ZAMM.COM: September Strength

By Martin Grove,

September Strength: Hollywood's heading in the right direction with One Direction: This is Us opening to $18 million over Labor Day Weekend.

Direction's lively launch plus the continuing power of the PG-13-rated drama Lee Daniels' The Butler with $20 million helped make this the biggest Labor Day Weekend ever. Ticket sales hit a record setting $157 million--and that's a good indication of September's likely box office strength.

The 3D music documentary Direction,  directed by Morgan Spurlock, tracked best and in double digits with under-25 females, the worldwide pop group's core audience. Moreover, the film's PG rating made it easily accessible to younger tween-age girls, who are among the group's biggest fans.

Because Direction actually went into theaters Fri., Aug. 30, you also can consider it to be an August hold-over. If so, that would make the highly anticipated R-rated sci-fi action thriller Riddick, opening Friday, September's first official wide release.

Riddick's been tracking in solid double digits and doing best with 25-plus males and nearly as well with under-25 males. It's also tracking decently with 25-plus females.

The film, a new chapter in the series going back to 2000's Pitch Black and 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, reunites writer-director David Twohy with Vin Diesel as the antihero Riddick. Left for dead on a seemingly lifeless sun-scorched planet, Riddick soon finds himself fighting for survival against lethal alien predators.

Chronicles opened June 11, 2004 to $24.3 million and wound up grossing $57.8 million domestically.

The fact that nothing else is opening wide against Riddick is a good indication that Hollywood expects it to hit big and wants to stay out of its way. But that won't be the case a week later when Sept. 13 will see two new wide releases competing for moviegoers' time and money.

The R-rated action crime comedy The Family is directed by Luc Besson and executive produced by Oscar winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese. It's already showing tracking strength, doing best with 25-plus men and nearly as well with 25-plus women.

In the film,  Mafia boss Fred Manzoni (Robert De Niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their kids wind up in a quiet town in France in the witness protection program where CIA Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) tries his best to keep them undercover. Soon, however, they're back handling problems the family way and, before long, their old mob friends have tracked them down.

Also hitting the megaplexes in hopes of a lucky Friday the 13th is the PG-13 horror thriller Insidious: Chapter 2, directed by James Wan and starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey. It's already tracking in double digits and doing best with under-25 females and almost as well with under-25 males, the perfect demo combo for a horror genre episode.

The original Insidious opened Apr. 1, 2011 to $13.3 million and did $54 million domestically. It reportedly cost only $1.5 million to produce.

In the horror, the Lambert Family is in danger because they're linked to the spirit world through a dark childhood secret they're desperate to unlock.

Sept. 20 will see box office competition heat up with three new wide releases going head-to-head.

The R-rated crime thriller Prisoners is directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.

Prisoners is tracking best with men under and over 25 and with women under 25. Moreover, it's tracking almost as well with women over 25. That four demo appeal typically translates into big box office business.

What also should help Prisoners is its potential critical and awards strength. The film was very well received when it screened in late August at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival and that's already got Oscar pundits calling it a contender. On the other hand, they're also worrying that its dark intense storyline could be difficult for Academy members to handle. Of course, that's where great Oscar marketing comes in and Warners has had plenty of success in that arena over the years.

In the flm, Keller Dover (Jackman) faces every parent's worst nightmare when his six year old daughter and a friend go missing. The only lead is a dilapidated RV parked on their street. Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) arrests the driver, but lack of evidence forces his release, making Keller take matters into his own hands.

The 3D drama Battle of the Year is directed by Benson Lee and stars Josh Holloway, Laz Alonzo and Posh Peck. It's tracking best and equally well with women under and over 25.

The movie focuses on the Olympics of break dancing, an annual tournament attracting the world's best teams, but Americans haven't won in 15 years. Now hip hop mogul and former B-Boy Dante (Alonso) wants to put the country that started the sport back on top.

The R-rated biographical action drama Rush is from Academy Award winning director Ron Howard and stars Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth and Olivia Wilde.

Among the film's producers are Howard's longtime producer partner Brian Grazer and screenwriter Peter Morgan. Morgan was Oscar nominated in 2009 for best adapted screenplay for Howard's Frost/Nixon and in 2007 for best original screenplay for Stephen Frears' The Queen.

Howard's box office and Oscar success over the years automatically puts the spotlight on any new film he makes. His past movies as a director have grossed nearly $2 billion in domestic theaters. Among Howard's biggest hits are 2000's How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($260 million), 2006's The Da Vinci Code ($217.5 million), 1995's Apollo 13 ($173.8 million) and 2001's A Beautiful Mind ($170.7 million).

Set  in the glamorous world of 1970s Formula One racing, the film is based on the true story of two rival race car drivers--English playboy James Hunt (Hemsworth) and his methodical, brilliant Austrian opponent Niki Lauda (Bruhl). It's the story of two drivers willing to risk everything in a sport with no margin for error.

Sept. 20 will also see Warner Bros. open its PG-rated 1939 classic fantasy adventure Wizard of Oz, which has been meticulously restored for presentation in 3D for a special one week wide release. Although audiences have been able to see Wizard on television and DVD for many years, this 3D release on IMAX screens is a first.

Directed by Victor Fleming, it stars Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick and Pat Walsh.

The film centers on a young farm girl (Garland) and her little dog who are magically transported into the enchanted land of Oz via a Kansas tornado. As they travel down Oz's Yellow Brick Road to find the Wizard and ask him to send them home, they encounter a wonderful, funny, terrifying and, ultimately, enlightening group of characters, human and otherwise.

September will end with a busy box office as four new wide releases hit theaters Sept. 27.

The animated 3D comedy Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 picks up where the franchise's 2009 original left off. Directed by Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn, it stars the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris and Will Forte.

In the film, inventor Flint Lockwood thought he saved the world by destroying his infamous invention that turned water into food, causing cheeseburger rain and spaghetti tornadoes. When Flint learns his invention's survived and is now creating food-animals, he and his friends take on hungry taco-diles, shrimp-panzees and other food-imals to save the world --again!

The R-rated action musical Metallica Through the Never 3D is directed by Nimrod Antal and stars Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.

The movie revolves around Trip (DeHaan), a young roadie for Metallica who is sent on an urgent mission during the band's show, but his simple assignment turns into a surreal adventure.

The R-rated comedy drama Don Jon is written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (his feature directing debut), who also stars opposite Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore.

In the film, Jon Martello's (Gordon-Levitt) friends call him Don Jon because he always dates women who are 10s. Nonetheless, none of them ever match up to how Jon feels on his own watching Internet porn. When he sets out to find real happiness, Jon learns some larger lessons about life and love through his relationships with two very different women.

The PG-13 comedy Baggage Claim is directed by David E. Talbert and stars Paula Patton, Taye Diggs and Jill Scott.

Determined to get engaged before her youngest sister's wedding, flight attendant Montana Moore (Patton) realizes she's only got 30 days left to find her Mr. Right. Using her airline connections to accidentally meet eligible ex-boyfriends and scour the skies for possibilities, she racks up over 30,000 miles and suffers her share of comedic encounters while seeking the perfect guy.

Bottom line: September got off on the right foot over Labor Day thanks to One Direction: This Is Us and Lee Daniels' The Butler and it looks like the box office should continue to sizzle in the weeks ahead.

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