The first weekend of fall is about to arrive and that means the first official fall movies are lined up for release. An action thriller that feels like a holdover from summer, a self proclaimed epic with a nice dose of historical mystery, a flat-out romance and a novel adaptation in limited release. Yeah, sounds like fall.
Over the last couple of weeks, the number one weekend movie was a Coen brothers comedy and a tense cop thriller. One got rave critical notices and one got panned. There was only about $4 million separating their opening weekends. What may be more telling about fall movies is that both the number two and three movies this past weekend would have come in at four and five only a week earlier. Moreover, the two and three movies from that weekend fell to four and five this past weekend. And just to add one more bit of perspective, films that opened in the range of the last two weekends top three, during the summer would have been considered complete bombs. Duds. With just a brief glance over any movie studio's shoulder you can gain enormous understanding of the realities of blockbuster summer mentality and fall "awards" season.
The fact is, Hollywood studios wouldn't be staying in business without summer blockbusters (the top three films of the summer accounted for $1.2 billon in domestic box-office. When adding in the worldwide numbers, that figure will sore over the $3 billion mark.) And no one in Hollywood would maintain production through the rest of the year if it wasn't for the plethora of awards shows and holiday release weekends. With the Oscar countdown already underway (for a television ceremony that doesn't happen until nearly the end of February) every studio and a slew of independents will try to pull attention to their fall projects and stake out some Academy territory.
This weekend's mix splits things nicely down the center. Two of the weekend's films, Eagle Eye starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan from Dreamworks SKG and Nights in Rodanthe starring the reunion of Richard Gere and Diane Lane from Warner Bros. serve up mainstream concepts that would find audiences most of the year. The other two notable releases this weekend are the adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke starring Sam Rockwell (opening in limited release) and the long awaited Spike Lee helmed Miracle at St. Anna with a well respected ensemble cast. This later film has the chance to be the surprise of the weekend and should do well at the box-office, already garnering strong critical notices for story, acting and Lee's return to feature directing (his last major release being 2006's Inside Man with Clive Owen and Denzel Washington).
There's nothing really exciting here but you can expect to watch some interesting stories and that's perhaps the case for getting comfortable with the end of the summer event movies. Though Dreamworks would clearly like to generate some Transformers and Disturbia numbers with Eagle Eye, that one's clearly the high school date flick of the month and outside of young audiences, don't expect any critical buzz. Instead this is what we like to call sweater season at the movies. Pull on some comfortable jeans and your favorite cable knit, skip the soda and popcorn at the snack bar and grab a hot chocolate or a tall coffee (most theaters seem to be doing reasonably well with that these days) and settle in with a fall movie. It's just a slight shift of perspective, much like transitioning from green lawns to seeing the beauty of bare trees and piles of leaves on the streets. In just another weekend or two, you'll be acclimated to the new season and ready to see what Hollywood has waiting for you. You may even find something to root for in February.