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October Movie Mania - October should start and end
on right foot at boxoffice

September turned out pretty much as I anticipated, which is too bad because I’d rather see my predictions fall by the wayside and have Hollywood perform better than expected.

Nonetheless, what I wrote here in late August turned out to be what happened: “Looking ahead, September isn’t likely to set boxoffice records, but it could generate a few success stories as Hollywood muddles through the fall on its way to what, hopefully, will be a strong holiday season.”

The month began with a Labor Day holiday weekend (Sept. 4-7) that saw Warner Bros. and New Line’s R rated “The Final Destination” place first with $15.3 million for four days, driven by moviegoers’ appetite for 3D. That brought the horror thriller’s cume after two weekends to $50.4 million. By contrast, The Weinstein Company’s non-3D R rated horror thriller “Halloween II” finished seventh with a soft $6.9 million and a two weekend cume of just $26.9 million.

September’s second weekend (Sept. 11-13) was a downer although Lionsgate enjoyed a solid $23.4 million opening for its PG-13 rated romantic drama “Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself”. Focus Features’ PG-13 animated “9” kicked off in second place to an okay $15.2 million for five days. But Summit Entertainment’s R rated horror thriller “Sorority Row” fizzled in sixth position with just $5.1 million and Warner Bros.’ R rated action drama “Whiteout” saw very little action in seventh place with $4.9 million.

Weekend three (Sept. 18-20) brought brighter boxoffice skies with Sony’s PG rated animated “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”, which opened in the top spot to a sizzling (at least for September) $30.3 million. Warner Bros.’ R rated comedic drama “The Informant!” opened second with a so-so $10.5 million. Universal’s PG-13 romantic comedy drama “Love Happens” arrived in fourth place to a quiet $8.1 million. And Fox’s R rated horror thriller “Jennifer’s Body” — starring the much-hyped Megan Fox — was a disappointing fifth with $6.9 million.

The month’s fourth weekend (Sept. 25-27) saw “Cloudy” hold on to first place with $25 million, bringing its cume to $60.5 million. Disney’s PG-3 sci-fi thriller “Surrogates” opened in second place to a disappointing $14.9 million. MGM’s PG rated low-budget teen drama “Fame” was a soft third with $10 million. And Overture’s R rated sci-fi thriller “Pandorum” arrived quietly in sixth place with $4.4 million. Overture’s limited release of Michael Moore’s high profile R rated documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story” kicked off at 4 theaters with $231,964 ($57,991 per theater) and a five day cume of $298,550. It goes wide Oct. 2.

As October approached, Hollywood’s revenues were running 7.8 percent ahead of last year, according to Hollywood.Com Box-Office president Paul Dergarabedian. Meanwhile, attendance through late September was up 3.9 percent over the prior year. This was marginally better than the way things had looked in late August.

Looking at September on a weekend by weekend basis, per Dergarabedian, the first weekend (Sept. 4-7) was up 2.8 percent vs. the previous year. Weekend 2 (Sept. 11-13) saw business down 8.9 percent vs. ’08. Weekend 3 (Sept. 18-20) was up 14.8 percent compared to last year. And Weekend 4 (Sept. 25-27) ended the month on a negative note with the boxoffice off 4.5 percent from last year.

The following synopses include details about October’s wide openings, but beware of possible spoilers if you don’t want to know too much in advance. As always, be sure to check out our Zamm Cam movie previews to find out more about the films you most want to see. Overall, it looks like October should start and end well with the in-between films doing in-between business.

Five wide releases will be competing for moviegoers’ time and money the first weekend in October (Oct. 2-4).

The month should get off to a lively start thanks to Sony’s R rated horror comedy “Zombieland”, directed by Ruben Fleischer (first feature) and starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. It’s been tracking very strongly, particularly with under-25 males, which should translate into a big opening weekend.

The Story: A mismatched pair of survivors (Harrelson and Eisenberg) find friendship and redemption in a world overrun by zombies. For more details, check out my Zamm Q & A with director Ruben Fleischer about the making of the film.

Warner Bros.’ PG-13 rated comedy “The Invention of Lying” is co-written and co-directed by Ricky Gervais (creator and star of the original BBC series “The Office” and HBO’s “Extras”) and Matthew Robinson (first feature). Starring are Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, John Hodgman and Nate Corddry. “Lying” has been tracking fairly well, especially with women under and over 25.

“The Invention of Lying” in theaters October 2

“The Invention of Lying” in theaters October 2.

