What an intense weekend with a comedy and a musical going head to head. (And thankfully we’re back to the usual Friday through Sunday release schedule again.) The critics may hate I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry (massive negative reviews, only 14% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), but Universal is loving its gross receipt prospects. My box office gurus are predicting a big $35+ million opening from 3,495 theaters. Universal tries to lower expectations by telling me they’d be thrilled with a $30 mil debut. The thing to remember is that Adam Sandler comedies almost always open. Even for a PG-13 not-so-funny pic that gently spoofs gays (the skittish studio consulted every homosexual rights group imaginable to make sure the script wouldn’t offend), and drools over Jessica Biel’s hot bod, this will be a winner.
On the other hand, New Line’s well-reviewed Hairspray should debut to only $20+ mil from 3,121 runs, my analysts estimate. That’s low, considering the studio fortune spent marketing this musical by taking out TV ads months ahead of time. (Whereas Universal just started commercials for Chuck And Larry only recently). I’m told the downer may well be box office-challenged John Travolta, whose Edna portayal looks creepy. Another is that Hairspray and Chuck And Larry “are taking money away from each other,” one studio exec explained to me. Said another source: “Don’t be surprised if Hairspray does closer to $30 mil than $20 mil. And don’t be surprised if Chuck And Larry does closer to $40 mil.” But both films are pitted against blockbusters like Warner’s Harry Potter And the Order Of The Phoenix, and DreamWorks / Paramount’s Transformers, and Disney / Pixar’s Ratatouille. Besides, I pointed out at the start of the summer that Hairspray would get hammered inbetween last week’s Potter and next week’s The Simpsons Movie.