Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 06-06-11

Elle Fanning, Zach Mills, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso and Riley Griffiths in “Super 8”

Elle Fanning, Zach Mills, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso and Riley Griffiths in “Super 8”

J.J. Abrams on the set of “Super 8”

J.J. Abrams on the set of “Super 8”

Heather Graham and Jordana Beatty in “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer”

Heather Graham and Jordana Beatty in “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer”

Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, and Woody Allen in “Midnight in Paris”

Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, and Woody Allen in “Midnight in Paris”

Sleeper success: With four franchise episodes topping the boxoffice right now, it’s time for a sleeper hit.

What Hollywood needs to keep its summer momentum going is an unexpected sleeper success from out of left field. Will it be this weekend’s sci-fi thriller “Super 8” from Paramount and Amblin Entertainment?

Well, it certainly could be, but by definition sleepers are supposed to be surprises so you can’t really say for sure in advance. But “Super’s” a real possibility. With its 85 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes we know critics like it and that often translates into strong word of mouth, which can mean great playability.

Of course, there’s unusually stiff competition for moviegoers’ time and money right now — with Fox and Marvel’s “X-Men: First Class” opening to about $56 million, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ “The Hangover Part II” hanging around with over $32 million in weekend two, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s “Kung Fu Panda 2” adding over $24 million in its second weekend and Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” plundering about $18 million in weekend three.

Sleepers don’t boast big stars and that’s certainly true of “Super,” whose stars are non-household names like Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso and Noah Emmerich. The film’s biggest stars are behind the camera – writer-director J.J. Abrams, who directed Paramount’s successful reboot of “Star Trek” in 2009, and producer Steven Spielberg.

Audiences discover sleeper films so it makes sense that at this point “Super’s” overall tracking is only in the blah mid-single digits. Plenty of room for discovery there. Its strongest first choice numbers are with over-25 males and females. Unfortunately, it’s only doing about half as well with younger moviegoers and they need to be on board for a summer movie to score.

The fact that the film’s about a group of youngsters could give it decent playability with teens if the right buzz gets going. Every tweet will help! “Super” will be in about 3,200 theatres so it definitely will be out there where moviegoers can find it.

The kids in “Super” are shooting a super 8mm movie in their small Ohio town in the summer of 1979. After they witness a horrific train crash, Abrams’ space aliens storyline kicks in. Yes, it’s starting to sound like we’re back in Spielberg Territory with a sleeper called “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial.”

In fact, “E.T.” opened June 11, 1982, which really underscores its emotional connection to “Super,” which is opening June 10. I don’t think those corresponding release dates are a coincidence. Hollywood is superstitious about lucky opening days and you can’t blame Spielberg and Abrams for liking June 10.

Although “E.T.” grossed over $350 million domestically — with reissues it did $435 million-plus — only $11.8 million of that came from opening weekend ticket sales (at 1,103 theatres). For 1982, however, that was a wide release and a powerful opening that immediately put the media spotlight on “E.T.”

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” had blasted off the previous weekend to an even bigger $14.3 million at 1,621 theatres and “Rocky III” did a knock-out $12.4 million for three days of Memorial Day weekend at 939 theatres. Of course, both of those were new episodes from well-established franchises.

Word of mouth drove “E.T.” at the boxoffice and kept it there for a full year that didn’t end until the first week of June 1983.

The young Spielberg was already well-known for directing blockbusters like “Jaws” (1975), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), but he didn’t cast any big expensive stars in “E.T.” The film’s youngsters were Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore and its adult cast was led by Dee Wallace and Peter Coyote.

Cut to today — Abrams, Spielberg, Paramount and theatre owners everywhere will be crossing their fingers and hoping boxoffice lightning strikes again with “Super.”

This weekend’s other wide release, Relativity Media’s PG comedy “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” at about 2,000 theatres, is barely tracking at all. It’s appeal is limited to very young girls and that’s not encouraging.

This weekend will also see Sony Pictures Classics expand Woody Allen’s hit adult comedy “Midnight in Paris” from 147 theatres to 750 or more. It’s already grossed about $7 million in three weeks of platform release and should have great playability now that people outside New York and L.A. are hearing how good it is.

I haven’t stopped recommending “Midnight” to friends since I caught it at its L.A. premiere a few weeks ago. I admit to being a longtime Woody Allen fan, but this time around he’s really made a movie that’s accessible to a much broader audience. SPC recognized this from the start and orchestrated exactly the right kind of launch — including a world premiere at Cannes that brought global media attention to “Midnight.”

“Midnight” is something of a sleeper, itself. With Woody directing it’s got a higher profile than sleepers usually do and its well-known but not uber-stars like Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen aren’t typical sleeper casting. On the other hand, with Woody’s movies historically performing very modestly at the boxoffice, this one’s already a breakout success that deserves to do well. With SPC taking it wider now, it will have the opportunity to connect with audiences that may never before have seen a Woody Allen movie.

Bottom line: Hollywood loves to wake up to sleeper success, so keep your eyes open this weekend.