The Story: The film takes place in an alternate reality in which lying — or even the concept of a lie — does not exist. Everyone-from politicians to advertisers to the man and woman in the street speaks the truth and nothing but the truth with no thought of the consequences. But when a down-on-his-luck loser named Mark (Ricky Gervais) suddenly develops the ability to lie, he finds that dishonesty has its rewards.

In a world where every word is assumed to be the absolute truth, Mark easily lies his way to fame and fortune. But lies have a way of spreading, and Mark begins to realize that things are getting a little out of control when some of his tallest tales are being taken as gospel. With the entire world now hanging on his every word, there’s only one thing Mark hasn’t been able to lie his way into — the heart of the woman he loves.

Also set to arrive Oct. 2 is Disney and Pixar Animation’s reissue of their G rated animated blockbusters “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” as a 3D double feature. Not surprisingly, this reissue has been tracking extremely well with women, especially those over 25, which is to say moms who will bring kids. But it’s also tracking quite nicely with women under 25 and nearly as well with men under and over 25. In other words, it’s gonna be big — all over again.

The Story: “Toy Story” is a fully computer-animated feature film about a group of toys that take on a life of their own. Originally released Nov. 22, 1995, it grossed $191.8 million domestically. In the film a cowboy toy, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) was supplanted as the young Andy’s favorite toy by Buzz Lightyear, a very contemporary spaceman (voiced by Tim Allen).

“Toy Story 2” was originally released Nov. 19, 1999 and grossed $245.9 million domestically. In its story, after Andy goes off to summer camp, Woody is stolen by a toy collector. His fellow toys must then race to save him and return home before Andy does. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen returned as the voices for Woody and Buzz.

October’s first weekend will also see Overture Films’ expansion of writer-director Michael Moore’s controversial R rated documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story”. The film opened solidly in 4 theaters Sept. 25, grossing $299,000 for five days. How it plays in wider release is a question mark. The film’s been tracking best among 25-plus males and females, as you’d expect to be the case.

The Story: In “Capitalism” Moore (“Fahrenheit 9/11”) tackles the issue of the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans and by default, the rest of the world.

Rounding out the Oct. 2-4 weekend is Fox Searchlight Pictures’ PG-13 sports comedy “Whip It” directed by Drew Barrymore (first feature) and starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern and Eve. The film has been tracking best with under-25 females, exactly the group you’d expect to see turn out for Ellen Page (“Juno”).

The Story: A rebellious Texas teen (Ellen Page) throws in her small town beauty pageant crown for the rowdy world of roller derby.

By contrast, only one wide release is going out the weekend of Oct. 9-11. It’s Universal’s PG-13 comedy “Couples Retreat”, directed by Peter Billingsley (“The Sacred Fire”) and starring Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kali Hawk, Jean Reno, Ken Jeong and Tasha Smith. “Couples” has been tracking well, showing its greatest strength with women under and over 25.

The Story: “Couples” follows four Midwestern couples who embark on a journey to a tropical island resort. While one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun. They soon discover that participation in the resorts couples therapy is not optional.

October’s third weekend (Oct. 16-18) will see three very different films competing for moviegoers’ time and money.

Warner Bros., Legendary Films and Village Roadshow’s PG rated live action and animated family film “Where the Wild Things Are” is directed by Spike Jonze (“Adaptation”) and features live actors Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo and voice talents Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr. and Paul Dano. The film has been tracking very strongly, particularly with under-25 females. Women over 25 are its second strongest tracking group.

The Story: Director Spike Jonze collaborates with celebrated author Maurice Sendak to bring to the screen this classic story about childhood and the places we go to figure out the world we live in. The film tells the story of Max, a rambunctious and sensitive boy who feels misunderstood at home and escapes to where the Wild Things are. Max lands on an island where he meets mysterious and strange creatures whose emotions are as wild and unpredictable as their actions.

“Where the Wild Things Are” in theaters October 16

“Where the Wild Things Are” in theaters October 16.

The Wild Things desperately long for a leader to guide them, just as Max longs for a kingdom to rule. When Max is crowned king, he promises to create a place where everyone will be happy. Max soon finds, though, that ruling his kingdom is not so easy and his relationships there prove to be more complicated than he originally thought.

Sony’s PG-13 rated suspense thriller “The Stepfather” arrives Oct. 16 via Screen Gems. Directed by Nelson McCormick (“Prom Night”), it stars Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Jon Tenney, Adrianne Palicki, Sherry Stringfield and Paige Turco. “Stepfather” hasn’t been tracking great, but is doing best with under-25 females, typically the best audience for thrillers.

