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Woolly but not mammoth?

AT THE MOVIES : WORD OF MOUTH

March 06, 2008|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

HE'S hardly as well known as Steven Spielberg and doesn't command nearly the respect of John Lasseter. But when it comes to cranking out consistent $100-million hits, few directors can match the track record of Roland Emmerich.

Over the last 12 years, the German filmmaker has made four big-budget movies, and on average they have grossed $185 million. Emmerich's biggest hit, 1996's "Independence Day," grossed $50.2 million in its first U.S. weekend, eventually taking in more than $300 million. In 1998, his "Godzilla" was scorned by critics (and more than a few moviegoers) but nevertheless sold more than $136 million in tickets, while 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow" grossed more than $186 million. Emmerich's biggest recent dud, if it can even be called that, was 2000's "The Patriot," which grossed $113 million.

This weekend, Emmerich's latest action spectacle arrives in theaters, and while it's certain "10,000 B.C." will debut in first place for Warner Bros., the key question around town is whether the film will be simply big -- or as enormous as the woolly mammoths stampeding through it.

Virtually every advertisement for Emmerich's new movie has sold his past credits, specifically "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow" (if only the new movie were called "10,000 B.C. Day" or "A Day 12,000 Years Ago"). Tellingly, television commercials and coming attractions previews have been filled with more fierce animals than semi-naked humans. When your biggest star is Steven Strait -- a veteran of "The Covenant" who in "10,000 B.C." looks like Colin Farrell on a spectacularly bad hair day -- it makes sense to tout saber-toothed tigers. The downside is that such ads call to mind not the Oscar-winning "Gladiator" but the animated kids flick "Ice Age."

When not hawking Emmerich and extinct creatures, Warner Bros. has pushed the film's romance and epic story line. The first teaser for "10,000 B.C.," released last July, included every one of these words projected on screen like some high-speed PowerPoint presentation: life, death, love, hate, good, evil, hope, betrayal, triumph, loss, power, fear, rage. It all sounds more like a description of the Ohio primary than a movie.

It's a calculated effort to bring in as many women as possible, which will spell the difference in the ultimate success of "10,000 B.C." If young and older men consistently show up for the movie without their better halves, "10,000 B.C." cannot become a break-out blockbuster.

Last March, Warner Bros. released "300." Like "10,000 B.C.," it was a period epic, filled with scantily clad men swinging their big . . . weapons. Audiences -- including millions of women -- found "300" original, and the film grossed $70.9 million in its first weekend and more than $210 million overall.

While some box-office prognosticators say "10,000 B.C." could open to $50 million or more, those estimates seem overly optimistic, particularly since the movie is not likely to generate glowing reviews. (Warner Bros. mostly has kept "10,000 B.C." away from journalists, and only started showing it widely on Wednesday.) An opening weekend of about $42 million seems much more probable.

Two other new movies will hit wide release on Friday: "The Bank Job" and "College Road Trip." The latter movie looks like the one that will have staying power, especially because it's a G-rated family comedy starring 22-year-old Disney Channel phenomenon Raven-Symone opposite "Big Momma's House" comedian Martin Lawrence.

A month ago, Universal opened Lawrence's "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," which not only debuted to $16.2 million but also showed surprisingly strong family appeal for a PG-13 rated comedy. Disney (and other box-office analysts) say "College Road Trip" should gross about $16 million in its first weekend, but we're going out on a limb and looking for a debut of as much as $20 million. That's so Raven.

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john.horn@latimes.com

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