August Movie Mania - August should get hot start from “G.I. Joe”

Hollywood continued to lose boxoffice steam in July as a string of summer releases under-performed.

Although Warner Bros. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” opened to blockbuster business and had grossed over $255 million domestically by late July, the only other real sizzle came from DreamWorks and Paramount’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which had opened in late June and rolled along throughout July. By month’s end “Transformers” had grossed over $388 million and is likely to wind up as the year’s biggest domestic release. “Harry” looks like it’s heading for $300 million domestically.

Also showing strength in July was 20th Century Fox’s 3-D animated “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which had grossed about $182 million as the month ended. There also were decent late July launches for Disney’s “G-Force” and Sony’s “The Ugly Truth,” but neither film is going to rewrite boxoffice history. Universal’s “Public Enemies” didn’t sizzle, but managed to gross about $93 million by month’s end.

On the other hand, Universal’s much hyped “Bruno” from Sacha Baron Coen was a disaster, taking in only $59 million through late July. And Universal’s “Funny People,” directed by Judd Apatow and starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, got off to an okay but not outstanding $23 million-plus start the weekend of July 31 - Aug. 2.

All told, back in late June Hollywood’s revenues were running about 12 percent ahead of last year increase, according to Hollywood.Com Box-Office president Paul Dergarabedian. By late July, however, revenue was only up about 7 percent over ’08. As for attendance, in late June it was up 9.4 percent over the prior year. In late July attendance was only up 3.1 percent vs. ’08.

What went wrong? Clearly, this summer’s mix of product didn’t have the broad appeal that many of the titles that opened earlier this year did. There were three big summer smashes — “Star Trek” in May, “Transformers 2” in June and “Harry Potter 6” in July — but lightning didn’t really strike elsewhere.

Looking at July on a weekend by weekend basis, the first weekend (July 3-5) was up nearly 1.5 percent vs. the previous year. Weekend 2 (July 10-12) saw business down by about 6 percent vs. ’08. Weekend 3 (July 17-19) was down nearly 38 percent compared to last year — despite “Harry Potter 6” opening to $77.8 million for the three day weekend (and $158 million for five days). In ’08 “The Dark Knight” had kicked off to $158.4 million for its first three day weekend in theaters. Weekend 4 (July 24-26) saw revenues fall more than 16 percent vs. ’08. And Weekend 5 (July 31 - Aug. 2) ended the month on a down note with the boxoffice sliding about 20 percent from last year.

Looking ahead, August should get off to a great start thanks to “G.I. Joe,” which has been tracking huge and opens Aug. 7. If all goes well, “Joe” could turn into a new franchise for Paramount.

It won’t help, however, that almost all of August’s wide releases are originals as they typically don’t translate into the kind of record setting openings that blockbuster franchise episodes like “Transformers” and “Harry Potter” are able to generate.

The following synopses include details about August’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.

Paramount, Spyglass Entertainment and Hasbro’s action adventure “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” looms as the late summer’s biggest release. With its roots in Hasbro’s action figures and comic books, the PG-13 rated “Joe” is the right kind of movie to satisfy summer audiences and without any other big new giants in the marketplace the timing couldn’t be better for its Aug. 7 launch. The film’s strongest appeal is to males both under and over 25 with the over-25s being slightly more interested.

The Story: G.I. Joe is a Brussels-based outfit — Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity — an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer.

Directed by Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy”, “The Mummy Returns”), it stars Sienna Miller, Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Dennis Quaid, Ray Park, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Said Taghmaoui, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston and Karolina Kurkova.

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” in theaters August 7

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” in theaters August 7.

Also arriving Aug. 7 is Sony’s PG-13 rated romantic comedy “Julie and Julia”, whose core audience is women over 25. It’s a period piece tale that weaves together two storylines — one about famed chef-to-be Julia Child when she first discovered French food in Paris in the 1940’s and one about Julie Powell, a contemporary New Yorker struggling to find herself through writing an Internet food blog in which she cooks all the recipes in Child’s first book. The trouble is the two women never meet on screen.

Written and directed by Nora Ephron (“Bewitched”), it stars Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Jane Lynch, Dave Annable and Vanessa Ferlito.

