George Clooney, Nicholas Sparks and some zombie hordes will take the field against the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, as a few brave movies try to hold off Super Bowl mania in what is shaping up to be a quiet weekend at the multiplexes.
The hope for “Hail Caesar!,” “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and “The Choice” is that the three new releases can make enough money on Friday and Saturday to tide them over through Sunday when millions of Americans will be glued to the big game. Football’s starriest weekend is traditionally a fallow period for movie-going — 2008’s “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” holds the record for a Super Bowl gross with $31.1 million, with last year’s “American Sniper” slightly behind that result with $30.6 million.
None of the trio of newcomers will come close to matching those figures. Barring an upset, they won’t even finish in first place on box office charts. That honor will go to the current reigning champ, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which should make roughly $22 million. It debuted to $41.3 million last weekend.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” a long-gestating adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling novel, should fare best, pulling in $11 million when it bows across 2,930 locations. The $28 million production was financed by Cross Creek Pictures and is being distributed by Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems label. It finds Jane Austen’s classic literary heroine Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) battling class prejudice, dicey marital prospects and the undead. It’s enough to soften Mr. Darcy’s hardened heart. Sony is being slightly more conservative with its estimate, pegging the opening in the $9 million range.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has been in the works for years, with directors such as David O. Russell and stars such as Natalie Portman falling into and out of the project at various stages in its development. In addition to James, the cast includes Matt Smith, Sam Riley and Jack Huston, with Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”) directing from a script he penned.
“Hail, Caesar!,” a Coen Brothers romp about the Hollywood studio system, boasts a cast that includes Clooney as a kidnapped star, Josh Brolin as a fixer and Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams-style bathing beauty. Universal is fielding the $22 million film, which opens across 2,231 locations. It is expected to bring in $10 million. That’s in line with the Coens’ “The Ladykillers” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” both of which debuted to roughly $12 million, but far short of the $24.8 million opening for their biggest commercial hit, “True Grit.”
That leaves “The Choice,” a romance from Sparks, the pre-eminent creator of four-hankie love stories, looking to provide a little female-driven counter-programming to Sunday’s football game. Acquired by Lionsgate for under $10 million, the story of two neighbors whose love affair is derailed by tragedy, premieres in roughly 2,600 theaters. It should do $8 million in its initial weekend.
Most studios are conserving their fire power this weekend, but some heavy hitters are looming on the horizon. “Zoolander 2” and the very R-rated comic book movie “Deadpool” are slated to land in theaters on Feb. 12, just in time to inject some sizzle into Hollywood’s Valentine’s Day.