Last weekend, one of the most popular brand names in the movie business, Pixar, helped keep summer ticket sales humming. This holiday week, Hollywood is banking on another top box-office draw, Will Smith.
Sony Pictures' "Hancock," an action comedy starring Smith as an alcoholic, irascible superhero called John Hancock, will probably lead this week's charts with more than $80 million in ticket sales, including Tuesday evening shows at many theaters, based on consumer tracking surveys.
How much more is the question surrounding the picture, which was produced for about $150 million and officially opens today at some 3,900 theaters in the U.S. and Canada.
Bullish box-office analysts expect "Hancock" to haul in more than $125 million in its first five-plus days despite blistering reviews, but Projector considers $90 million to $100 million (including $60 million for the weekend) a fairer target for an original project like this that lacks a built-in audience from an earlier movie, TV show, comic book or toy line.
"You never know what to expect with something new," said Jeff Blake, Sony's chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution. "It's not like you've got the 'Harry Potter' or 'Star Wars' fans already lining up."
"Hancock" could be hurt by two factors: weak reviews and formidable competition.
Only 32% of reviews were positive as of Tuesday, according to review compendium Rotten Tomatoes, with several critics calling the film a hodgepodge that fails to deliver on its edgy, satirical potential.
Smith's only box-office disappointment on the Fourth of July, the 1999 sci-fi cowboy comedy "Wild Wild West," was widely panned as a jumble of genres. Some critics are comparing "Hancock" to 1993's "Last Action Hero," a Hollywood sendup that opened to harsh reviews and failed to become the blockbuster many expected.
Two holdovers, Disney-Pixar's animated, G-rated "Wall-E" and Universal Pictures' stylized, R-rated assassin thriller "Wanted," starring Angelina Jolie, will vie with "Hancock" for attention at the nation's multiplexes.
"Wall-E," which opened to $63.1 million last weekend, looks headed for $40 million or so this weekend, and "Wanted," which opened to $50.9 million, should nab at least an additional $25 million.
"Hancock," backed by an aggressive marketing campaign centered on a star at the height of his popularity, could prove to be review-proof, however.
Smith has a history of success on the Fourth of July with "Independence Day" and the "Men in Black" series, and he is coming off "The Pursuit of Happyness," a tear-jerker that grossed a surprising $307 million globally during its run, and the zombie flick "I Am Legend," which piled up $584 million.
"Hancock," rated PG-13 for "sci-fi action, violence and language," also stars Jason Bateman as a publicist with a heart of gold -- yep, it's a fantasy -- and Charlize Theron as a woman whose secret becomes one of the key plot twists.
Like most of Smith's movies, "Hancock" is tracking well with men and women alike.
Its overall awareness and wanna-see numbers are similar to those for two films that opened when Independence Day fell on a Friday: the original "Men in Black" in 1997 and the more male-skewing "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" in 2003, starring the then-soon-to-be governor of California. Those pictures opened to $84 million and $72 million, respectively, over five days.
Distributors are counterprogramming "Hancock" with several lower-profile films. Picturehouse's critically praised, G-rated "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," starring Abigail Breslin in a Depression-era family drama, goes wide after two weeks in limited release, while Sony Pictures Classics' R-rated comedy "The Wackness" -- the front-runner to win Projector's vote for title of the year -- opens at six theaters in New York and Los Angeles.
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The Will Smith action comedy "Hancock" is expected to lead the holiday weekend box office. These figures are The Times' predictions. Studios will issue weekend estimates Sunday and actual results Monday.
*--* -- Movie 3-day Through the Weeks prediction -- (studio) (millions) weekend 1 Hancock $59.1 $95.5 1 -- (Sony) 2 Wall-E 43.8 139.8 2 -- (Disney) 3 Wanted 28.1 103.1 2 -- (Universal) 4 Get Smart 11.6 100.1 3 -- (Warner Bros.) 5 Kung Fu Panda 7.6 194.1 5 -- (Paramount) 6 Kit Kittredge: An American 6.8 7.3 3 Girl -- (Picturehouse) 7 The Incredible Hulk 4.4 125.4 4 -- (Universal) 8 Indiana Jones and the 3.2 306.3 7 -- Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- (Paramount) 9 Sex and the City 2.7 145.7 6 -- (Warner Bros.) 10 The Love Guru 2.4 30.6 3 -- (Paramount) *--*
Source: Times research