This Day in Movie History: January 31

17 years ago Today in Movie History – January 31 – the rerelease of Star Wars twenty years after its initial run shocked box office watchers with an astonishing $35.9 million opening. Its domestic total would reach $138 million to bring its total to $460 million overall. The original trilogy would all have special editions in the spring of 1997 and would occupy the #1 slot for six out of seven weeks.

As for birthdays, Kerry Washington is 37 today. She may be best known as the lead on the hit ABC drama “Scandal” but she captured moviegoers attention in 2012 as Jamie Foxx’s love interest in Django Unchained. Other notables film appearances include another go-round with Foxx in Ray, Fantastic Four and its sequel, and The Last King of Scotland.

Justin Timberlake is 33 today. Obviously, he’s known most as the current King of Pop, but he’s has some successes with his film career. This includes playing Napster founder Sean Parker in The Social Network and comedies Bad Teacher and Friends with Benefits. Other notable pictures include Black Snake Moan, In Time, and Inside Llewyn Davis.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between Ms. Washington and Mr. Timberlake:

Kerry Washington was in Django Unchained with Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx was in Any Given Sunday with Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz was in Bad Teacher with Justin Timberlake

And that’s today – January 31 – in Movie History!

This Day in Movie History: January 30

Five years ago Today in Movie History – January 30 – Taken became a surprise box office smash in the U.S. with a terrific $24.7 million opening weekend on its way to a $145 million domestic gross. Building from its very effective trailer, Taken transitioned star Liam Neeson to a legitimate action hero. A sequel would follow in 2012 and a third is already in the planning stages.

As for birthdays, Gene Hackman is 84 today. He’s been nominated for five Academy Awards and won two – for Best Actor in 1971 for The French Connection and Supporting Actor in 1992 for Unforgiven. The other nominations: Bonnie & Clyde, I Never Sang for My Father, and Mississippi Burning. Mr. Hackman appeared in many notable pictures throughout his storied career before his retirement from acting in 2004. They include Downhill Racer, The Poseidon Adventure, The Conversation, Young Frankenstein, as Lex Luthor in the Superman franchise, Reds, Under Fire, Hoosiers, No Way Out, The Firm, Crimson Tide, Get Shorty, The Birdcage, Enemy of the State, and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Christian Bale is 40 today. Of course, he’s best known as the Caped Crusader/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. He got his start as a teenager headlining Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. His recent work with director David O. Russell resulted in a Supporting Actor Oscar win for The Fighter and a nomination for Best Actor just last week for American Hustle. And there’s his now iconic role in the 2000 cult classic American Psycho. Other noteworthy films: Shaft, The Machinist, The Prestige, 3:10 to Yuma, Terminator Salvation, Public Enemies, and Out of the Furnace.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between these two fantastic actors:

Gene Hackman was in Unforgiven with Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman was in Batman Begins with Christian Bale

And that’s today – January 30 – in Movie History!

This Day in Movie History: January 29

15 years ago Today in Movie History – January 29 – She’s All That surprised box office prognosticators with a big #1 opening at $16 million on its way to a $56 million domestic haul. Starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook, the pic seemingly came out of nowhere but expertly appealed to its target audience and reaped the benefits. Costars included music stars Usher and Lil Kim, as well as Anna Paquin, Gabrielle Union, and the late Paul Walker.

As for birthdays, Oprah Winfrey is 60 today. Most of her fame comes from outside the silver screen, including having the most popular daytime talk show in history, starting her own network, and becoming a billionaire. However, she first rose to fame in Steven Spielberg’s commercial and critical hit drama The Color Purple, for which she earned a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Shortly after, her show would start and she wouldn’t venture into film for 13 years with Jonathan Demme’s commercially disappointing Beloved in 1998. It would be 15 more years for another Oprah appearance and her role as Forest Whitaker’s wife in last year’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler got her back into blockbuster territory. Many expected her to receive an Oscar nomination for her work in Butler, but it didn’t happen.

