2011 sees its first truly competitive weekend. Four pictures enter nationwide release: Just Go With It strikes approximately 4,900 screens at 3,548 locations, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never marches into north of 3,500 screens at 3,105 locations, Gnomeo and Juliet stands at 2,994 locations, and The Eagle invades 2,296 locations.
Just Go With It aims to replicate the success Adam Sandler had with 50 First Dates, his last Valentine's Day weekend release back in 2004. The idea is to appeal to Sandler's base but score with women as well with a romantic comedy premise and popular actress in tow (Jennifer Aniston in this case). In fact, both movies are set in Hawaii and have posters featuring their stars sitting side-by-side on a beach. 50 First Dates drew $39.9 million its first weekend or the equivalent of over $51 million adjusted for ticket price inflation, and Sandler has been remarkably consistent with his straight lowbrow comedies.
Both Sandler and Aniston appeared on the Super Bowl pre-game show, and, shortly before kick-off, Just Go With It had an ad targeting the stereotypical football fan: it was like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and featured an "instant replay" of the blonde (Brooklyn Decker) emerging from the ocean, a blast of Sandler slapstick and the tagline "Tell your girlfriend it's a romantic comedy." The rest of the ads conveyed the movie's premise of Sandler pretending to be married to Aniston in order to score with Decker, though the money shot has lately been Sandler taking it in the groin on a rickety bridge.
Justin Bieber has the opportunity to live up to the hype and cement his purported phenomenon status with his life story/3D concert movie, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Bieber's fan base of young girls may be inherently limited but the hope is that they're devoted and sufficient enough for Bieber to be more Hannah Montana ($31.1 million opening) than Jonas Brothers ($12.5 million opening). Bieber's hitting far more screens than either of those past February releases, and the launch will include 2,516 venues showing the movie in 3D. Bieber has had an omnipresent promotional tour, and the movie had a post-Super Bowl ad run during Glee. The marketing has focused more on the inspirational story of how Bieber became a sensation over the concert element. Even if Bieber were to come in second place for the weekend as a whole, it would not be surprising if it's No. 1 on Friday.
Gnomeo and Juliet marks the first family movie since Christmas, and it's the only movie of the weekend to sit out the Super Bowl festivities, though its ads have otherwise been in heavy rotation. It looks like Toy Story-light in its marketing with its premise of the secret lives of garden gnomes and comical riff on Shakespeare, but it comes off as too cloyingly one-note to reasonably expect animated 3D event-style grosses.
The Eagle brings up the rear, though it had two spots during the Super Bowl pre-game show. Period action has been the order of the day for this movie's marketing campaign, which had the burden of explaining the movie's title (it was originally called The Eagle of the Ninth, but the latter part was cut presumably to keep people from thinking of golf). Some ads had a strange horror angle in the vein of The 13th Warrior and Pathfinder, and that's not good company to be in. Eagle's murky Britain setting effectively makes it look like a Medieval movie, which is an unpopular sub-genre.
In Box Office Mojo's reader polling, Just Go With It boasted the most interest: 15.5 percent of respondents voted to see it on opening weekend. Among Sandler movies, its voting pattern was closest to You Don't Mess with the Zohan but with less interest, and its score was higher than He's Just Not That Into You and Couples Retreat.The Eagle logged a 7.4 percent opening weekend vote, which was worse than Season of the Witch and Pathfinder. Gnomeo and Juliet was relatively better, given its genre, notching a 6.3 percent opening weekend score. That was much better than Alpha and Omega and higher than Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Readers naturally showed the least amount of interest in Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Its 3.4 percent opening weekend score placed it in the same ran