And that’s not a spoiler (or is it?) After a couple of weekends of older pictures, either in days (Dolphin Tale took the #1 slot a week after release) or years (the reissue of The Lion King), the first week of October promises to deliver new movies can top the box office. Shawn Levy‘s Real Steel is a genuine crowd pleaser, while George Clooney‘s The Ides of March is a smart political thriller. Both use star power (Hugh Jackman, Ryan Gosling) to their advantage. But both also have strikes against them.

I wrote the review of Real Steel, and I think there are people who are going to embrace the movie, but I think it’s hard for the critical community to give a film like this a pass. It’s derivative, it’s directed by someone who’s made a career of crappy (and successfully crappy) films. It’s an easy film to dismiss, partly because with a concept as out there as they have with the fil, they didn’t want to put it in the summer or winter big money seasons. And yet that may have hurt perceptions on the film. Timing is everything.

I once got into an argument with Drew McWeeny about the placement of movies and how people received Thor versus The Green Lantern. As they are basically similar origin tales, with similar problems (unnecessary love interest, interesting supporting characters with little to do) and strengths (the villian, the special effects), I felt if they had switched release dates, The Green Lantern might not have gotten such a thumping critically, because Thor had the first “official” weekend of summer (the first week of May), while The Green Lantern came out in June after a number of loud and not that great genre efforts. I mention this not because I think I’m right or wrong, but to a certain extent the number of movies made in a certain genre or lack thereof can really be beneficial to it’s relative “goodness.”

I don’t know if Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator is one of the best of the sword and sandals films (it probably is, the genre’s not that great to begin with), but when it was released it was the only one made with a decent budget since the 1960′s. Just as 30 Minutes or Less came in the unfortunate position of being the last R-rated “raunchy” comedy in a summer with Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, and Bad Teacher - all of which passed the hundred million dollar mark. That’s not to say that people didn’t respond to the movies themselves, but you may not want to have a pizza every night you go out to eat.

What may drive Real Steel is that there hasn’t been a good underdog story in cinema since the last Rocky movie. The problem that DreamWorks and Disneyare going to run into with the film is that they need a respectable opening weekend, and that’s $30 Million-ish. That means they will make it to $100 million, and possibly $150. Word of mouth could play with this film, and tracking shows it a little above $20 for the weekend- so the big question is “how are the ads playing to kids?” That could drive this film more than adults, and it works as a family picture in a way we haven’t seen in a while. Though perhaps the key to this film is international. Jackman established himself with the X-men franchise, but outside of that his biggest film is the disaster Van Helsing (which did $120 domestic). Which then makes this film itself an underdog.

The Ides of March runs into that pizza problem by being the third movie in as many months to top-line Ryan Gosling. And though he’s a well respected actor, he’s never driven the box office. Drive is nearing a $30 Million dollar total, after being critically respected and winning big at Cannes. Gosling is working, but there’s no sense that he’s made an indelible impression on audiences outside of The Notebook, where he was one of the leads. The only films of his that have outperformed it are Remember the Titans and Crazy, Stupid, Love. The latter reecently passed those numbers, though it could also be called Steve Carrell’s picture. That doesn’t change the fact that Gosling has been giving interviews and has been on magazine covers, etc. for three months straight.

What’s going to help the picture is the presence of George Clooney, but as a director he’s made some very respected films that haven’t managed to do much more than $30 Million at the box office. Another problem is that it looks like a failed Oscar-bait picture – no one’s saying that the picture has much of a shot at anything, so there’s no building interest in that side of the critical community. This looks to be his strongest performer, but that’s not saying much.

So let’s do the numbers:

Real Steel – $29.5 Million

The Ides of March - $13.7 Million

Dolphin Tale – $9.9 Million

Moneyball – $8 Million

Courageous – $6 Million

We could see 50/50 or The Lion King sneak into the top five. I may be going high on Real Steel, but it’s tracking the best to have the top slot and I think it plays. Everything else seems about right.