The biggest question of the weekend is this: why did Paramount, which won last weekend with Paranormal Activity 3, bump up Puss in Boots to the first week of October when the first week of November has become the official start of the fall season? It should handily win the weekend over some lesser competitors – like Anonymous, The Rum Diary, and  In Time – but are they following the formula of Fast Five and getting an early jump on the competition, or do they think they have a weak sister?

Looking at the holiday season, the answer seems to be obvious: screen count. Puss in Boots is in 3-D and will be on Imax screens. Currently there is no competition for those screens, but next week offers A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, the next week has The Immortals, and then comes Happy Feet Two. More than weathering other 3-D pictures, Paramount likely blinked when they realized they could have three weeks before the next 3-D animated picture rather than two. And that’s a big deal when you’re adding 25% additional revenue with those ticket sales. For the last couple months there hasn’t been much on Imax screens, and so we’ve seen reissues and such to fill the gap. And feeding that beast is important to everyone in the industry, but certain seasons just don’t offer the sort of films that fit in the Imax format. For the next two months, there’s going to be a number of pictures jockeying for the bigger screens, which means that an extra week can make a huge difference even if the film plays well into December.

This move shouldn’t hurt Puss in Boots too much when release dates are more arbitrary than holiday-based, or at least it won’t hurt it any more than coming from a brand that audiences are no longer as crazy about. Shrek 2 was one of the highest grossing films of all time, but the numbers for the franchise have gone down dramatically since then. The last Shrek did $238 Million domestic (but was an international powerhouse), where Puss in Boots will be lucky to do over $150 Million. This weekend should net them over $40, and perhaps international will be bigger as well.But $40 doesn’t translate to over $200 when you’ve got this much competition.

In Time feels like a shuttled release. I don’t know if the film was ever going to be much of anything, but after Friends with Benefits and this, it doesn’t feel like audiences have latched on to Justin Timberlake as a movie star. It’s nice to have seen the man who brought sexy back not fall back on his laurels – he’s yet to play a musician, but he’s also yet to carry a movie that’s been all that successful (Friends did better internationally). Perhaps this will also do better globally, but the films of Andrew Niccol aren’t as revered as they once were, and Gattaca – his best claim at cult status as a director – was not successful theatrically.

Johnny Depp out of the Pirates gear isn’t making much traction – it seems he’s a draw domestically only as Jack Sparrow or when in a Tim Burton film. Last year The Tourist was met with meh’s domestically, but proved to be a powerhouse internationally, so perhaps there’s hope for this picture. The Rum Diary is being launched by Film District, and though they’ve had some small successes, they haven’t cracked small budget marketing. The critical reception has been mixed, and this should probably slink away quickly. Strangely, this is Depp doing the things that he’s famous for – he’s playing a drunken lout – but perhaps it’s too artsy or not PG-13 enough.

Anonymous is being launched on less than 300 screens. This needed to be an Oscar picture to gain steam, but the material and director likely torpedoed that as critical reception on rewriting the career of Shakespeare is not going to win you a lot of fans. In that way I think it’s similar to movies about Orson Welles that make Welles look like a jerk. It may or may not be true, but critics don’t respond well to that, and if you’ve lost them, you’ve lost the people who can save your movie. Roland Emmerich can make some preposterously entertaining films, but no one wants to take him seriously. That may not be fair, but life is not fair.

Paranormal Activity 3 should hold strong for the weekend, so let’s look at the guessings:

  1. Puss in Boots – $40 Million
  2. Paranormal Activity 3 - $20.7 Million
  3. In Time – $10 Million
  4. The Rum Diary - $7.9 Million
  5. Real Steel – $6.7 Million

Anonymous won’t make a dent with the limited screens. Next week is supposedly when the Fall season really begins. Whoo-hoo.