Universal Pictures' "Leatherheads," the George Clooney-Renee Zellweger movie about the nascent days of professional football, tries to re-create the madcap flair of 1930s-era screwball comedies.
Walden Media and 20th Century Fox's "Nim's Island," starring Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler and a small menagerie of exotic animals, is a throwback as well, to a wide-eyed adventure in the spirit of "Swiss Family Robinson."
Today's two major new releases will compete this weekend at the box office for a hallowed Hollywood tradition of another sort: bragging rights.
In the fight for No. 1, star power should give Projector look-alike Clooney a slim edge. Look for "Leatherheads" to open with around $16 million in ticket sales, with "Nim's" and last weekend's leader, the blackjack thriller "21" from Sony Pictures, in a tight finish for second at around $13 million apiece.
Consumer tracking surveys indicate that "Leatherheads" could reach $20 million in its first three days, but overall moviegoing has been soft in recent weeks and the core audience for the film, adults ages 25 and up, can be reluctant to rush to the multiplex to catch anything on the first weekend.
Universal has been selling the PG-13-rated "Leatherheads," which cost $58 million to produce, as a marriage of sports comedy and romantic comedy.
Billboards feature a scowling, black-eyed Clooney and his mud-soaked teammates, including co-star John Krasinski from "The Office." Trailers and TV spots play up the football-field slapstick bits that could help pull in younger patrons.
The marketing also teases the romantic-rivalry story line and the old-fashioned sassy banter. In the trailer, Clooney, as team captain Dodge Connolly, tells Zellweger's cub reporter character, Lexie Littleton: "You're the kind of cocktail that comes on like sugar but gives you a kick in the head."
Clooney, who also directed and helped produce the picture, has been an enthusiastic promoter, as usual.
He and Zellweger went on a whistle-stop tour last week to talk up the movie in such smaller markets as Duluth, Minn.; Maysville, Ky.; Salisbury, N.C.; and Greenville, S.C. The markets all have some tie to the movie or cast -- one of the teams is based in Duluth, and Clooney's real-life father and aunt Rosemary Clooney were born in Maysville.
The PG-rated "Nim's Island," which cost about $37 million to produce, is aimed mainly at moms and 7- to 12-year-old girls but should appeal to other women who are fans of Foster and Butler, best known as the Spartan beefcake King Leonidas in "300."
To address the movie's potential boy problem (as in, "Boy, I'd rather eat a plate full of Brussels sprouts than watch a movie about some girl"), the Fox Walden marketing team has been highlighting the adventure scenes and the creatures including lizards, sea lions and pelicans.
Those elements, and the humor involving Foster's reclusive author character and the hero of her books, a wisecracking, Indiana Jones type played by Butler, should broaden the appeal beyond young girls, said Cary Granat, co-chief executive of Walden Media.
The story centers on Nim, who lives with her dad on a remote island. When her father goes missing, a twist of fate brings her together with her favorite writer. They must draw courage from the hero and, of course, each other to conquer the island and save the day.
Projector is getting verklempt just thinking about it.
Walden, which specializes in family-oriented entertainment, has enjoyed big success with "The Chronicles of Narnia" franchise at Walt Disney Co., but has had mixed results with Fox and other studios. Two Fox Walden projects flopped last year, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" and "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising."
Granat said he hoped "Nim's" can open with a top-three finish this weekend and ride word of mouth to a solid run in the coming weeks, like that seen with "Holes," "Bridge to Terabithia" and, most notably, its 2006 version of "Charlotte's Web." That one launched to $11.5 million and went on to gross $83 million domestically, or about seven times its opening weekend.
"Once we get open we can stay open for a long time," he said.
"The Ruins," an R-rated horror movie co-financed by DreamWorks Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment at a production cost of $25 million, also opens wide today.
Shockingly, considering the current trend, it is not a remake of an Asian thriller. Instead, the movie is based on a bestselling novel by Scott B. Smith, author and screenwriter of the 1998 crime thriller "A Simple Plan," one of Projector's personal favorites.
The movie, whose low-profile cast includes Jena Malone from "Into the Wild," is about a group of friends whose Mexican holiday goes awry when they embark on an archaeological dig in the jungle, where something evil lives among the ruins.
The core audience for the movie, which DreamWorks/Paramount is distributing, will be 18- to 24-year-olds. Tracking points to an opening of about $8 million, though horror flicks often scare up more business than expected.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun