One of the biggest action stars of the 1980s is poised to destroy the competition at the box office.
"The Expendables," directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone, has men of all ages excited to come to theaters this weekend, with pre-release surveys indicating it will sell about $35 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada. An adaptation of the bestselling book "Eat Pray Love," starring Julia Roberts, is expected to draw a smaller number of adult women and open to around $25 million. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," based on a series of graphic novels that have gained cult status, has demonstrated only limited appeal among young men and is set to open to only about $15 million.
Although the three new movies are generating varying degrees of interest, the fact that they are appealing to different audiences should be good news for the overall box office. As of Sunday, box-office revenue for 2010 was at $6.9 billion, up 4.5% from the previous year, with admissions down a slight 1%.
"Exhibitors are really excited about this weekend because it seems like there's something for everyone," said David Spitz, executive vice president of distribution for Lionsgate studio. "This could be the last big weekend of the summer."
Lionsgate spent about $20 million for the right to release "Expendables" in the U.S., Canada and Britain. But financier Avi Lerner spent a total of $82 million to make the movie through his companies Millennium Films and Nu Image Films, about $50 million of which was covered through sales to distributors in other foreign countries in addition to a tax rebate.
A throwback to 1980s action flicks, the "Expendables" cast also includes Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, wrestler Steve Austin, Jet Li and Jason Statham engaging in over-the-top gunfights and explosions. It also features brief cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.
"Expendables" is currently the most anticipated movie among men of all ages, according to pre-release surveys, but is particularly hot among those who remember Stallone during his heyday and may like the movie's reliance on physical effects over extensive digital enhancements.
If the film performs as well as expected, it should be very profitable for Lionsgate and provide the independent studio with a much-needed hit as management battles for control of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. against activist shareholder Carl Icahn. Anticipating that it could pay off big time, Lionsgate has spent close to $40 million on marketing, a hefty sum for a smaller studio.
Sony Pictures spent about $60 million to make "Eat Pray Love" and is hoping for a decent opening followed by a long box-office run. Adult women tend not to rush out to theaters on opening weekend, relying more on word of mouth and reviews than younger moviegoers.
The studio is opening "Eat Pray Love," which co-stars Javier Bardem, at the same time of year that it released "Julie & Julia" last summer. That movie, which also appealed primarily to adult women, opened to a modest $20 million but finished its domestic box-office run with a strong $94.1 million as audiences kept coming through September.
In order for "Eat Pray Love" to do as well as "Julie & Julia," however, audiences will have to like the movie more than critics do. Early reviews have been largely negative. The new movie may do better overseas than "Julie & Julia," which grossed only $35.4 million internationally, because it takes place primarily in Italy, India and Indonesia.
Universal Pictures' challenge with "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" has been expanding interest beyond the core fanboy audience of those familiar with the graphic novels or who are drawn by the advertising and promotion, which included a big presence at July's Comic-Con International in San Diego.
However, surveys indicate that the only demographic group interested in the movie is young men, and even they are more excited to see "Expendables." Despite the presence of star Michael Cera, young women don't seem jazzed to see the movie.
Adults of both genders are showing very low interest in "Scott Pilgrim," which features innovative visual effects borrowed from video games and comic books.
Unless it performs better than expected, "Scott Pilgrim" appears poised to be something of a financial disappointment for Universal. The studio spent $85 million to make the effects-heavy movie, according to a person close to the production, though a studio spokeswoman said that tax credits and rebates brought the final cost down to $60 million.
"Scott Pilgrim" will quite possibly open in fourth place behind the Will Ferrell comedy "The Other Guys," which on its second weekend should bring in about $18 million.