The Story: A woman (Amy Adams) verging on 30 and frustrated in a Government temp secretary job takes on a yearlong culinary quest to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) best-seller “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” She chronicles her trials and tribulations in a blog that catches on with the food crowd.

Rounding out the first weekend in August is Universal and Rogue Pictures’ R rated suspense thriller “A Perfect Getaway”, whose strongest appeal is to females under 25. That splits the weekend’s three wide releases in the best possible demographic way with males under and over 25 having “Joe”, older women having “Julia” and younger women having “Getaway” as their first choice viewing.

Written and directed by David Twohy, “Getaway” stars Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez, Steve Zahn, Marley Shelton, Chris Hemsworth and Katie Chonacas.

The Story: A young honeymooning couple in Hawaii runs into a pair of vicious killers while hiking.

Four wide releases will be competing for moviegoers’ time and money the second weekend in August. Of these Aug. 14 openers, the biggest early buzz is for the R rated sci-fi fantasy “District 9” from Sony’s Tristar Pictures label. Younger males (-25) are the biggest core audience for the film and older males (25+) are its second biggest group. Helping attract attention for “District” is that it’s being presented by Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”).

Directed by first timer Neill Blomkamp, “District” stars Jason Cope.

The Story: The film takes place in a fictional world where extraterrestrials have become refugees in South Africa, having landed on our planet some 30 years earlier. They’re a kind of insect species called “prawns” in the film.

Also looking promising is Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema’s Aug. 14 wide release of the PG-13 romantic fantasy drama “The Time Traveler’s Wife”. Its core audience is women both under and over 25, which could translate into a strong opening not hurt at all by the presence of “District” in the marketplace.

Directed by Robert Schwentke, it stars Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean and Brooklynn Proulx.

The Story: The film is based on the best-selling book by Audrey Niffenegger about a love that transcends time. Clare (Rachel McAdams) has been in love with Henry (Eric Bana) her entire life. She believes they’re destined to be together, even though she never knows when they’ll be separated. That’s because Henry is a time traveler-cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

Aug. 14 will also see Summit Entertainment’s wide release of the PG rated musical comedy drama “Bandslam”, whose core demographic group is younger females. But at this writing, the tracking for “Bandslam” with under 25 women isn’t nearly as strong as it is for “Time Traveler’s Wife”.

Directed by Todd Graff, “Bandslam” stars Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Gaelan Connell, Scott Porter, Lisa Kudrow, Liam Aiken, Elvy Yost, David Bowie and Charlie Saxton.

The Story: A gifted singer-songwriter asks the new kid in town to manage her fledgling rock band and goes head-to-head against her egotistical musician ex-boyfriend at the biggest event of the year, a battle of the bands. When disaster strikes, the question is — Does she admit defeat or face the music and stand up for what she and the band believe in?

Rounding out the Aug. 14 openings is Disney’s G rated animated family film “Ponyo”, whose best tracking at this writing is with under 25 females.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it features the voices of Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Cloris Leachman, Betty White and Frankie Jonas.

The Story: “Ponyo” is about a 5-year-old boy named Sosuke and his relationship with a goldfish princess named Ponyo who longs to become human.

“District 9” in theaters August 14

“District 9” in theaters August 14.

Three wide releases will fight it out the weekend of Aug. 21-23. The highest profile of these is The Weinstein Company’s R rated World War II action adventure “Inglourious Basterds” — with its curiously misspelled title — from writer-director Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”). Its strongest tracking is with males under 25, but it’s also doing well with the over 25 male audience.

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, it stars Brad Pitt, Mike Myers, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, B.J. Novak, Michael Fassbender, Nastassja Kinski, Samm Levine, Christopher Waltz, Til Schweiger, Daniel Bruhl and Lea Seydoux.

The Story: The film takes place in World War II France where American soldiers, French peasants, French resistance and Nazi occupiers all collide. The story revolves around a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds” who are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis.

On a much lighter note, August’s third weekend will also see the arrival of the PG-13 rated comedy “Post Grad” from Fox Searchlight Pictures and the now shuttered Fox Atomic Pictures label. The film’s best tracking is with women under and over 25, who like it almost equally well.