Heather Graham is 44 today. She first broke through in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 critical favorite Drugstore Cowboy. In 1997, she had a memorable role as “Roller Girl” in Boogie Nights and she’d go on to work with Mike Myers in his sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Further box office success would follow years later with The Hangover. Other notable films: Scream 2, Two Girls and a Guy, Bowfinger, From Hell, and Anger Management.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between the actresses:

Oprah Winfrey was in The Color Purple with Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg was in Soapdish with Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. was in Two Girls and a Guy with Heather Graham

And that’s today – January 29 – in Movie History!

This Day in Movie History: January 28

Nine years ago Today in Movie History – January 28 – the horror thriller Hide and Seek topped the box office with a robust $21.9 million opening weekend. Starring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, and Famke Janssen, Seek capped off a nice run for Mr. De Niro in late 2004/early 2005. Just weeks before, his sequel Meet the Fockers was #1 for three weeks. Hide and Seek received a critical drubbing with only 13% on Rotten Tomatoes yet it managed a $51 million domestic gross.

As for birthdays, veteran TV and film actor Alan Alda in 78 today. Known to many as Hawkeye from TV’s “MASH” and Senator Vinick from “The West Wing”, Alda has had a nice filmography as well. A favorite of Woody Allen, the actor appeared in his pictures Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Everyone Says I Love You. Alda received an Oscar nomination in 2004 for his work in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Other notable recent movies include What Women Want and Tower Heist.

Elijah Wood is 33 today. Starting out as a child actor, Wood appeared in Radio Flyer, Forever Young, The Adventures of Huck Finn, The Good Son, and Flipper. He was cast as Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s wildly successful Lord of the Rings franchise. Other notables pictures: The Ice Storm, Deep Impact, The Faculty, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Sin City.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between them:

Alan Alda was in What Women Want with Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson was in Forever Young with Elijah Wood

And that’s today – January 28th in Movie History!

This Day in Movie History: January 27

Eight years ago Today in Movie History – as if you didn’t know – Martin Lawrence returned in Big Momma’s House 2, which easily topped the box office chart with a $27.7 million premiere. The sequel would end up with $70M domestic. It did not reach the heights of its 2000 predecessor which took in $117 million, but that didn’t prevent a third Momma helping in 2011 which managed only $37 million stateside. Lawrence’s creation predated Madea but was clearly influenced by Eddie Murphy’s success in The Nutty Professor which had opened a few years before.

As for birthdays, Alan Cumming is 49 today. Many may know him for his role on TV’s “The Good Wife”, but comic book fans know him as Nightcrawler in X2: X-Men United. Other notable appearances: GoldenEye, Eyes Wide Shut, and the Spy Kids and Smurfs franchises.

Rosamund Pike is 35 today. She also costarred in a Pierce Brosnan Bond film, 2002’s Die Another Day. Since then she’s appeared in Pride&Prejudice, An Education, Wrath of the Titans, Jack Reacher, and The World’s End. Ms. Pike will become much more high-profile when she costars alongside Ben Affleck in this fall’s eagerly awaited David Fincher thriller Gone Girl.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between them – well, they both were in Bond films with Pierce Brosnan. And Cumming was in Eyes Wide Shut with Tom Cruise who was in Jack Reacher with Pike.

And that’s today – January 27 – in Movie History!

Box Office Predictions: January 31-February 2

It’s very early in the year but this upcoming weekend at the box office is a good candidate for one of the dullest we’ll see all year. The Zac Efron comedy That Awkward Moment and Kate Winslet/Josh Brolin drama Labor Day are the only debuts and neither seems to be garnering much excitement. You can find my individual prediction posts on each here:

If neither of those titles breaks out above double digits, the chance are high that the Kevin Hart/Ice Cube comedy Ride Along could top the box office for the third week in a row. There is, however, another factor. Disney’s megahit Frozen is expanding its theater count with a sing-along version of the film and that just might cause it to see an increase from this past weekend. I’m predicting it’ll be extremely close between those holdovers for #1 in a weekend sure to overshadowed by a certain football game capturing the nation’s attention.

