Weekend Box Office Preview: Can 'I, Frankenstein' Help Reignite its Declining Genre?

I, Frankenstein is now in theaters. (Credit: Lionsgate)

Lionsgate's (NYSE: LGF  )  I, Frankenstein was already going to be watched carefully when it made its way into theaters this weekend, but all of sudden it looks like it may be an even more important indicator to studios than first thought.

Throughout 2013, horror/fantasy type films were among the most profitable, but so far in 2014 Hollywood has seen two of those types of movies under-perform. Now to be fair both, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Devil's Due didn't really fail. They each actually turned a profit, but analysts and executives had hoped for more (especially out of Paranormal).

For example look at last January where for multiple weeks in a row, a horror/fantasy type flick topped the charts. Have audiences gotten tired of paying for frights? Or were they just scared off by exorbitant ticket prices and ridiculous surcharges?

We should learn a lot this weekend as tentpole flick I, Frankenstein hits your local cineplex.

The past

I, Frankenstein producer Kevin Grevioux has not only had luck before with the sci-fi genre, but he's had luck in this exact release window. Grevioux was one of the men behind the ultra-successful Underworld franchise, which may have debuted in the month of September, but all three sequels were released in January (and all three bowed to at least $20 million in gross).

It's an ideal release date because it's the weekend between the NFL title games and Super Bowl as well as one week removed from the heavily scheduled MLK holiday weekend.

For this movie though, early estimates have it earning anywhere from $14 million to $17 million, which is less than the $19.6 million Paramount's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters made last year at this time and the $28.1 million Universal's Mama made a week prior.

 

The future

Perhaps more scary though is the thought these type of movies are no longer guaranteed hits. If true, that's not just bad news for Lionsgate, but also bad news for Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Bros and Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal, which each have a 2014 release on the schedule tied to a famed movie monster.

Warner Bros' debut summer entrant is yet another remake of Godzilla, starring a cast with some fairly big names including Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston. Like I, Frankenstein, Warner's Godzilla will be the only action film on its release date, but will only have one week jump on Fox's X Men: Days of Future Past.

For Universal, it's hoping to capitalize on (what once was) the hot vampire craze as they unearth Dracula in Dracula Untold, which sees Luke Evans in the role of the iconic blood sucker. However, Evans isn't as well known a name as once envisioned, and that could play a role in determining if audiences will check it out. Still, a lot can happen between now and October.

The unknown

That takes us back to this weekend and I, Frankenstein. The 3D IMAX pic stars Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) as Frankenstein's monster (who in this version is named Adam). Adam finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between two deadly groups of creatures; gargoyles and demons. Both sides want to discover the secret behind his immortality and will stop at nothing to find out the truth. Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, and Jai Courtney will co-star and help shore up the celeb quotient.

Even if I, Frankenstein does manage to top expectations, it probably won't be by much and that will raise questions to the vitality of the horror/fantasy genre overall. Yes, Paranormal and Devils' Due were "found footage" scenarios and this one isn't, but they are playing in the same wheelhouse. I, Frankenstein even has the advantage of 3D and IMAX up-charges to help boost its bottom line, so if it can't make use of those perks, studios should take it as a sign maybe it's time to start think about the next hot genre...whatever it may be.

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