Depending on how Jack the Giant Slayer (3,525 theatres) opens today, the first of March, the box office may come in like a lion, and out like a lamb. Usually mid-March holds at least one blockbuster, like Alice in Wonderland--but it's also a prime place to put an extremely expensive flop and hope for the best (see: John Carter). Originally scheduled for release during the busy summer season, Jack switched to March but didn't get a reprieve from a crowded slate: Another special-effects fantasy, Oz the Great and Powerful, will release next Friday. Forecasts predict that Jack will have a difficult time going above $30 million. "Kids won't be all that impressed by an adventure that recycles so much material from other movies," FJI critic Daniel Eagan assesses, though "3D and some extended battle sequences" will at least give it mileage among some audiences.
Following in the storied path paved by American Pie and last year's Project X, 21 and Over (2,771 theatres) dangles a risque, R-rated comedy in front of young viewers. The writers of The Hangover, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, "who also wound up directing," THR's David Guzman says scathingly, apply the 'one crazy night' format to a guy's 21st birthday, to mostly "dull" results. Even with eager audiences in younger demographics, the comedy will likely open in the teen millions.
Specialty-seeking audiences looking for a new carrot to nibble on can check out Stoker (7 theatres), which comes from Korean auteur Park Chan-wook making his first English-language feature. The "dreamy, claustrophobic thriller," as described by critic Maitland McDonagh, has a Southern gothic feel and includes a widow (Nicole Kidman), her remote daughter (Mia Wasikowska) and their just-a-touch creepy uncle (Matthew Goode). Things do not end well. Chan-Wook's visual splendor is in full display, and although you may not like the movie, it's not a waste of time either.
With an oxymoron in the title, people are right to be a bit suspicious of The Last Exorcism Part II (2,700 theatres). The sequel to the hit found-footage film is "soporific," with not enough "genuinely creepy" moments to balance out the anticlimactic ones, according to THR's Frank Scheck. The horror follow-up should end up somewhere below 21 and Over.
Appearing out of nowhere yet releasing in over 2,000 theatres, Phantom is in the vein of Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October and K-19: The Widowmaker. Apparently, it might be better to catch one of those than to go out to the theatres for this. Phantom "harks back to a genre long gone and probably better forgotten," remarks critic Shirley Sealy. Ed Harris and David Duchovony play Russians, without much in the way of an accent, which subtracted credibility from the enterprise.
On Monday, we'll see if Jack the Giant Slayer was able to defy expectations and eke out an opening over $30 million, and if the other releases were able to gain some traction in what looks like a much slower weekend than last year.