Directed by Vicky Jenson (co-director of “Shrek”), it stars Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Rodrigo Santoro, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett and Michael Keaton.

The Story: A college grad’s big plans for the future are turned upside-down when she’s forced to move back in with her crazy family.

Also on tap for Aug. 21 is Warner Bros.’ PG rated family comedy “Shorts”, whose best tracking is with adult women. Since that means lots of moms bringing kids, “Shorts” could wind up doing more business than its tracking scores indicate at this writing. That’s often the case with family appeal movies.

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids” “Spy Kids 2”), it stars Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader, Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Trevor Gagnon, Leo Howard, Devon Gearhart, Rebel Rodriguez, Jake Short and Jolie Vanier.

The Story: “Shorts” is set in the suburb of Black Falls, where all the houses look the same and everyone works for BLACK BOX Unlimited Worldwide Industries Incorporated, whose Mr. Black’s BLACK BOX is the ultimate communication and do-it-all gadget that’s sweeping the nation. Other than keeping his parents employed, however, Mr. Black’s BLACK BOX has done nothing for 11-year-old Toe Thompson, who just wants to make a few friends…until a mysterious rainbow-colored rock falls from the sky, hits him in the head and changes everything.

The Rainbow Rock does Mr. Black’s BLACK BOX one better — it grants wishes to anyone who holds it. Before long, wishes-gone-wrong have left the neighborhood swarming with tiny spaceships, crocodile armies, giant boogers — and outrageous magical mayhem around every corner. But it’s not until the grown-ups get their hands on the Rainbow Rock that the trouble really starts. Now Toe and his new friends must join forces to save their town from itself, discovering along the way that what you wish for is not always what you want.

The last weekend in August will see three films going after moviegoers as summer gives way to fall. One particularly promising Aug. 28 is Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema’s R rated suspense thriller “The Final Destination - 3D”.

The original “Final Destination” opened Mar. 17, 2000 and wound up grossing $53.3 million domestically. “Final Destination 2” opened Jan. 31,2003 and took in nearly $47 million. “Final Destination 3” opened Feb. 10, 2006 and ended up doing $54.1 million. The new one has the benefit of being in 3-D, which has been boosting boxoffice business in general all year.

Directed by David R. Ellis (“Snakes on a Plane”), it stars Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Richard T. Jones, Haley Webb and Nick Zano.

The Story: On what should have been a fun-filled day at the races, Nick O’Bannon has a horrific premonition in which a bizarre sequence of events causes multiple race cars to crash, sending flaming debris into the stands, brutally killing his friends and causing the upper deck of the stands to collapse on him. When he comes out of this grisly nightmare Nick panics, persuading his girlfriend, Lori, and their friends, Janet and Hunt, to leave — escaping seconds before Nick’s frightening vision becomes a terrible reality.

Thinking they’ve cheated death, the group has a new lease on life, but unfortunately for Nick and Lori, it’s only the beginning. As his premonitions continue and the crash survivors begin to die one-by-one-in increasingly gruesome ways, Nick must figure out how to cheat death once and for all before he, too, reaches his final destination.

It’s unfortunate that The Weinstein Company is also going after horror movie fans this same weekend with Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” from its Dimension Films label. It’s the sequel to Zombie’s “Halloween”, which opened Aug. 31, 2007 to $26.4 million and went on to gross $58.3 million domestically.

Written and directed by Rob Zombie (“Halloween”), “Halloween II” stars Tyler Mane, Danielle Harris and Scout Taylor-Compton.

The Story: The new film picks up right where the last remake ended, following the aftermath of Michael Myers’ murderous rampage through the eyes of the sister he hunted.

The weekend’s third wide release is happily not targeted to horror movie fans. It’s Focus Features’ R rated “Taking Woodstock”, a period piece drama set in 1969 that should play best to adults who remember Woodstock.

Directed by Ang Lee, it stars Emile Hirsch, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Liev Schreiber, Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, Dan Fogler, Paul Dano, Jonathan Groff, Mamie Gummer, Henry Goodman, Zoe Kazan and Caitlin Fitzgerald.

The Story: A man working at his parents’ motel in New York’s Catskill Mountains inadvertently sets in motion the generation-defining concert of the summer of 1969.