Weekend Box Office (February 18 - 21, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Moviegoers will have plenty of ways to honor Washington and Lincoln as a pair of action films and a comedy sequel hit multiplexes for the long Presidents' Day holiday frame which in recent years has become one of the busiest sessions of the year. Teens and young adults get the sci-fi action thriller I Am Number Four while older ticket buyers will be targeted by Liam Neeson's latest Unknown. For laughs, Martin Lawrence suits up for a third time in the comedy Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. After fourteen straight weekends of the box office falling from year-ago levels, the last eight of which were by double digit percentages, the industry will finally enjoy an up frame thanks to the holiday falling a week later on the calendar this year.

DreamWorks marks its first release with Disney with the sci-fi action pic I Am Number Four, an adaptation of the popular young adult novel published just last summer. The PG-13 film about an alien teen hiding on Earth and being hunted down by evildoers of his own species will certainly play to fans of the book and should overall connect with teens and young adults with its high school setting. No major stars headline the effects-driven film however the cast includes Alex Pettyfer who is a rising sex symbol and his real life girlfriend Dianna Agron who stars on the red hot teen series Glee. Though not big Hollywood names, these two should allow Four to excite its target demographic. Michael Bay's name is being used as the producer so that should help it reach the younger portion of the Transformers crowd.

For a science fiction film about aliens from outer space, Four packs a surprisingly high amount of female appeal thanks to the central romance of the story. It should have no problem attracting both genders and with this being a major school holiday weekend, the audience will have plenty of time to come out. A very aggressive release in 228 IMAX screens should add to the grosses and fans will be happy to sit through a nice action film without being hit with extra surcharges for 3D that gives no payoff. And with no major sci-fi or effects flicks out right now, competition will not be tough. I Am Number Four invades over 3,000 theaters and could take in about $31M over the four-day Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend.

Warner Bros. targets action fans far removed from their high school years with the Liam Neeson crime thriller Unknown which hopes to connect with many of the same people who came out for his 2009 sleeper smash Taken. Swapping Paris for Berlin, the PG-13 identity theft pic will play to a mature adult crowd and should take advantage of some of the good will the actor scored from his recent hit. The studio has been marketing Unknown as if it were another helping of Taken, almost as if it were another adventure for the same character like with the Jason Bourne series. That's probably the best way to go to maximize box office.

Given all the youth-oriented films and comedies that currently rule the charts, mature adults have mostly been getting their entertainment these last few weeks from Oscar-nominated dramas. So the timing is good for a popcorn film that can appeal to both genders while also having some prestige from an actor like Neeson. Hunting down audiences in over 3,000 theaters, Unknown could gross about $22M over four days.

Martin Lawrence returns for his third tour of duty in a fat suit with the comedy sequel Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. The PG-13 film co-stars Brandon T. Jackson who has popped up in supporting roles in recent films like Tropic Thunder, The Tooth Fairy, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians which debuted over last year's Presidents' Day frame. Mommas, which finds Lawrence going back undercover this time to protect his son who witnessed a crime, seems to be one of those sequels that nobody asked for and as such should not be a big force at the box office.

In 2000, Big Momma's House became a summer comedy hit with its $25.7M debut leading to a $117.6M final. Its 2006 sequel opened a bit higher with $27.7M but finished with $70.2M during its winter run. With a half-decade now passing, interest in the franchise has faded and Lawrence's drawing power is not what it used to be, especially without other big stars around him. Fox is hoping Jackson can bring in some teens. Competition will come from Adam Sandler's Just Go With It which is the major broad comedy selling tickets right now. Landing in over 2,900 theaters, Big Mommas could take in about $16M over the four-day session.

Last weekend, Gnomeo & Juliet became a surprise hit with its $25.4M debut and is now on course to probably break $100M. Disney's 3D toon has been faring well during the week and the long holiday frame should deliver another stellar figure thanks to a trio of PG-13 newcomers that will provide little direct competition. Look for the four-day figure for the G-rated pic to rise from last weekend's three-day bow to about $28M giving Gnomeo a muscular $59M in 11 days.

Adam Sandler films usually fall hard on the second weekend and his latest Just Go With It will be no exception. However, the Monday holiday will cushion the blow a bit so a four-day tally of $21M may result boosting the 11-day cume to $64M for Sony. Paramount's hit doc Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is sure to tumble on the sophomore frame despite the holiday. A $13M take would give the singing sensation about $48M after 11 days.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the box office chart for the Oscar Nominee Grosses. For a NEW DVD review of Alice in Wonderland - 60th Anniversary, visit The Chief Report.

LAST YEAR With Presidents' Day falling a week earlier on the calendar, ticket sales tumbled from the prior frame but Martin Scorsese scored a big hit with Shutter Island which bowed to $41.1M for Paramount. The psychological thriller went on to gross $128M domestically and $295M worldwide giving Leonardo DiCaprio the first of two big winners in 2010. Inception would debut five months later. Holdovers followed with Valentine's Day plummeting 70% to $16.7M, Avatar right behind with $16.2M, Percy Jackson making $15.3M, and The Wolfman rounding out the top five with $9.9M.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:


Last Updated: February 17, 2011 at 10:30AM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.