February Movie Mania -- "Avatar" Holding On

February doesn’t look like a very exciting month at the boxoffice, but not having any huge new films on the horizon should work to the advantage of 20th Century Fox’s mega-blockbuster “Avatar”.

The James Cameron 3D sci-fi adventure has grossed nearly $600 million domestically and is heading for $2 billion worldwide at this writing — and it’s still going strong. With little new competition to worry about, “Avatar” should continue to set previously undreamed of records. Its only problem right now is holding on to the limited number of 3D screens available domestically.

Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” from Tim Burton is scheduled to open Mar. 5 in many of those 3D theaters, which will force “Avatar” out despite the fact that it’s still doing great business. Fox is reportedly trying to work something out with the theaters, perhaps to switch “Avatar” to Midnight shows, but even that would take away from its boxoffice potential if it could hold on to its 3D screens.

Thanks to “Avatar” the 2010 boxoffice is running about 5.5% ahead of last year, according to Hollywood.com Box-Office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. Through the end of January the gross for 2010 was $1.057 billion vs. $1.002 billion a year earlier. Attendance, too, was up nicely — 138.9 million, up 3.4% vs. 134.3 million the prior year.

Looking at February, Warner Bros.’ romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day” with a huge ensemble cast that includes Julia Roberts looks like the month’s best boxoffice bet. It should benefit from being the perfect title for Valentine’s Day movie dates and its Feb. 12 launch positions it for the four-day President’s Day holiday weekend.

Jennifer Garner in “Valentine’s Day”

Jennifer Garner in “Valentine’s Day”

The following synopses include details about February’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.

Two new wide releases will kick things off the weekend of Feb. 5-7, but neither of them are showing real strength.

Sony/Screen Gems’ PG-13 rated romantic drama “Dear John” is tracking best with its strongest appeal to under-25 females and not quite half as well to females over 25. They’ll really have to drag their boyfriends or husbands to see this one since it’s tracking very poorly with males of all ages.

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”), it stars Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Henry Thomas, Scott Porter, Richard Jenkins and Keith Robinson.

The Story: Based on a book by Nicolas Sparks, the film is about a soldier home on leave who falls for a conservative college girl. Instead of returning home to her, he reenlists after the 9/11 attacks, after which time and distance begin to take a toll on the young lovers.

Lionsgate’s R rated action thriller “From Paris With Love” also arrives Feb. 5, but isn’t tracking nearly as well as “Dear John”. Its doing best with males under 25 and next best with over-25 males.

Directed by Pierre Morel (“Taken”), it stars John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

The Story: A young embassy worker and an American secret agent cross paths during a high-risk mission in Paris.

February’s most likely boxoffice hit is Warner Bros. and New Line’s PG-13 romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day”, opening Feb. 12. It’s tracking better than anything else arriving this month, at least as this column’s being written. It’s strongest audience is women under 25 and it’s doing almost as well with over-25 women. Men, on the other hand, are barely interested so they’ll have to be dragged along.

Directed by Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”), its ensemble cast includes: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Carter Jenkins and Bryce Robinson.

The Story: The intertwining storylines of a group of Los Angelinos as they find their way through romance over the course of one Valentine’s Day.

February’s second weekend will also see the arrival of Universal’s R rated horror film “The Wolfman”, a new take on the studio’s classic 1941 chiller starring Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains. Unlike most contemporary horror films whose principal appeal is to younger females, “Wolfman” is tracking best with males under 25 and nearly as well with over-25 males. Women don’t seem to be interested at all, so it hardly looks like a date film for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Directed by Joe Johnston (“Jumanji”), it stars Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Asa Butterfield, Geraldine Chaplin, Rob Dixon, Roger Frost, Art Malik, Clive Russell and David Schofield.

The Story: Benicio del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a carefree Londoner lured back to his family estate after the disappearance of his brother. Reunited in crisis with his estranged father, Talbot sets out to find his brother, but discovers an even more horrifying destiny for himself.

Rounding out the weekend of Feb. 12-14 is 20th Century Fox’s PG rated fantasy action adventure “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” At this writing, it’s tracking the least well of the weekend’s three new arrivals. Its best audience is under-25 males and it’s next best appeal is equally to men and women over 25.

Directed by Chris Columbus (“Home Alone”), its ensemble cast includes: Logan Lerman (as Percy Jackson), Brandon Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Melina Kanakaredes, Catherine Keener, Rosario Dawson, Steve Coogan, Jake Abel, Stefanie Von Pfetten and Serinda Swan.

The Story: Percy Jackson is the Greek god Poseidon’s 12-year-old half-human son, who embarks on a fantastical quest across modern-day America to save his mother, return Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt and prevent a deadly war between the gods.

Although Paramount’s thriller “Shutter Island” from Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese has no wide opening competition the weekend of Feb. 19-21, it’s not tracking impressively at this writing. Its strongest appeal is to over-25 males, closely followed by under-25 males. Women are only about half as interested despite Leonardo Di Caprio starring in the picture.

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Shutter Island”

Leonardo DiCaprio in “Shutter Island”

Directed by Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”), it stars Leonardo Di Caprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow, Curtiss Cook, Jackie Earle Haley and John Carroll Lynch.

The Story: Two U.S. Marshals are sent to a federal institution for the criminally insane located in Boston’s Outer Harbor to capture a violent female escapee.

February seems unlikely to end on a high note given the two wide releases slated to open Feb. 26.

It’s too early for tracking news, but neither Warner Bros.’ action comedy “Cop Out” nor Overture Films and Rogue Pictures’ horror film “The Crazies” sounds like blockbuster material.

Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in “Cop Out”

Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in “Cop Out”

Directed by Kevin Smith (“Jersey Girl”), “Cop Out” stars Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Adam Brody, Kevin Pollak, Guillermo Diaz, Seann William Scott, Jason Lee and Michelle Trachtenberg.

The Story: On the trail of a stolen high-value baseball card, a maverick cop and his partner tangle with a memorabilia-obsessed gangster and rescue a Mexican beauty who holds the key to millions in laundered drug money.

Directed by Breck Eisner (“Sahara”), the R rated “The Crazies” stars Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker.

The Story: The inhabitants of a small Pennsylvania town are beset by death and insanity after a plane crash lets loose a secret biological weapon into the water supply.