The Story: A seemingly average man, after murdering his entire family, remarries a divorcee with a teenage son in another town and prepares to do the same thing all over again.

Completing the weekend’s wide releases is Overture Films’ R rated suspense thriller “Law Abiding Citizen”, directed by F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job”) and starring Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Michael Irby, Regina Hall, Michael Gambon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Theresa Randle and Viola Davis. The film’s tracking has been best with 25-plus females and nearly as good with men under and over 25.

The Story: Ten years after a man’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered, he (Gerard Butler) returns to exact justice from the assistant district attorney (Jamie Foxx) who prosecuted the case against their killers.

Weekend four in October (Oct. 23-25) will feature a logjam of five wide openings.

Lionsgate’s R rated horror sequel “Saw VI” leads the pack in terms of tracking. Directed by Kevin Greutert (“Old Friends”), it stars Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Peter Outerbridge and Shawnee Smith. The film’s strongest appeal in the tracking is, as you’d expect for a horror film, females under 25. A good indication of its strength is that it’s also been tracking almost equally well with males under 25.

The Story: In the lucrative franchise’s latest sequel Special Agent Strahm is dead, and Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) has emerged as the unchallenged successor to Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) legacy. However, when the FBI draws closer to Hoffman, he is forced to set a game into motion, and Jigsaw’s grand scheme is finally understood.

Summit Entertainment’s PG rated animated feature “Astro Boy” has been tracking best with females over 25 and next best with over-25 males. These are mostly moms and dads who will bring their kids to see it. Directed by David Bowers, it features the voice talents of Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron and Nicolas Cage.

The Story: Set in Metro City, a grieving scientist constructs a young robot with incredible powers in the image of the son he has lost. Unable to fulfill the grieving scientist’s expectations, Astro Boy leaves , embarking on a journey of acceptance and betrayal that eventually leads him back to the home he left in order to save Metro City and the father who had rejected him.

Competing for the animation audience this weekend will be Disney’s reissue in 3D of “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Xmas”. Directed by Henry Selick (“Coraline”), it features the voice talents of Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, William Hickey, Ken Page, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Reubens and Glenn Shadix.

The Story: Despite having recently presided over a very successful Halloween, Jack Skellington, aka the Pumpkin King, is bored with his job and feels that life in Halloweenland lacks meaning. Then he stumbles upon Christmastown and promptly decides to make the Yuletide his own.

Back on the fantasy horror front there’s Universal’s launch of the PG-13 rated “Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”, directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy)” and starring John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Kelly, Ray Stevenson, Patrick Fugit, Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Michael Cerveris, Frankie R. Faison, Orlando Jones, Jane Krakowski, Chris Massoglia and Kristen Schaal.

The Story: Fourteen year old Darren (Chris Massoglia) was like most kids in his suburban neighborhood. He hung out with his best friend, got decent grades and usually stayed out of trouble. But when he and his friend stumble upon a traveling freak show, things begin to change inside Darren. That’s the exact moment when a vampire named Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) turns him into something bloodthirsty.

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It” in theaters October 28

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It” in theaters October 28.

Newly undead, Darren joins the Cirque Du Freak, a touring sideshow filled with monstrous creatures from a snakeboy and a wolfman to a bearded lady (Salma Hayek) and a gigantic barker (Ken Watanabe). As Darren flexes his newfound powers in this dark world, he becomes a treasured pawn between the vampires and their deadlier counterparts.

Last but not least this weekend in Fox Searchlight’s PG rated biographical drama “Amelia”, directed by Mira Nair (“Vanity Fair”) and starring two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Joe Anderson, Cherry Jones, Virginia Madsen and Mia Wasikowska. “Amelia” has been tracking best with 25-plus females and next best with under-25 females. Its definite interest numbers among males under and over 25 have been very soft. The film is already being talked about as a potential best picture Oscar contender and Swank is being discussed as a possible best actress nominee.

The Story: “Amelia” focuses on the relationship between famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) and her husband George Putnam (Richard Gere).

Wed., October 28 will bring Sony’s special two week limited engagement of the musical documentary “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”, directed by Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical 1, 2 & 3”). Given the tremendous global fascination with Michael Jackson’s untimely death, this film edited from rehearsal footage of what would have been his comeback concert tour in London last summer should perform exceedingly well at the boxoffice. Advance sales went on sale Sept. 27 with people lining up many hours early to purchase tickets.