With that, my predictions for the weekend’s top five:

1. Ride Along

Predicted Gross: $11.3 million (representing a drop of 47%)

2. Frozen

Predicted Gross: $10.7 million (representing an increase of 19%)

3. Labor Day

Predicted Gross: $8.8 million

4. That Awkward Moment

Predicted Gross: $8 million

5. The Nut Job

Predicted Gross: $7.5 million (representing a drop of 36%)

BOX OFFICE RESULTS FROM LAST WEEKEND: I correctly called Ride Along being #1 for its second weekend and it made $21.2 million, just below my $22.7M prediction. However, I was off with my I, Frankenstein estimate. The critically reviled pic bombed badly with only $8.6 million for a sixth place showing. I gave it way too much credit and said it’d be #2 with $16.6M. Oops. Lone Survivor was second with $12.9 million (in line with my $13.6M prediction) and The Nut Job was third with $12.9 million (in line with my $12.1M prediction). Once again, I made the mistake of leaving Frozen out of the top five. It was fourth with $9.1 million. This left Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at fifth in its second weekend with $9 million – on pace with my $9.5M estimate.

That’s all for now! I’ll have updates on the blog’s Facebook page Saturday with final predictions and results Monday.

This Day in Movie History: January 26

On This Day in Movie History – January 26 – twenty four years ago, Driving Miss Daisy reached number one at the domestic box office. Bruce Beresford’s drama spanning the decades long relationship between an elderly widowed Georgia woman (Jessica Tandy) and her driver (Morgan Freeman) struck a major chord with audiences and grossed $106 million stateside. Additionally, Academy voters would honor it with Best Picture and Actress for Tandy. Interestingly, Daisy would be the rare movie to win the top Oscar prize without its director even being nominated. That wouldn’t occur again for 22 years when Argo won the award with director Ben Affleck not being recognized.

As for birthdays, today would have marked the 89th birthday of Paul Newman. The iconic star was nominated for ten Oscars yet won just once for 1986’s The Color of Money. In that picture, he reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson that he made famous in 1961’s The Hustler. Among his many notable pictures: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Towering Inferno, Slap Shot, The Verdict, Nobody’s Fool, Road to Perdition, and Pixar’s Cars. Newman passed away in 2008.

Scott Glenn turns 73 today. The great character actor has appeared in many high-profile pictures working with Robert Altman in Nashville, Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now, and Oliver Stone in W. He appeared as astronaut Alan Shephard in The Right Stuff and costarred in Urban Cowboy, The Hunt for Red October, The Silence of the Lambs, Backdraft, Courage Under Fire, and the last two features in the Bourne franchise.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between Mr. Newman and Mr. Glenn:

Paul Newman was in Message in a Bottle with Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner was in Silverado with Scott Glenn

And that’s today – January 26 – in Movie History!

Labor Day Box Office Prediction

After it played the film festival circuit last fall it became clear Jason Reitman’s Labor Day was not going to be the awards contender the studio hoped for. Starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, the pic generated mostly positive but unspectacular reviews. It was given a late qualifying limited run for Oscar consideration and ignored.

Director Reitman is mostly known for comedic dramas like Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult. This one is on the more serious side and Paramount is hoping the romantic plot between its stars will bring females out. Labor Day may follow in the direction of another Winslet drama that the Academy mostly ignored five years ago – Revolutionary Road. That title only managed $22 million domestically in its entire run. And it had Kate’s Titanic costar Leonardo DiCaprio in it.

Labor Day is opening on over half as many screens as Road did so its opening weekend should top the $5 million that it managed. However, passing double digits seems unlikely to me though it should come close.

