November Movie Mania - “2012”, “New Moon” Loom Large

October was a mixed month for Hollywood with two of its four weeks trending better than last year and two showing percentage declines. Nonetheless, the month brought some solid successes, including Paramount’s phenomenally profitable “Paranormal Activity”.

October’s first weekend (Oct. 2-4) saw Sony nail down the top two positions on the chart with “Zombieland’s” $24.7 million opening and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’” third weekend gross of $15.8 million, which brought its cume to $81.5 million. By month’s end, “Cloudy” was clearly a big winner with a cume of nearly $119 million.

The second weekend in October (Oct. 9-11) was led by Universal’s strong first place launch of “Couples Retreat” to $34.3 million. The weekend’s real story, however, was the kick off of Paramount and DreamWorks’ ultra low budget horror film “Paranormal Activity”, opening in fourth place to $7.9 million. What was outstanding about that gross was that the film was only playing in 160 theaters and it averaged $49,379 per theater!

Clearly, Paramount’s specialized marketing campaign using the Internet to spread word about the film worked in a big way. The studio urged people across the country to “demand” via the Internet that “Paranormal” play in their cities — and people did just that. Paramount said that when they had one million “demands” for the film they’d go wide with it and that’s exactly what happened Oct. 23.

As Paramount expanded “Paranormal’s” run throughout October its cume grew so that by month’s end it had grossed nearly $85 million domestically and was well on its way to $100 million. Considering that it only cost $11,000 to produce, was reportedly acquired for about $300,000 and is said to have had marketing costs of only a few million dollars, “Paranormal” ranks as one of the most profitable — if not the very most profitable — pictures ever released by Paramount.

Weekend three (Oct. 16-18) brought a better than expected first place opening for Warner Bros.’ “Where the Wild Things Are” with $32.7 million. Insiders had anticipated a softer start because they considered the animated film scary for young kids and appealing more to adults, who don’t typically go to animated movies unless they’re bringing their kids to see them. In the end, Warner’s marketing saved the day and brought in adults who like director Spike Jonze’s work and older kids and teens who were attracted to the classic children’s story by Maurice Sendak.

Meanwhile, Overture’s action thriller “Law Abiding Citizen” was a strong second, arriving to $21 million. Sony’s horror thriller “The Stepfather” opened a weak fifth with $11.6 million.

October’s fourth weekend (Oct. 23-25) saw Paramount go wide with “Paranormal Activity” and capture the top spot on chart with $21.1 million, bringing its cume to $61.6 million at that point. But Paramount’s unexpected triumph with “Paranormal” cut into opening weekend business for Lionsgate’s horror thriller “Saw VI”, which placed second with just $14.1 million.

The weekend also brought bad news for Summit’s animated “Astro Boy” (sixth with $6.7 million), Universal’s horror thriller “The Vampire’s Assistant” (seventh with $6.3 million) and Fox Searchlight’s biographical drama "“Amelia” (11th with $3.9 million).

The month’s fifth weekend (Oct. 30 - Nov. 1) saw the arrival of Sony’s much hyped “Michael Jackson’s This is It”, which took the top spot on the chart with $23.2 million. Its five day cume was $34.4 million, considerably less than the $40 million to $60 million that insiders had been projecting. Paramount’s “Paranormal” expansion continued with the film placing second with a solid $16.4 million and a cume of $84.6 million.

By the end of October, Hollywood’s revenues were running 7.7 percent ahead of last year, according to Hollywood.Com Box-Office president Paul Dergarabedian. Attendance through late October was up 3.6 percent over the prior year. This was only slightly less than where these comparisons were in late September.

Looking at October on a weekend by weekend basis, per Dergarabedian, the first weekend (Oct. 2-4) was down 6 percent vs. the previous year. Weekend 2 (Oct. 9-11) saw business up 7.9 percent vs. ’08. Weekend 3 (Oct. 16-18) was up a huge 39.1 percent compared to last year. Weekend 4 (Oct. 23-25) saw the boxoffice off 13 percent from last year. And Weekend 5 (Oct. 30 - Nov. 1) closed the month on a positive note with business up 3.5 percent vs. ’08.

“2012” in theaters November 13

“2012” in theaters November 13

The following synopses include details about November’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 November’s boxoffice high points will be Sony’s “2012” Nov. 13 and Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight Saga: The New Moon” Nov. 20. Those seem the safest bets to connect with moviegoers although the month could bring some surprises, as well.

