At the movies: Who’s Expecting a Big Weekend? ‘Horton’! | NevadaAppeal.com
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At the movies: Who’s Expecting a Big Weekend? ‘Horton’!

Josh Friedman
Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — Even if nobody goes to see it at all, a movie is a movie no matter how small.

Of course, that won’t be an issue for 20th Century Fox’s “Horton Hears a Who!,” the latest big-budget comedy based on the classic children’s stories of Dr. Seuss. The G-rated animated film, whose voice cast includes Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Carol Burnett and Seth Rogen, opens Friday with an elephant-size weekend in store.

“Horton,” which goes ultra-wide at 3,954 theaters riding respectable reviews, easily will be No. 1 and could haul in ticket sales of $55 million or more.

“Doomsday” and “Never Back Down” also open Friday across the United States and Canada, but both action dramas appear headed for grosses in the mid- to high single digits.

“Horton,” computer animated by Fox’s Blue Sky Studios team, cost about $90 million to make, not counting the tens of millions in prints and advertising, so it represents a hefty gamble. Fortunately for Fox, its aggressive marketing campaign appears to be paying off.

Thursday’s consumer tracking surveys show that among people who say they are definitely heading to a multiplex this weekend, 35 percent call “Horton” their first choice. That’s on par with March 2006’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” which racked up $68 million.

Wary of losing the ever-dangerous expectations game, however, Fox executives are forecasting an opening weekend of $35 million. Last weekend’s top movie, Warner Bros.’ prehistoric epic “10,000 B.C.,” was deemed only moderately mammoth by certain cynical media types after it opened to $36 million.

In its marketing, Fox has played up “Horton’s” high-profile voice cast and the record of Blue Sky, maker of the two “Ice Age” pictures and “Robots.” Fox has been successful with animated movies in recent years, so “Horton” could add to that momentum if it clicks with family audiences.

The studio marketed and distributed last summer’s “The Simpsons Movie,” made by James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films, and December’s partly animated kiddie hit “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” Its Blue Sky team is at work on a third “Ice Age” picture, for summer 2009.

Carrey, who plays the gentle but plucky pachyderm in “Horton,” and his co-stars have been workin’ it on the TV talk-show circuit all week.

Carrey also just happened to be in the audience Wednesday night on Fox’s “American Idol” wearing an elephant suit. When host Ryan Seacrest asked about the shameless tie-in, Carrey said, “You like to point out the elephant in the room, don’tcha?”

In a colorful cross-promotion, the IHOP restaurant chain is offering, for a limited time, Seussian specials such as odd-shaped, lollipop-topped “Who cakes” and a green-eggs-and-ham scramble. (Insert cheap joke about IHOP’s regular menu.)

For Fox, the biggest challenge could be drumming up business overseas. Animated productions often generate 60 percent of their ticket sales outside the United States, but Seuss has been more of American phenomenon, at least on the big screen.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which also starred Carrey, grossed $345 million worldwide in 2000, but 75 percent of that business was domestic. “The Cat in the Hat,” starring Mike Myers, was far less successful in 2003, but it, too, snagged three-quarters of its theatrical revenue from the United States and Canada. Both were live action.

“Doomsday,” from Universal’s genre arm Rogue Pictures, and “Never Back Down,” from upstart studio Summit Entertainment, will duke it out for the action audience. But their distributors are focusing on different segments of it and hope the two movies don’t hurt each other too much.

Produced for $19 million, “Doomsday” is a hard-edged, apocalyptic thriller aimed at fans of such movies as “Land of the Dead” and “28 Days.” It has a low-profile cast and carries an R rating for “strong bloody violence” as well as language and sexual content.

“Never Back Down,” produced for about $20 million, is a PG-13 movie about a rebellious teenager (Sean Faris) who learns mixed martial arts from a wise veteran mentor (Djimon Hounsou) ” an inspirational action tale in the “Karate Kid” tradition.

Early reviews have been mixed.

Both “Never Back Down” and “Doomsday” are tracking well with males younger than 25. But its less restrictive rating should give “Never Back Down” the edge.