Labor Day opening weekend prediction: $8.8 million

For my prediction on That Awkward Moment, click here:

That Awkward Moment Box Office Prediction

And so begins one of the more dull weekends of the year historically at the box office and 2014 seems no different. While moviegoers may catch up on some January leftovers or Oscar hopefuls, audience attention will likely be focused on another activity: the Denver Broncos vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

This leaves only two modest openings which aren’t expected to rustle up much business. First off is That Awkward Moment, an R-rated rom com headlined by Zac Efron, Fruitvale Station‘s Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller. The film’s marketing campaign has been rather muted and that indicates a dearth of confidence from Focus Features.

That Awkward Moment stands a chance at a double digit premiere, but I think it’ll be lucky to reach the $8.7 million opening that 21&Over (a similarly themed title) reached in March 2013. I think Moment falls just under that.

That Awkward Moment opening weekend prediction: $8 million

For my prediction on Labor Day, click here:

The History and Future of Late Night Talk Shows

On February 17, Jimmy Fallon will take over “The Tonight Show” chair that Jay Leno has held for two decades. Prior to that, Johnny Carson held the post for 30 years and set up the template for all who followed him. While 99% of my material on this blog has been focused on film, I have held a long fascination with the late night “TV wars” that has produced some serious high drama in the past.

When Johnny Carson announced his retirement in 1991, there was one question that leapt to the minds of TV watchers: Dave or Jay? That would be, of course, be David Letterman or Jay Leno. You see, Letterman had hosted the “Late Night” program that followed Johnny for nearly a decade when the King of Late Night announced he would be stepping down. Letterman grew up idolizing Johnny and many saw him as the heir apparent upon the King’s retirement. As much as Carson had set the example for all future hosts, Letterman would bring in his own ironic and self depreciating sense of humor that has been an undeniable influence on many others. For example, current ABC 11:30 host Jimmy Kimmel has made no secret of the fact that he worshipped Dave as a teen. And the influence of Letterman on Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien is stronger than the influence of Johnny.

There was one thing preventing Letterman from obtaining the keys to the kingdom: Jay Leno. Both Letterman and Leno became known to the masses when they debuted their stand-up routines on Carson’s show in the 1970s. Leno would eventually become Johnny’s guest host when he was on vacation (which was frequently). And Leno’s time guest hosting went over well with audiences and with the NBC brass tasked with naming Carson’s successor. It should also be noted Leno was considered more of a “team player” than Letterman, who had a prickly relationship with network executives.

The decision was handed down that Jay Leno would become host of “The Tonight Show”. This did not sit well with Dave. Nor did it sit well with Johnny Carson, who did see Dave as his natural replacement. In May of 1992, Leno would taking over hosting duties while leaving Letterman to plot about his future. He would receive offers from ABC, CBS, Fox, and the syndicators but would ultimately choose CBS. In August of 1993, “The Late Show with David Letterman” premiered. He would defeat Leno soundly for two years until the summer of 1995 when Hugh Grant, fresh off a prostitution scandal, did Jay’s show. “The Tonight Show” would beat Letterman that night and for the next two decades. The Leno/Letterman feud was so well-publicized that a bestselling book by NY Times writer Bill Carter was released in addition to an HBO movie The Late Shift based on it.

Letterman’s departure created the need for NBC to fills its 12:30 slot. Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live” fame was named executive producer of the program and he would turn to one of that show’s writers to host. Conan O’Brien was a complete unknown to the public when “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” was born. The show would debut to critical scorn and audience ambivalence. After a couple of years, Conan found his groove and the program became a hit.

As years went by, speculation mounted that Conan might jump at the opportunity for an earlier time slot on perhaps Fox or ABC. NBC didn’t want to let him go. In 2004, a deal was stuck with Leno where he would leave “The Tonight Show” five years later and O’Brien would become host. Jokes were made about the arrangement… five years later? That’s, like, forever! Then a funny thing happened. Leno continued his ratings lead over Letterman. NBC was making tons of money from the show with Jay at the helm. However, a deal (and the significant money involved) had already been signed. NBC would announce that Jay would host a nightly prime-time 10PM show that, well, was pretty much “The Tonight Show” an hour and a half earlier.

