$nake$ on a plane?
'Snakes on a Plane' and 'Talladega Nights' could emerge as this year's summer sleepers.
By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Mutants, the Man of Steel and pirates have dominated the summer box office so far. But will a clueless NASCAR driver and a horde of slithering airborne serpents keep people coming to theaters in the dog days of the season?

August has historically been a tough month for Hollywood. Most studios prefer to release their "can't miss" blockbusters in May, June or July. And they typically save their more serious Oscar-contending fare for the fall.

"Snakes on a Plane" has generated a ton of online chatter - but will the Internet buzz translate into big box office?
Analysts expect Will Ferrell's new NASCAR comedy, "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," to take the box-office checkered flag when it comes out on August 4.
Lionsgate, the studio behind low-budget horror hits "Hostel" and "Saw" hopes to strike again with "The Descent."
Big hits in the dog days
Several summer box office smashes came out in the sleepy month of August. Here's a look at the five biggest August openings.
Movie Release Date Opening Weekend Box Office Total Box Office
Rush Hour 2 8/3/2001 $67.4 million $226.2 million
Signs 8/2/2002 $60.1 million $228.0 million
American Pie 2 8/10/01 $45.1 million $145.1 million
XXX 8/9/02 $44.5 million $141.2 million
Alien vs. Predator 8/13/04 $38.3 million $90.3 million
Source:Exhibitor Relations Co.

It's no different this year. "Mission: Impossible III" kicked off the summer movie season during the first week of May and that was followed in the next few weeks by "The Da Vinci Code," "X-Men: The Last Stand," "Cars," "Superman Returns" and finally, the summer's biggest movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

But that doesn't mean that there won't be any big hits in August. In fact, the month has increasingly become one when sleepers emerge and make some big bucks. Last year, "The 40-Year Old Virgin" came out in August and was a surprise $100 million box office smash.

"Rush Hour 2" was released in August 2001 and generated more than $225 million at the box office. And of course, a little movie called "The Sixth Sense" came out in August 1999 and made nearly $300 million.

"August is often a place where unexpected hits come from. It's been disparagingly called a dumping ground," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., a box office tracking firm. "But it sometimes provides an opportunity for films that are no longer in the shadow of huge summer blockbusters to do well."

Big bucks expected for Ricky Bobby

With that in mind, which movies could be the sleepers of 2006?

The two that most box office analysts are betting on are Sony's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and New Line's "Snakes on a Plane." (New Line is a subsidiary of Time Warner (Charts), which also owns CNNMoney.com.)

"Talladega Nights," starring Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver, has been getting a lot of buzz. "Will Ferrell in a comedy is a no-brainer," said Dergarabedian. The movie will be released on August 4.

If "Talladega Nights" is a hit, that would continue a strong summer for Sony (Charts), which also released "The Da Vinci Code" and "Click," the Adam Sandler comedy that has so far grossed $130 million at the box office, according to research firm Box Office Mojo.

Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Reel Source, another movie industry research firm, thinks Sony has nothing to worry about. He said that "Talladega Nights" probably will wind up doing better than "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy that generated $85 million in U.S. ticket sales.

And then there's "Snakes on a Plane," due out on August 18. This movie, starring Samuel L. Jackson, has generated a sizable amount of discussion on the Internet due to its goofy title and premise.

Bloggers have been posting fake trailers for months and the studio even went back to shoot new scenes for the movie that included profane dialogue suggested by fans.

Still, some wonder just how much, uh, legs? fangs? "Snakes on a Plane" can really have at the box office.

"Snakes on a Plane will open big and trail off," said Bock. "Buzz is down. It was really big a couple of months ago but not as many people are talking about it as much now."

Dergarabedian thinks that will change though, since he expects marketing for the film to pick up again as it gets closer to the release date. He adds that people will be excited to finally see the movie, which he thinks could wind up having a cult-like following.

"I think it will do well. How well? Who knows? But it should be a great in-theater experience," he said.

But Brandon Gray, president and publisher of Box Office Mojo, argues that there won't be any surprise hits in August.

"Talladega Nights and Snakes on a Plane won't be sleepers because they are two big movies. So if they are successful it won't be unexpected," said Gray. "The trick with sleepers is that you don't see them coming."

Gray added that he didn't see much potential for any other big blockbusters among the movies that are going to be released in August.

Disney and a horror flick could also surprise

Bock and Dergarabedian are slightly more optimistic. They both said that "Invincible" a sports movie from Walt Disney (Charts) based on the true story of a part-time bartender who tries out for the Philadelphia Eagles football team and makes it, could be a hit. The movie, starring Mark Wahlberg, comes out on August 25.

"Nobody does the sports drama film like Disney. That might sneak in there and do some solid business," Bock said.

Another possible sleeper is "The Descent," a horror film from Lionsgate (Charts), the studio that has made a name for itself with splatter-fests like this year's "Hostel" and the two "Saw" movies. "The Descent," about what happens to a bunch of attractive women on a spelunking trip that goes terribly wrong, comes out on August 4.

Bock also said that "The Barnyard," a computer animated movie from Viacom's (Charts) Paramount, also could be a hit with families. "The Barnyard" was originally scheduled to be released in October but Paramount bumped it up to August 4. And several CGI films, most notably "Cars" have done well this summer.

Analysts are less sanguine on another Paramount film however, Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center." Although another September 11 film from earlier this year, "United 93," received mostly favorably reviews, Dergarabedian said he's not sure most moviegoers are ready for a film that deals directly with the falling of the Twin Towers.

And there's one more thing could make it tougher for all August movies. "Pirates of the Caribbean" has been the top film at the box office for the past three weeks and has made $334 million so far. And it appears that moviegoers haven't grown tired of Johnny Depp's eccentric (to put it mildly) Jack Sparrow character just yet.

"Pirates could be a factor with the new August films, since it is not slowing down," Dergarabedian said.


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