"Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe, left, is expected to… (David Appleby / Universal…)
It's never a great sign when a summer "event film" is poised to open at No. 2 at the box office.
But director Ridley Scott's new version of "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe, has been a challenge for distributor Universal Pictures, given its high cost, serious tone and apparent lack of appeal to the young moviegoers who usually drive big openings.
Hollywood executives who have seen pre-release polling of potential moviegoers expect the film to open with $40 million to $45 million in the U.S. and Canada. That would put it behind "Iron Man 2," which is expected to take in roughly $60 million on its second weekend after launching to a strong $128.1 million.
Universal executives are counting on much higher ticket sales overseas, however, as the picture opens in every major foreign territory this week except Japan and China. People at the studio say the film should gross about twice as much internationally as it does domestically, which means they're looking for a worldwide total through Sunday of more than $100 million.
"Robin Hood" opened in several European countries Wednesday and took in a solid $6 million, with good starts in France and Britain, where the story is set and the film was shot. It debuted this week at the Cannes Film Festival in France to a mixed response.
Reviews so far have been less than enthusiastic, which could harm the movie given that it is aimed mainly at adults, who tend to care more about what critics have to say than teenagers. Young men have shown some interest in the film, but not many young women are expected to attend based on polls conducted before the movie's opening.
Director Scott has a mixed record with historical dramas. His 2001 epic "Gladiator," which also starred Crowe and won the Oscar for best picture, opened to $35 million but ended up with a very strong $188 million domestically. However, 2005's "Kingdom of Heaven" was a major flop with a total of just $47 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales. Scott and Crowe's last collaboration, "Body of Lies," was a serious-minded bust, grossing just $39 million in 2008.
Unsurprisingly, Universal's advertising for "Robin Hood" has attempted to position the film as "Gladiator" in Sherwood Forest.
The best scenario for Universal and its financing partner, Relativity Media, appears to be making a modest success out of "Robin Hood," given its high cost.
Two people familiar with the budget said it cost at least $200 million to produce, though a studio spokesman said the final tally was $155 million after tax credits. That doesn't include, however, at least $25 million that the studio wrote off after the production initially planned to start in 2008 was delayed.
Barring a major surprise, "Robin Hood" won't be the big hit that Universal and Relativity could use after releasing two costly flops earlier in the year: "Green Zone" and "The Wolfman."
On a smaller scale, "Letters to Juliet" looks like it could be a respectable hit, as tracking surveys indicate the low-budget romantic drama starring Amanda Seyfried could debut with close to $20 million based on strong interest from young women. That would be a healthy start given that distributor Summit Entertainment spent about $30 million to make the picture and presold the international rights to help offset the production cost.
Seyfried's last romantic film aimed at the same demographic, "Dear John," co-starring Channing Tatum, opened in February to a solid $30.5 million and ultimately grossed $80 million.
Fox Searchlight's romantic comedy "Just Wright," which stars Queen Latifah and rapper Common, isn't expected to make much of an impression this weekend as it's expected to open to around $10 million.