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'Green Hornet' has plenty of buzz, but 'Dilemma' may have a problem

January 14, 2011|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

Martin Luther King Day weekend has increasingly become a lucrative one for Hollywood, but that's much more likely to hold true for the debut of "The Green Hornet" than "The Dilemma" this year.

The 3-D action- comedy "Green Hornet," starring Seth Rogen, is well positioned to be No. 1 this holiday weekend, according to people who have seen pre-release polling, while "The Dilemma," which pairs comedy stars Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, has much softer prospects.

"The Green Hornet" should sell $40 million to $50 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Monday, while ticket sales for "The Dilemma" probably will be much lower, at $15 million to $20 million.

Sony Pictures has much more at stake with "The Green Hornet," which costars Cameron Diaz and Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. The latest adaptation of the masked crime fighter who was created for a radio show in 1936 and has since appeared in film serials, a 1960s television show and comic books, cost a hefty $130 million to make, according to two people familiar with the budget (a Sony spokesman insisted that the cost was closer to $110 million).

After the film was poorly received at Comic-Con last July, the filmmakers radically changed "Green Hornet" in the editing room while Sony revamped its advertising. The changes in the campaign appear to have paid off, as "Hornet" is generating strong interest among men under 25 as well as decent interest among older men.

It has a good chance at rivaling the $46.1-million debut in 2008 of "Cloverfield," which holds the record for the biggest film debut over a Martin Luther King Day weekend, not accounting for inflation. It remains to be seen, however, if audiences take to the unusual hybrid of Rogen's brand of humor with fighting and explosions.

Sony has high hopes for the movie overseas as well, where Diaz, Chou and costar Christoph Waltz are well-known. "Hornet" opens this weekend in several countries, including France, Germany, Britain and Spain.

With "The Dilemma," which was directed by Ron Howard, Universal Pictures is hoping to draw a primarily adult audience that will appreciate the story about two male friends dealing with the fact that one of their wives is cheating. The movie cost Universal and its financing partner Spyglass Entertainment $75 million, a person close to the production said, though a Universal spokeswoman said the budget was $70 million.

A four-day opening of less than $20 million would be soft given the film's cost, but Universal is banking on "The Dilemma" generating strong word of mouth among initially reluctant adults and continuing to play. In the best case scenario, the studio hopes that it will perform like its 2009 movie "It's Complicated," directed by Nancy Meyers, which opened to $22.1 million and ultimately grossed $112.7 million.

Past movies starring Vaughn and James have not generated much business overseas, making the domestic performance of "The Dilemma" particularly important.

Also likely to compete near the top of the box office charts this weekend is "Black Swan." Fox Searchlight is expanding the psychological drama from 1,584 theaters to more than 2,000. "Black Swan" has done phenomenal business for a low-budget specialty film in the last few weeks, grossing $63.9 million through Wednesday, and it could collect more than $10 million this weekend.

"The King's Speech" will also significantly expand its footprint as the Weinstein Co. doubles the historical drama's national presence to about 1,500 locations. Its ticket sales stood at $34.8 million as of Wednesday.

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