Weekend Movie Guide: Will Audiences Take the Bait for Super 8?

Two weeks after Memorial Day weekend and three weeks before Fourth of July weekend is not the time for big movie releases. This weekend will host nationwide releases for only two big studio films, the first of which is Super 8, a sci-fi period piece produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by J.J. Abrams.

Super 8 only cost $50 million to produce, a great deal less than most big studio films slated for summer release, which are often parts of large franchises or employ all-star casts. But because of Super 8‘s relatively small price tag, producers aren’t worried about competing with big blockbusters like the third Transformers film or superhero films like Green Lantern and Captain America, all set for release later this summer. Super 8 may even be unable to outsell X-Men: First Class or The Hangover Part II, films that are entering their second and third weekends at the box office, respectively. But despite its low-scale production and relatively unknown cast, Super 8 finds itself in the unique position to be a great success.

It wouldn’t be right to expect Super 8 to pull in Avatar or Star Trek kind of money — it doesn’t have the visually stunning quality of the first or the dedicated fan base of the second — but it’s also much easier to turn a profit when you don’t sink hundreds of millions of dollars into the production of a film. Until recently, the trailers for the film have been enigmatic, and still remain relatively mysterious as a 1979 train crash releases an unknown but clearly menacing entity upon a small town. With so much mystery surrounding the film’s baddie, it could have been the next Cloverfield (if you’re unfamiliar with the film, that is not a desirable comparison to have made), but critics have praised the film and Abrams for taking on such an un-Hollywood project (that’s a huge compliment given current industry standards), making it more likely that Super 8 will be the next Paranormal Activity.

While Super 8 cost significantly more than the measly $15,000 spent on Paranormal Activity, producers would likely be happy with the $108 million domestic gross the film experienced after gaining wide release in 760 theaters, only a fraction of the 3,379 theaters Super 8 will open to. The two films already have a lot in common; they each deal with stories outside the realm of our present reality, they’re both mystery thrillers, and perhaps most importantly, they share the same production company, Paramount (NYSE:VIA), which has proven itself capable of handling a marketing campaign. So far, Paramount has teamed up with Twitter to host paid previews of Super 8 at 329 locations on Thursday and held free sneak peeks in 11 cities in partnership with key websites on Wednesday. But Paramount says the film doesn’t need a big opening and is expecting $25-30 million opening weekend.

The only other big release this weekend is Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, the title of which alone should tell you its key demographic falls somewhere in the 7-12 age range. There’s really nothing else to be said for the film. Continuing this weekend will be recent blockbusters The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and last weekend’s X-Men:First Class. And to end on a high note, Woody Allen fans not living in sprawling urban areas will have a chance to see his new film, Midnight in Paris, as Sony Pictures Classics (NYSE:SNE) takes the film to 944 theaters nationwide. The film opened in only six theaters on May 20, expanding to 147 theaters last weekend and grossing $7.76 million to date, giving it a per-theater average take of $52,756, just short of The Hangover‘s $53,573 per theater after being released in 3,644 theaters nationwide.

Super 8 is being distributed by Paramount, a subsidiary of Viacom (NYSE:VIA), Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is being distributed by Columbia Pictures (NYSE:SNE), X-Men: First Class is being distributed by 20th Century Fox (NASDAQ:NWS), The Hangover Part II is being distributed by Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX), and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is being distributed by Walt Disney Studios (NYSE:DIS).