Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 05-21-12

“Men in Black 3” – In Theaters May 25th

“Men in Black 3” – In Theaters May 25th

“Men in Black 3” – London premiere

“Men in Black 3” – London premiere

Warner Bros.’ R-rated horror film, “Chernobyl Diaries”

Warner Bros.’ R-rated horror film, “Chernobyl Diaries”

Memorial movies: Moviegoing and Memorial Day weekend have had a 30 year love affair and it’s still going strong.

One of Hollywood’s favorite marketing strategies is to launch big movies over long holiday weekends like Memorial Day to take advantage of the fact that moviegoing’s a great way for people to help fill all that free time. For parents it’s a great way to keep youngsters quiet for a few hours, especially with some help from popcorn and soda.

Hollywood loves Memorial Day weekend because while it’s the kick off to the summer moviegoing season, it’s not necessarily a summer weather weekend. And if the holiday brings rain or cool weather to the East Coast, as has often been the case over the years, movies are the best possible alternative to the beach.

This Memorial Day weekend will see two new wide releases competing for very different audiences – Columbia Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s PG-13 3D sci-fi action comedy “Men in Black 3” will be the film families gravitate to while Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment’s R rated horror thriller “Chernobyl Diaries” should attract men who prefer edgier fare.

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black,” “Men in Black 2”), “Men 3” stars Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin.

This latest episode’s actually a reboot of the blockbuster franchise that’s been out of theatres for 10 years. The original “Men” opened July 2, 1997 to $51.1 million and grossed $250.1 million domestically plus another $338.7 million in international theatres. Its sequel arrived July 3, 2002 to $52.1 million. It took in $190.4 million domestically and another $251.4 million internationally.

In “Men 3” Will Smith as Agent J time travels back to 1969 where he meets a youthful Agent K — Josh Brolin plays the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ contemporary Agent K — and stops an evil alien from killing the young K and changing history.

Although “Men” is rated PG-13 it will probably play to a younger audience that will come to see it with their parents and older siblings. Many of those parents, by the way, were teens, themselves, 15 years ago when the first “Men” hit theatres. The movie’s time travel storyline could resonate nicely with adults who recall seeing the original “Men” as kids.

“Men 3’s” been tracking best with under-25 males, but nearly as well with 25-plus males and 25-plus females. Three quadrant films, as Hollywood marketers call them, are typically a recipe for boxoffice success.

Last summer Fox scored well with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” its reboot of its “Planet of the Apes” franchise. That franchise’s previous film, “Planet of the Apes,” arrived July 27, 2001 to $68.5 million and wound up doing $180 million domestically and $182.2 million internationally. “Rise” opened Aug. 5, 2011 to $54.8 million and took in $176.7 million domestically and $305 million internationally.

If “Men 3” is for pretty near everyone, there’s some good specialized counter-programming in the Memorial Day marketplace in “Chernobyl Diaries.”

Directed by Brad Parker, a first time director with years of visual effects expertise (“Willard”), “Diaries” was produced by Oren Peli, who wrote and directed the original “Paranormal Activity,” and Brian Witten, who produced “Mother’s Day.” “Diaries,” which has been tracking best with 25-plus males, stars Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski and Olivia Dudley.

The setting for “Diaries” is a desolate Russian city where Chernobyl nuclear reactor workers were once housed. Its story follows some vacationing friends who are stranded in the empty city and then realize they're really not alone.

While those are the only two new wide releases arriving for Memorial Day weekend, several holdovers will also be competing for moviegoers’ time and money. Chief among these is Disney and Marvel’s mega-blockbuster “The Avengers,” which has grossed about $457 million domestically and is still going strong. It placed first last weekend with about $55 million and is bound to be a destination for some Memorial Day moviegoers who haven’t seen it yet or can’t resist having another look.

