This weekend Tower Heist and A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas won’t have to face the winter storms of last weekend. That’s good for them, as this is considered the first heavy hitting weekend of the fall season. What it also means is that shortly we’re going to see a number of the bigger Oscar pictures go into limited and wide release. But – for the most part – big studios aren’t in that race any more, and so other than J. Edgar, we won’t see a big studio Oscar-bait film until around Christmas.

Tower Heist looks like a big expensive comedy, which would have been a much bigger deal in the 1980′s. Eddie Murphy has spent so long being a bad movie star that even if he’s slightly more with it in this picture than he was in the last twelve terrible comedies he made it will be hard for audiences to come back. It’s a case of brand poisoning. Murphy needs the Oscar telecast to prove to the world he can still be funny, though word travels fast and if he delivers here he could theoretically win his way back into people’s hearts.

That said, Ben Stiller has been a solid box office performer with comedy, and his last ensemble Tropic Thunder was a hundred plus grosser. This is looking at a high 20′s opening, and if it works could play strong, so I would guess that it gets to around $100 domestic, but that means it’s going to need international business to be successful. And – believe it or not – Stiller’s Little Fockers did more business internationally than domestically.

Perhaps it’s inside baseball, but it would be better for Tower Heist if it’s main press over the last couple weeks hadn’t been Universal’s decision to try a new VOD plan with the film. It’s harder to drive the narrative of a film with print publications on the wane. This isn’t Murphy’s big comeback, and they could have shaped that narrative had they tried. They had the baseball finals to sell the film, and perhaps they sold it as well as they could. But Eddie Murphy used to be an event, and he probably could still be one.

A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas is playing to its audience, which will show up early. The franchise has seen itself expand over its run, and benefited from strong home video performances. Such may be the way with stoner movies as it’s easier to navigate a DVD player whilst under the influence than the theater experience. Still, this one looks like it could be coming at the right time for a 3-D success, and Jackass 3-D performed above expectations partly because of the gimmickry. But American audiences have tired of the format – or it no longer offers the kick it used to. I’d still expect a nearly $20 Million opening.

One wonders if Puss in Boots suffered from 3-D fatigue. Granted, the film was hurt by the winter storms that rocked America, but Puss should have been the big Fall animated film. With Happy Feet Two, The Muppets and Arthur Christmas - not to mention HugoPuss is looking like the end of that franchise. At least for the next couple years. Shrek will likely return in the current studio climate, if only because absence making the heart grow fonder in this business is currently a four to five year break.

So let’s get this weekend weekended:

  1. Tower Heist - $27.9 Million
  2. Puss in Boots - $21 Million
  3. A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas - $19.5 Million
  4. Paranormal Activity 3 – $9 Million
  5. In Time – $7 Million

We could see Tower Heist surge past $30 if word of mouth is great. Otherwise…

What do you want to see this weekend?