Friday, March 7, 2014

‘Rise of an Empire’ to dwarf ‘Mr. Peabody & Sherman’

Seven years ago, CGI sword-and-sandals epic 300 took the box office by surprise when it opened to a wonderful $70 million. The Zach Snyder film, which set the March record for best opening weekend, would go on to earn over $456 million worldwide. 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t exactly a sequel, per se – interestingly, it covers the same span of time as the first movie – but, with a mostly new cast and a different angle on the Greek-Spartan conflict, it’s certainly a follow-up. The question is, will it match the debut of its predecessor? Unlikely. The novelty of Snyder’s signature style has worn off (although Snyder worked on the screenplay, commercials director Noam Murro helmed Rise of an Empire), as has 300’s mix of togas and action; thanks to the popularity of the first film, we’ve seen several copycut productions and spoofs since 2007. Nonetheless, 300: Rise of an Empire is still tracking strong. According to Fandango, the movie is out-selling G.I. Joe: Retaliation in pre-sales, which bodes well for a solid opening: G.I. Joe opened to $40.5 million last March. Also, let’s not forget, Rise of an Empire is screening in 58 markets overseas. Even if it fails to match 300 domestically, it could out-perform its predecessor internationally.

Gunning for second place, DreamWorks production Mr. Peabody & Sherman also opens wide this weekend. March has historically been kind to the animation studio: The Croods opened to $43.6 million in 2013 while How to Train Your Dragon bowed to $43.7 million in 2010. Many pundits are unsure, however, how Mr. Peabody & Sherman will perform. DreamWorks' last two productions, Rise of the Guardians and Turbo, failed to meet expectations and even lost money.  Sherman has so far garnered mixed reviews, and it faces stiff competition from the still-going-strong The Lego Movie. Fandango has the film tracking stronger than Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, which opened to $34 million this past September. 20th Century Fox, however, is only expecting $25 to $30 million in opening-weekend business.

For specialty devotees, the weekend’s big release comes in the form of Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great reviews and a strong cast – Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, and cameos by Anderson stalwarts Bill Murray and Owen Wilson – should propel the film to high returns. Think somewhere south of his roundly loved Moonrise Kingdom, which scored the third-best per-theatre average for a live action film when it opened in 2012, but possibly north of Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou (2004), both of which opened in the low $20 millions.

Overall, the weekend’s box-office breakdown should look something like this:

  1. 300: Rise of an Empire

  2. Mr. Peabody & Sherman

  3. Non-Stop

  4. Son of God

  5. The Lego Movie

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