Cruise & Co. duke it out with Hobbits, wizards

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Looking for the big brass ring of their own this holiday movie season, Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Jim Carrey look to do battle with New Line Cinema's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" in the next several weeks.

Hollywood Stock Exchange's HSX Research is estimating "Lord of the Rings" will get near the Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" record of $93 million on its opening day weekend. At press time, HSX said the movie is on course to pull in $85 million-which would make it the second best theatrical debut for a movie in history.

Unlike "Potter," who's best demographics were the under-25 crowd, "Rings" top demos are men over 25, according to HSX. Its poorest demos are females under 25. Typically, big hit movies need to grab young audiences, the most plentiful and frequent movie-going customers. Still, Brian Dearth, CEO of Hollywood Stock Exchange, said these are just percentages-actual numbers of audience groups are very high in comparison to other big wide-release movies.

"Lord of the Rings" will go up against big branded male actor movies. Perhaps the starkest example of this is Paramount Pictures' "Vanilla Sky" with Tom Cruise. The poster and outdoor creative for the campaign simply feature a serious-looking Mr. Cruise on a background of clouds. There is no copy other than the movie title.

"The problem with this movie is that you don't know what it's about," said one movie marketing consultant.

That may not matter, according to movie marketing executives. The advertising creative says to consumers, "this is a Tom Cruise movie-it really doesn't make a difference what it is about. Go see it," said one.

Still, executives say there is nothing wrong with that approach. The marketing simplifies a complicated plot. So far HSX says its "intention" data-consumers intending on seeing the movie-show that females post a 15.4 score in this area and males 12.9.

Warner Bros.' "The Majestic" has a more even appeal among men and women (12.8 to 12.9, according to HSX). The movie is another serious turn for funnyman Mr. Carrey, a la "The Truman Show" which posted good box office results. Right now, HSX predicts a $25.7 million opening weekend.

An outdoor marketing campaign features a retro-1940s artist rendering of Mr. Carrey, making it look like an old stone lithograph. The movie features Mr. Carrey as a man who was blacklisted from Hollywood in the 1950s. On his way out of town, his character ends up in a major car accident that leaves him with amnesia.

Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Ali" also posts big numbers. Right now, HSX predicts a healthy $34 million opening weekend. Initially the campaign cover line was simply "Will Smith is Muhammad Ali."

Big bio movies don't usually need much explanation-most people know the story, which is what can limit interest. Perhaps that's why Sony is now offering the tag line "Forget what you think you know."

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