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Box Office Brasserie
Movie News For Movie Lovers

Hollywood’s holiday shuffle begins the first weekend in November, but unlike the summer session, studios don’t always kick off the season bearing their biggest and most boisterous gifts.

That’s the case this weekend as three new wide releases—“Free Birds,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Last Vegas”—aren’t the most anticipated flicks of the season, but they could see sustainable business. While summer flicks demand bonfire-like box office beginnings, holiday fare can often crackle and smolder for weeks.

The film that arrives with the most heat is Lionsgate’s YA adaptation, “Ender’s Game.”  Written in 1985, Orson Scott Card’s tome took 28 years on its sojourn to the big screen, which is actually a good thing, considering only recently has technology caught up with the vast imagination and machinations of his space-age saga.

Still, $110 million isn’t exactly cheap, so “Ender’s Game” will need to blast off with at least $30+M and hold up well enough in the coming weeks to avoid being considered another sci-fi misfire. It’s really the overseas grosses that will be the ultimate catalyst, as similar genre fare like “Battleship,” “After Earth,” “Oblivion,” and “John Carter” were all significant hits abroad, while domestic grosses fell flat.

Gavin Hood (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) directs, with Harrison Ford as the name to help give this project legitimacy. However, the real star is Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”), in the title role as Ender Wiggins, who must protect humankind from imminent alien threat.

While many fans of the novel will concur that this is basically a Cliff Notes version, it isn’t a bad film, just extremely truncated, especially all of the Flight School training and Ender’s struggles with emotional attachment.

While that was a huge part of the story, the movie version is streamlined for mass consumption, giving Ford’s character much more screen time than he really needs and that takes away what little heart the story had to begin with…leaving us with cold, detached dead space. Besides the special effects and Butterfield’s performance, there really isn’t a lot that this gets right. Honestly, I think it’ll be lucky to debut with $25M.

The last few years Disney and DreamWorks Animation have locked down the first weekend of November to showcase their animated adventures, and have been very successful doing so, however this year The Mouse House’s “Frozen” doesn’t crack the ice until Thanksgiving and DWA is noticeably absent, having pushed “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” to spring.

That opens the rabbit hole for Relativity to drop “Free Birds,” which locked down 3,500+ theaters, and should see grosses close to $20M, even though reviews have been pretty dismal.

Originally the toon was titled “Turkeys,” however you might as well call your film “Giant Bomb” or “Big Time Suck” if you’re gonna go that route.

This is director Jimmy Hayward’s first film since helming “Jonah Hex,” so, yes, he knows all about turkeys and bombs and things that go suck in the night Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. After animating at Pixar for several years, his directorial debut was Fox’s “Horton Hears a Who!,” which scored nearly $300M worldwide, and featured the vocal stylings of Jim Carrey and Steve Carell.

“Free Birds” features Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler, and was made for the low, low price of just $35M. For an animated film these days, that would be akin to Marvel greenlighting “The Avengers” sequel with a $75M budget. That just doesn’t happen.

So with a three week window before “Frozen” freezes out the kiddie competition, expect “Free Birds” to easily surpass its budget, and make some really meaty money as there aren’t any other choices for young families out there. Sometimes being at the right place at the right time is the secret to Hollywood success. Doesn’t hurt to have the best tag line out there either: “Hang on to your Nuggets.” I knew about chicken nuggets, but turkey nuggets are new on me. But I’m down with that.

CBS Films goes down and not-so-dirty with “Last Vegas,” following the PG-13 exploits of Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas as they make their way to Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

While the comedy is probably the most commercial product CBS has ever released, don’t bet on this to open with more than $13M. Still, if older demographics show up and word-of-mouth is good, this might have pretty descent legs–not like The Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular chorus girl kinda legs, but you know, legs like Bally’s Jubilee!…Vegas’ last classic showgirl revue. Sure, you have to wade through a plethora of rhinestones and feathers, but those gams are still pretty impressive.

Not to be a party pooper, but when’s the last time you went to Vegas and had a PG-13 experience? Sure, every Vegas movie will henceforth be compared to “The Hangover,” but at least The Wolfpack got one thing right: Sin City is at its most splendiferous when it’s an R-rated adventure…every time. “Dirty Old Codgers” may have been a better title.

In limited release, Universal is really hoping your love of “Love Actually” (which, let’s be honest, is one of the best rom-coms ever) will remind you to buy a ticket for “About Time,” a romantic time travel drama from writer/director Richard Curtis. Should see decent grosses before it goes wide next weekend in 1,200+ venues.

Looking like he should be at the food shelter panhandling for a case of Pringles, Matthew McConaughey stars in Focus Features’ “Dallas Buyers Club,” which will try to drum up interest in he and co-star Jared Leto’s crusade for Oscar nominations. The AIDS drama debuts in 9 theaters this weekend and should perform very well.

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WEEKEND ESTIMATES

1. Ender’s Game – $25M

2. Free Birds – $20M

3. Jackass: Bad Grandpa – $14M

4. Gravity – $13M

5. Last Vegas – $12.5M

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CHOICE CUT OF THE WEEK: “The Wolf of Wall Street” Trailer #2

Paramount finally made it official this week and pushed Martin Scorsese’s drama, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” from November 15th to Christmas Day. In Hollywood, the rumor had persisted for weeks that Scorsese’s latest starring his muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, would not be ready in time for its release date, mostly because the auteur, known for his rampant perfectionism, was having issues with running time. So what else is new? The more Scorsese the better as far as I’m concerned.

The studio laid the groundwork last week by moving their Tom Clancy reboot, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” from December 25th to January 17th, all but assuring Scorsese of the prime release date and a strong Oscar campaign to follow.

The second trailer shows a lot more Jonah Hill and a lot less McConaughey beating out tribal rhythms on his chest. That’s a smart move.

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Jeff Bock, NewsWhistle’s movie editor, is the senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at Jeff@NewsWhistle.com.

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Ender’s Game Poster: Summit Entertainment; Poster Design by BLT Communications