November’s first weekend (Nov. 6-8) will see four wide releases competing for ticket sales. To begin with, there’s Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” in 3D, written and directed by Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”, “Back to the Future” franchise) and starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Sammi Hanratty, Christopher Lloyd, Molly Quinn and Daryl Sabara. It’s been tracking strongly, particularly with over-25 females, which should translate into a big opening for this family appeal live action/animated drama.

The Story: On Christmas Eve, three ghosts visit an old miser who does not believe in the spirit of the holiday.

Also arriving in November’s first weekend is Warner Bros.’ suspense thriller “The Box” written and directed by Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”) and starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Reborn, Holmes Osborne and Gillian Jacobs. It’s been tracking best with under-25 females, typically the biggest audience for horror films.

The Story: The film poses the question: What if someone gave you a box containing a button that, if pushed, would bring you a million dollars…but simultaneously take the life of someone you don’t know? Would you do it? And what would be the consequences?

The year is 1976. Norma Lewis is a teacher at a private high school and her husband, Arthur, is an engineer working at NASA. They are, by all accounts, an average couple living a normal life in the suburbs with their young son…until a mysterious man with a horribly disfigured face appears on their doorstep and presents Norma with a life-altering proposition: the box. With only 24 hours to make their choice, Norma and Arthur face an impossible moral dilemma. They soon discover that the ramifications of this decision are beyond their control and extend far beyond their own fortune and fate.

The weekend’s third wide release is Universal’s suspense thriller “The Fourth Kind”, written and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi (“WithIN”) and starring Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas and Corey Johnson. It hasn’t been tracking well and is doing best with under-25 males.

The Story: In this provocative fact-based thriller, Milla Jovovich plays Nome, Alaska psychotherapist Dr. Emily Taylor, whose never-before-seen videotaped sessions with real-life patients present the most convincing evidence of alien abduction ever documented.

“The Box” in theaters November 6

“The Box” in theaters November 6

Rounding out the month’s first weekend is Overture Films’ dark comedy “The Men Who Stare at Goats” directed by Grant Heslov (feature directorial debut) and starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Rebecca Mader, Stephen Root and Terry Serpico. “Goats’” tracking has improved steadily over the past few weeks. It’s doing best with under-25 males, a great audience for it to deliver, and next best with males 25-plus.

The Story: The movie focuses on a secret unit within the U.S. Army called the First Earth Battalion, whose paranormal military ideas mutated over the decades to influence interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay.

November’s second weekend (Nov. 13-15) will bring only two wide releases — one 800-pound gorilla that is expected to rank as one of the year’s biggest boxoffice successes and one low profile British comedy targeted to an entirely different audience.

The likely blockbuster is Sony’s fantasy suspense thriller “2012”, directed by Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”, “Independence Day”), who co-wrote its screenplay with Harald Kloser. Starring are John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thomas McCarthy and Chin Han. “2012” has been tracking very strongly, doing almost equally well with men under and over 25.

The Story: An academic researcher opens a portal into a parallel universe and makes contact with his double in order to prevent an apocalypse predicted by the ancient Mayans.

The weekend’s much smaller wide release is Focus Features’ period piece comedy “Pirate Radio”, written and directed by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, January Jones, Thomas Sturridge, Jack Davenport, Ralph Brown, Chris O’Dowd and Gemma Arterton.

The Story: The film revolves around a band of rogue deejays who captivated British radio listeners in the 1960s, playing the music that defined a generation and standing up to a government that, incomprehensibly, preferred jazz.

Weekend three in November (Nov. 20-22) will see three wide releases competing for moviegoers’ time and money. Of these, the lion’s share of the boxoffice is expected to go to Summit Entertainment’s romantic drama fantasy thriller sequel “Twilight Saga: The New Moon” directed by Chris Weitz (“The Golden Compass”) and starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Dakota Fanning, Chaske Spencer, Bronson Pelletier, Alex Meraz, Kiowa Gordon, Tyson Houseman, Michael Sheen, Kellan Lutz, Julia Jones, Jamie Campbell Bower, Cameron Bright, Charlie Bewley, Ashley Greene, Billy Burke, Edi Gathegi and Anna Kendrick.

“New Moon” has been tracking through the roof, doing staggeringly well with under-25 females. That should translate into dynamite boxoffice business.