This would provide the background for one of the biggest television debacles of all time. Bill Carter would write another book about this whole fiasco. When Conan became the show’s host in May 2009, he would fall behind to Letterman (something Jay hadn’t experienced in 14 years). To add insult to injury, Jay at 10 o’clock was a ratings disaster and it couldn’t come close to competing with the network dramas that the other three networks were putting against it. Within months, Conan was out and Jay was back in. Questions abounded as to whether Leno would resume his lead over Dave. He did and it was almost as if the whole sordid Jay/Conan saga had never occurred.

The saga did, of course, create yet another opening for a “Late Night” host on NBC at 12:30 when Conan did leave to serve his ill-fated stint on “Tonight”. Once again Lorne Michaels would turn to an SNL alum and a much more famous one – Jimmy Fallon. He had served as a popular cast member on the show before leaving for an unsuccessful film career. By 2009, he was ready for his late night gig. After a shaky start, Jimmy found his groove too. And the same whisperings about Conan leaving for a better time slot that had caused Conan to take over were heard about Jimmy.

Last year, Leno would announce his retirement which cleared the path for Jimmy to become host next month. For the first time since the 1970s, “The Tonight Show” will be out of New York City (Carson started there before moving the program to L.A. and Jay and Conan would shoot from California).

February will begin to answer the following question: will David Letterman beat Fallon like he did Conan? It’s a legitimate question, but I would bet that Fallon will maintain the ratings lead that “The Tonight Show” had in Jay’s tenure. It could be a bit closer. Some of the older viewers who like Jay may go over to Dave… or may just go to bed. There’s also Jimmy Kimmel, who gets nice numbers over at ABC but is currently third and is likely to stay there.

There is also the very real competition that Comedy Central provides with its 11PM-midnight lineup that has Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report”. There is Arsenio Hall in syndication, who made a return to late night after 20 years away. There is Conan O’Brien at 11 on TBS, where he landed back on his feet with a show that gets decent numbers – though much smaller than anything he saw on a network. There’s Chelsea Handler with her followers on E! In other words, late night is a much more crowded marketplace than anything Mr. Carson ever experienced when basically the whole country feel asleep to his show and talked about his monologue at the water cooler the next morning.

Yet again – Fallon’s ascension to “Tonight” leaves another hole at 12:30 and this time Lorne Michaels has put another well-known SNL vet to take over: Seth Meyers. He has done Weekend Update on the program for years and was an obvious choice to get the gig.

We now move from history to the future and this is where my own speculation became rampant. The question must now be asked: how long will David Letterman stick around? In April, he will be 67 years old. He’s hosted a late night talk show for nearly 32 years now – longer, by the way, than Carson. Dave just recently signed a contract that takes him through 2015. He’ll be coming up on close to 70 at that time. And there is no obvious candidate to replace him. If he does leave when his contract expires, this allows this late night follower the opportunity to speculate away on who it could be. Here’s some theories and I’ll explain my feelings on their likelihood:

1) Craig Ferguson. Prognosis: Doubtful. Scotsman Ferguson has hosted “The Late Late Show” following Letterman for almost nine years. While the show does pretty well, it has been consistently defeated by both Conan and Jimmy Fallon and probably will be behind Seth as well. It’s hard to imagine CBS giving their prime real estate to him seems like a reach and he may have to be content with being the 12:30 guy.

2) Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Prognosis: Shaky and Doubtful. As mentioned before, both guys host successful and critically acclaimed programs on Comedy Central. Also they’re both based out of New York (unlike Ferguson) and could slide right into the Ed Sullivan Theater. Though that might not be a plus as I’ll explain soon enough. Stewart was considered Dave’s natural successor before everyone realized Dave was going to stick around for quite a while. If Letterman had retired five years ago, I think the chances would’ve been excellent that Stewart would be hosting as we speak. Now, I’m not so sure. Stewart has gone into ventures recently including film directing. Plus – he’s got total creative freedom at Comedy Central on a groundbreaking show that wouldn’t fit the format of “The Late Show”. As time has marched on and Dave has stayed put, the chances of “The Late Show with Jon Stewart” have diminished in my view. As for Colbert, it seems even less likely. Main reason: Colbert plays a “character” on his program (mostly sending up news hosts like Bill O’Reilly) and that wouldn’t exactly translate to the CBS format either. If he were to take over, he’d probably have to be “himself” and not the brilliant creation he’s honed for years. I just don’t see it. Plus – if Stewart were to leave “The Daily Show” at any time – “Colbert Report” could move up to 11PM.

3) Conan O’Brien. Prognosis: Not gonna happen. There are some writers out there who’ve floated this possibility, but I would frankly be shocked if this went down. Conan couldn’t keep up with Letterman as “Tonight Show” host and I can’t see him beating Fallon or probably Kimmel either. He seems to be able to do whatever he wants at TBS and he’ll likely stay there until he hangs it up.

4) Seth Meyers. Prognosis: Hmmm – could happen. Seriously, this seems to be the most sensible scenario so far. Meyers will get at least nearly two years as “Late Night” host before Dave’s contract expires. If Meyers does a good job and posts solid ratings in his time slot, why wouldn’t CBS go after him once Letterman exits? For those who believes Seth’s loyalty to Lorne Michaels and NBC would keep him at 12:30 – the money CBS would offer and the earlier time slot could change that very quickly. Of course, if he fails on NBC at 12:30, it’s a moot point. However, I have a feeling he won’t.

5) Joel McHale. Prognosis: Could happen, too. McHale has hosted “The Soup” on E! for nearly a decade and made quite a name for himself. He looks the part of late-night host and has had plenty of experience in a somewhat similar format. Here’s another factor in his potential favor: when Jay Leno leaves, so does “Tonight” in California. As mentioned, Jimmy be live (not really) from New York. So will Seth. And so is Dave. That leaves only Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson (who I’ve said is unlikely to take over) on the West Coast. It would stand to reason that CBS might want their next “Late Show” host in L.A. and McHale is out there. I would put him on an even plane with Meyers and put them as the two frontrunners currently. One caveat: McHale stats on NBC’s sitcom “Community” and has said he may be more interested in being an actor. Again – the CBS contract offer could change those thespian aspirations.

6) Jay Leno. Prognosis: You never know! Think about it. Leno would be in his mid-60s if Letterman retires at the end of his contract. CBS could hold off on the big decision for a younger replacement by putting Jay in for three or four years. He’s been the #1 late night for nearly 20 years. And Jay is a notorious workaholic and made it clear that, once again, he really doesn’t want to retire. By the time of a Letterman departure, Jay may have already found himself another job but probably nothing could be more high-profile than this. Like I said, it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

7) And lastly – I’ll just throw a whole bunch of names out there that seem unlikely. If CBS decided to go the direction of staying in NYC and finding an older host to be more of a “caretaker” for a while before their found their ultimate replacement – perhaps Howard Stern or Jerry Seinfeld could surface. Of course, they’ll both be close to mid-60s and I have no idea whether they’d accept or not. What if CBS decided to break the mold and have a female compete against the Jimmy’s? It could provide interesting counter programming. If that were to occur, could names like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen DeGeneres, or Chelsea Handler get in the mix? Again, no clue whether Fey or Poehler would have interest (I would think Handler would) and Ellen’s got a nice thing going with her daytime show. Finally, could CBS go with a total unknown like Conan was over two decades ago? Possible, but very doubtful. And there’s always the chance that Dave could just keep chugging along for years in which case I’ve just wasted over 2000 words of your time. I would say that Dave will leave at the end of 2015 or sign a one-year extension to get him the 2016 election cycle and retire.

All in all, the late night TV landscape over the past few decades has been an evolving and fascinating one and that will continue into the future.