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Weekend Preview: Do the New Releases have Limitless Potential?

March 17th, 2011

Three wide releases come out this week, all of which have the potential to reach first place, and there's a slim chance they will finish one-two-three. On the other hand, there are also two holdovers that have a reasonable shot at first place as well, meaning the new releases could be fighting for scraps at the box office. Regardless, there's little hope that the total box office will match last year's pace, as Alice in Wonderland was still dominating the chart. Best case scenario, there's a close race for top spot with a couple of the new releases pulling in $30 million, or close to it. Worst case scenario has no new release earning half that. Unfortunately, the low end seems more likely.

I am a huge fan of Pegg and Frost and I've been disappointed that their box office performance hasn't matched the quality of their films. Paul could be their breakout hit, as it has a much more American feel to it. Or I could be letting my desire to see them in a hit cloud my judgment. Its reviews are very good for the average wide release, but well below the level of Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead. Paradoxically, it should earn more during its opening weekend than either of those two films. In fact, it could open with more than either of those two made in total and walk away with first place with $24 million. That's probably a little too generous, but $16 million and first place is not.

Limitless probably has the highest upper limit at the box office with the biggest name star. Bradley Cooper exploded onto the scene with The Hangover and while his track record since then has been a little spotty, he could still solidify a positive on the A-list with a major win this weekend. (On a side note, both All About Steve and Case 39 were made before The Hangover and were just not released until after that film's unexpected success.) The film's reviews are good for a wide release, even if they are just a hair below the overall positive mark. That's solid enough to be a selling point. This film probably has the best chance at hitting the $10,000 mark on the per theater chart; however, it also has a good chance of earning less than half of that. There's a lot of uncertainty, is what I'm saying. I'm going with second place and just over $15 million, but it could open anywhere from first to fourth and I wouldn't be surprised.

Rango could return to top spot, as it is holding up extremely well during the week. Of course, it's Spring Break for a lot of students, so that's helping. Also helping are its reviews, which are potentially high enough to be worthy of an Oscar nomination. Finally, there's no real direct competition this weekend. Could it earn more than $16 million and finish first? Sure. It's more likely to earn less than $15 million, but that could still be enough for first place, if the competition struggles.

The final film that people are talking about potentially winning the weekend is Battle: Los Angeles, but frankly, I don't see it happening. Its midweek numbers are not strong so far. On Monday, the film made about 33% more than Rango, but by Wednesday that lead had shrunk to just 6.5%. By Friday when Battle has to deal with three films that share significant portion of its target audience, it will likely lose that lead. Given its decline so far, a 50% drop-off might be too generous, which puts its upper limit at about $17 million. A greater than 60% drop-off is not out of the question, which would leave the film with under $14 million. That's probably a bit too harsh, but not by much. Look for fourth place with just over $14 million.

The one wide release that almost no one is talking about leading the way is The Lincoln Lawyer, which is kind of ironic, as it is earning by far the best reviews of the three films. There are a couple of logical reasons behind this. Firstly, its genre that has not done well in recent years. Secondly, Matthew McConaughey's previous two serious films both bombed (three if you include Surfer, Dude). Perhaps it can ride its strong reviews and earn equally strong legs. However, in order for that to happen, it will need to open at least reasonably well. If it opens below $10 million, then theater owners will not want to keep it around long enough for word-of-mouth to matter. I think it will manage to do that, but not by a whole lot. Look for fifth place and $11 million over the weekend.

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Filed under: Weekend Preview, Rango, Battle: Los Angeles, Limitless, Paul, The Lincoln Lawyer