With nine Oscar nominations added to its Golden Globe awards, 'Avatar' is off to the February start that Cameron and his distributor Fox had planned months ago. I doubt they thought they would have broken 'Titanic's' records for domestic and worldwide box office receipts by this point, but here they are, clear of the field and with a tail-wind that will push them to their March 7 Oscar date and beyond. John Travolta plays a trigger-happy CIA agent in 'From Paris With Love' and Channing Tatum plays a soldier desperately in love in 'Dear John, ' but neither of these past and present screen heartthrobs figures to stop James Cameron's 'Avatar' from sailing through to its eighth straight weekend atop the box office chart.
With nine Oscar nominations added to its Golden Globe awards, 'Avatar' is off to the February start that Cameron and his distributor Fox had planned months ago. I doubt they thought they would have broken 'Titanic's' records for domestic and worldwide box office receipts by this point, but here they are, clear of the field and with a tail-wind that will push them to their March 7 Oscar date and beyond.
So far, 'Avatar's' beaten challengers include action films starring Robert Downey Jr. ('Sherlock Holmes'), Denzel Washington ('The Book of Eli') and Mel Gibson ('Edge of Darkness.') Inevitably, the sci-fi phenom will be beaten, possibly next week, by the latest version of the hoary tale of the werewolf, Joe Johnston's 'The Wolfman.' But as popular as Travolta is to young-to-middle-age adult males and Tatum is to tweener-to-young-adult women, neither of their films will do the $25 million it will take to eclipse 'Avatar.'
But enough about Cameron and the noble Na'Vi (really, enough!). One can still look forward to a new experience, or an old one in a new guise, like Travolta playing tough. In 'From Paris With Love' he is Charlie Wax, a skunky-bald spy who unleashes his violent streak before the sweet-natured CIA greenhorn (Johnathan Rhys Meyers) he has come to Paris to help break up a crime ring.
Ever since launching his second career as a junkie assassin in the 1994 'Pulp Fiction,''fans have loved watching Travolta play tough guys. In last year's remake of the subway thriller 'The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,' he played the leader of a band of hijackers who take over a Manhattan subway and demand a ransom of $10 million for the passengers aboard. The movie opened to $23.4 million in business.
'Be Cool,' the 2005 sequel to 'Get Shorty,' in which Travolta played thug-turned-movie-maker Chili Palmer, had a nearly identical $23.5 million opening weekend. And 'Face/Off,' the John Woo action-thriller he did with Nicolas Cage, matched 'Pelham's' $23.4 million opening. The average of those three movies is, oh, let's see, $23.4 million.
Early reviews for 'From Paris With Love' have been mixed, but those critics were favorably disposed toward the displays of comic violence by Charlie Wax, and the movie certainly offers counter-programming to the more ethereal nature of the action in 'Avatar.' Still, I don't see 'From Paris' reaching far beyond $20 million.
'Dear John' offers an even greater departure from 'Avatar.' Adapted from a novel by tear-jerking author nonpareil Nicholas Sparks, this Lasse Hallstrom- directed picture stars Tatum as the titular addressee, a young soldier who falls in love while home on leave and then puts that love at risk by re-upping after 9/11 to fight in Iraq.
Amanda Seyfried (Sarah in TV's 'Big Love') is Savannah, the girl of John's dreams, and Henry Thomas is Jim, the man who would take John's place in Savannah's heart and prompt her to write the 'Dear John' letter no soldier ever wants to receive. Complications -- having to do with a father/son relationship, misunderstandings and some poorly-timed medical issues -- put John's love to the ultimate test.
The critics at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter hammered 'Dear John' in their early reviews, but both critics were men and 'Dear John' is an unabashed chick flick. Its producers include the team largely responsible for bringing the 'Twilight' books to the big screen and they apparently know what women want. Certainly, Sparks does; his heart-tugging romantic best sellers include 'Message in a Bottle,' 'A Walk to Remember,' 'Nights in Rodanthe,' and 'The Notebook,' all of which have been adapted as movies.
'The Notebook' enjoyed the biggest opening weekend of the previous four, with $13.5 million from 2,303 screens and it grossed $81 million. 'Dear John' is opening in about 200 more theaters and should do slightly better than 'Notebook,' maybe as much as $16 million, but I doubt it will have the legs of 'The Notebook.'
Besides 'Avatar,' Tuesday's announced Oscar nominations should boost ticket sales for 'Up in the Air,' which received six nominations, include biggies for Best Picture, Best Actors, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and two for Best Actress. It finished No. 12 on last weekend's box office chart, but it is still playing in more than 1,500 theaters and should move back into the Top 10 this weekend.
Lee Daniels' 'Precious' receive six nominations, most of them in prestige categories, and it, too, should see a big bump in ticket sales. As if 'The Blind Side' needed more help -- it has already grossed an astonishing $238 million -- its nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress for Sandra Bullock -- should push it back up into the Top 10, as well.
Sony Pictures Classics is taking 'An Education,' which received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Carey Mulligan) and Best Adapted Screenplay, to the bank by broadening its release to 800 theaters. 'Crazy Heart,' which has already won major acting awards for star Jeff Bridges, is also adding theaters after getting a bonus nomination for Maggie Gyllenhaal as Best Supporting Actress.
Multiple Oscar nominees 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'District 9' and 'Up' have finished their theatrical runs, though 'The Hurt Locker' is getting a second shot at about 100 theaters this weekend, and will look for their rewards in increased DVD sales.
Last weekend's second and third place films, 'Edge of Darkness' and 'When in Rome,' should drop at least 50 percent, which would mean a second weekend of about $8 million for 'Darkness' and $6 million for 'Rome.'