The Story: After Bella recovers from the vampire attack that almost claimed her life, she looks to celebrate her birthday with Edward and his family. However, a minor accident during the festivities results in Bella’s blood being shed, a sight that proves too intense for the Cullens, who decide to leave the town of Forks, Washington for Bella and Edward’s sake. Initially heartbroken, Bella finds a form of comfort in reckless living, as well as an even-closer friendship with Jacob Black. Danger in different forms awaits.

The weekend’s second wide release is Sony’s animated family fantasy “Planet 51” directed by Jorge Blanco (feature directorial debut) and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott and John Cleese. Although it hasn’t been tracking very well, “Planet 51” is doing best with women over-25, which is a good sign because those are typically moms who bring kids to see movies like this.

The Story: An alien planet, stuck in the culture of the 1950’s, finds its barely-repressed paranoia kick-started into high gear when Chuck, a NASA astronaut, arrives without warning and turns their world upside down.

Also arriving this weekend is Warner Bros. sports drama “The Blind Side”, written and directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie”) and starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates, Lily Collins and Jae Head. The film’s tracking hasn’t been anything too impressive, but it’s doing almost equally well with women under and over 25.

The Story: The movie depicts the true story of All-American football star Michael Oher. Teenager Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is surviving on his own, virtually homeless, when he’s spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock). Learning that the young man is one of her daughter’s classmates, Leigh Anne insists that Michael — wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter — come out of the cold. Without a moment’s hesitation, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night.

What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more as Michael becomes part of the Tuohy family despite the differences in their backgrounds. Living in his new environment, the teen faces a completely different set of challenges to overcome. And as the family helps Michael fulfill his potential, both on and off the football field, Michael’s presence in the Tuohys’ lives leads them to some insightful self discoveries of their own.

November’s last weekend (Nov. 27-29) is Thanksgiving week so all four wide releases arriving then will do so on Wed., Nov. 25 to get the jump on the holiday period. Thanksgiving is always a great time for family appeal films and Disney will be going after that audience with its comedy “Old Dogs”, directed by Walt Becker (“Wild Hogs”) starring John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston, Seth Green, Matt Dillon, Laura Allen, Lori Loughlin, Bernie Mac, Ella Blue Travolta and Rita Wilson. The film’s tracking isn’t available at this writing, but it’s likely to play best to adult women — again, moms bringing kids, which is a great audience.

The Story: Two middle-aged business partners’ lives are turned upside down when they find themselves in the care of 7-year old twins.

Also competing for family audiences is Fox Searchlight Pictures’ stop motion animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” directed by Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) and starring the voice talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” in theaters November 13

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” in theaters November 27

The Story: A crafty fox finds himself and his family targeted for death by the three dumb farmers who tire of sharing their chickens with the critter.

Action audiences will have a few films to choose from, as well, over Thanksgiving. Warner Bros.’ action adventure “Ninja Assassin” is directed by James McTeigue (“The Invasion”) and stars Jung “Rain” Ji-Hoon, Naomie Harris, Sho Kosugi, Ben Miles and Rick Yune. It’s likely to track best with under-25 males.

The Story: Raizo is one of the world’s deadliest assassins. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them…and vanishes, waiting to exact his revenge.

In Berlin, Europol agent Mika Coretti has stumbled upon a money trail linking several political murders to an underground network of untraceable assassins from the Far East. Defying the orders of her superior, Ryan Maslow, Mika digs into top secret agency files to learn the truth behind the murders. Her investigation makes her a target and the Ozunu Clan sends a team of killers, led by the lethal Takeshi, to silence her forever. Raizo saves Mika from her attackers, but he knows that the Clan will not rest until they are both eliminated. Now, entangled in a deadly game of cat and mouse through the streets of Europe, Raizo and Mika must trust one another if they hope to survive…and finally bring down the elusive Ozunu Clan.

Rounding out the Thanksgiving holiday slate at the boxoffice is The Weinstein Company’s fantasy suspense thriller “The Road”, directed by John Hillcoat (“The Proposition”) and starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron, Garret Dillahunt, Molly Parker and Michael Kenneth Williams. Clearly, this is a male appeal film that’s likely to track best with men over-25.

The Story: After a nuclear explosion, a man goes on a nightmarish road trip in an attempt to transport his son to safety, while fending off starving stragglers and marauding packs of cannibals.