of the sci-fi and Western genres — debuted to an underwhelming $36.4 million. But that film at least featured the name recognition of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. Taylor Kitsch, as attractive as he may be leaping around Mars without a shirt, has never opened a movie on his own before. Ticket surcharges at 3-D and IMAX theaters will help some, with 2,614 of the picture’s 3,749 locations screening it in three dimensions. But even then, I have trouble seeing John Carter reach $30 million this weekend. For the sake of all those involved, I hope I’m wrong.

3. Project X: $10 million

The “found-footage” teen party flick debuted to $21.1 million last weekend. Chronicle, another found-footage movie starring teenagers, opened just slightly better last month with $22 million, and then fell a relatively mild 45 percent its second weekend. But Chronicle scored better reviews and had a more teen-friendly PG-13 rating than the R-rated Project X. As a result, I think the latter will drop slightly more than 50 percent.

4. Silent House: $9 million

This R-rated horror film, a remake of the 2010 Uruguayan movie of the same name, stars indie breakout Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene). It has an enticing gimmick — the story is presented in real time as a single uninterrupted shot. And we haven’t had a horror release since early February’s The Woman in Black, so addicts of the genre might be itching for their next hit. But distributor Open Road Films hasn’t led the most effective of marketing campaigns, and reviews haven’t been encouraging. So I’m going with $9 million, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Silent House open in the low teens.

5. Act of Valor: $7.5 million

The R-rated Navy SEALs war film declined 45 percent last week. John Carter may steal away some older male viewers, but there shouldn’t be too much overlap between the two movies. Another 45 percent drop seems reasonable.

6. A Thousand Words: $5 million

In honor of this comedy’s plot about a man (Eddie Murphy) who discovers he only has 1,000 words left to say before dying, let’s make every word count and keep this to a short haiku:

Delayed for three years
From director of Meet Dave
Hi, box-office bomb

Fine, I’ll say just a little more. A Thousand Words was shot in 2008 and was intended to hit theaters in 2009, but it got held up due to DreamWorks’ split from Paramount. After changing its release date a gazillion times, it’s finally here, playing at only 1,890 theaters and receiving atrocious reviews. It’d be a major surprise if A Thousand Words managed to crack the top five.

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