Also in place having opened last weekend are Universal and Hasbro’s “Battleship,” which arrived to about $25.4 million, and Paramount’s “The Dictator,” which did about $24.5 million for five days. The rule of thumb with Hollywood marketers is that a film that opens the weekend before a four-day holiday weekend usually does for four days what it did in its first three-day weekend. Both of these titles should soak up some extra money from moviegoers seeking alternatives to “Men 3” and “Diaries.”

Last Memorial Day weekend the boxoffice sizzled with Warner Bros.’ “The Hangover: Part II” opening first with $103.4 million for four-days. Columbia’s “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which kicked off the Thursday before the holiday weekend, was second with $66.7 million for five days. And Disney’s second weekend of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” finished third with $50 million for four days.

Looking back over the years at Memorial Day hit movies while the grosses and theatre counts were a lot smaller than today’s ultra-wide distribution and marketing strategies produce, the titles are very familiar even after all this time. Here’s a look back at the '80s when Memorial Day started looking good at the boxoffice.

It was Memorial Day weekend 1982 when MGM/UA’s “Rocky III,” starring Sylvester Stallone, delivered a $16 million knockout punch for four days at 939 theatres. That was big money then, but chump change today. By comparison, last Friday saw “The Avengers” gross about $15.5 million just for that day. Hollywood hadn’t quite realized in 1982 that opening on a Wednesday would be a great way to extend a holiday weekend’s impact, so “Rocky III” didn’t enter the ring until Friday, May 28.

Memorial Day 1983 saw Fox rewrite boxoffice history with its launch of George Lucas’ third “Star Wars” episode, “Return of the Jedi.” This time, however, the blast off took place on a Wednesday, giving it two extra days in which to get word of mouth going. In those pre-Internet days, of course, it took longer for the buzz to circulate about movies. “Jedi” grossed $30.5 million for four days and $41.1 million for six days at 1,002 theatres. Those were hefty numbers for 1983.

“Jedi’s” Memorial Day record only held until 1984 when Paramount’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” from producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg kicked off on Wednesday to $33.9 million at 1,687 theatres for four days and $42.3 million for six days.

Of course, not every year brought higher Memorial Day grosses. In 1985 the holiday weekend saw TriStar Pictures’ “Rambo: First Blood 2,” starring Stallone, nail down first place with $25.5 million at 2,074 theatres. That was, however, the widest Memorial Day release ever to that point.

1985 was also notable because Hollywood was starting to see the value of playing in the Memorial Day weekend marketplace. Unlike past years when only one big new movie opened for the holiday, 1985 brought several big competing titles – including MGM/UA’s James Bond adventure “A View to a Kill” with $13.3 million for four days and Universal’s comedy “Brewster’s Millions” with a six day gross of $11.5 million.

There was a big downturn in the Memorial Day marketplace in 1986 when the Cannon Group and Warner Bros.’ action adventure “Cobra,” starring Stallone, captured first place with just $15.7 million for four days at 2,131 theatres. MGM/UA’s horror sequel “Poltergeist II” opened second with $12.4 million at 1,596 theatres.

Memorial Day ticket sales shot up again in 1987 with Paramount’s opening of “Beverly Hills Cop II,” starring Eddie Murphy, to $40.6 million for six days at 2,326 theatres. Disney’s kids comedy “Ernest Goes to Camp” was second with $6.2 million at 1,541 theatres for four days.

Memorial Day 1988 wasn’t nearly as snappy with Paramount’s “Crocodile Dundee II,” starring Paul Hogan, arriving to just $29.2 million for six days at 2,837 theatres. Second place went to TriStar’s launch of “Rambo III,” starring Stallone, with $21.2 million at 2,562 theatres for six days.

Memorial Day ended the '80s on an upbeat note with Paramount’s 1989 opening of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” to $46.9 million for six days at 2,327 theatres. Nothing else came close to competing. TriStar’s thriller “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” finished second in its third weekend with $6.1 million at 1,680 theatres for four days.

Bottom line: Hollywood loves holidays and so do moviegoers, for whom seeing a new film goes hand in hand with enjoying the long weekend.