"42," the Jackie Robinson biopic that opens nationwide Friday, has a good shot at posting the biggest box-office debut ever for a baseball movie. It will have to hit $20 million over the three days to do it – something no baseball movie has ever done – but the timing could hardly be better.
The season just started, and Monday marks the anniversary of Robinson's breaking of baseball's color barrier in 1947, which the film details. To mark the date, as they have since 2004, every player on every Major League team will wear the number that Robinson (photo, right) wore for the Brookyln Dodgers: 42, from which the film draws its title. Even First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a screening and invited the cast and crew to the White House last week.
"42" won't have a lot of competition. The week's only other wide opener is the horror spoof "Scary Movie 5" from the Weinstein Company. Last week's No. 1 film, "Evil Dead," is expected to take a serious second-week tumble, as most horror movies do. So the weekend looks like it will be a battle between "42" and "Scary Movie 5," with the baseball movie having a slight edge, analysts say.
Tracking and social media notices for "42' are outstripping those of Brad Pitt's "Moneyball," which debuted with $19.5 million in 2011. That film is No. 2 on the list of best baseball movie openings, just behind "Benchwarmers," the 2006 comedy starring Rob Schneider, David Spade and Jon Heder, which debuted with $19.6 million.
The fact is, baseball movies aren't big moneymakers at the box office. The last one to be released, Clint Eastwood's "Trouble With the Curve," opened to just $12 million last September. The most any has brought in overall is the $107 million domestic total that "A League of Their Own" managed in 1992. And they don't play overseas; the $34 million "Moneyball" took in abroad is by far the most ever.
Also read: The Jackie Robinson You Won't See in '42'
That said, Legendary Pictures and distributor Warner Bros. could have a sleeper on their hands with "42," a passion project of Legendary chief executive Thomas Tull, who produces. It's written and directed by Bruce Helgeland, the veteran writer behind "L.A. Confidential," and "Mystic River." Chadwick Boseman stars as Robinson, and Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive who signed him.
Warner Bros. could use a hit. All five of its 2013 releases -- "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," "Jack the Giant Slayer," "Gangster Squad," "Beautiful Creatures" and "Bullet to the Head" -- have disappointed at the box office.
The presence of Ford – who hasn't been seen on screen since 2011's "Cowboys and Aliens" – could be significant if the film is to play beyond its target audiences, which are baseball fans and African Americans. Boseman turns in a solid performance, most critics say, but he's a relative unknown.
"A bigger name might have helped it, but I don't think it will make that much of a difference," Phil Contrino, editor-in-chief at BoxOffice.com told TheWrap. "At the end of the day, this is an inspiring movie about an American icon that is going to leave people feeling good when they come out of the theaters."
The critics think it's pretty good. Sixty-eight percent of the notices at Movie Review Intelligence are positive. At Rotten Tomatoes, which is owned by Warner Bros., 75 percent of the reviews are positive.
Warner Bros. will have the PG-13-rated "42," which has a production budget in the $40 million range, in 3,003 theaters.
"Scary Movie 5" is the first entry in the franchise since 2006. It could have a tough time matching the numbers put up by the earlier films, which all opened above $20 million – with three above $40 million – and averaged a $107 million overall.
Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen are in this one, but franchise regulars Anna Farris, Regina King and Marlon Wayans are not. Wayans was in "Haunted House," Open Road's horror spoof that debuted with $18 million in January, and we'll find out if that cuts into the "Scary Movie 5" crowd.
The critics don't have opinions because Weinstein hasn't screened it. But the target audience for the PG-13-rated "Scary Movie 5" -- teenagers -- shouldn't mind.
David Zuckker produced the film, which cost less than $20 million to produce, and co-wrote with Pat Profit. Malcolm D. Lee directs.
The Weinstein Company will have PG-13-rated film in around 3,402 theaters.