In "White House Down," aspiring Secret Service agent Channing Tatum is tasked with saving the free world -- but he may not fare as well in rescuing the summer box office fortunes of the action movie's distributor, Sony Pictures Entertainment.
In what would be a mild upset and Sony's second expensive summer disappointment, "White House Down" is expected to finish behind the weekend's other new release, action comedy "The Heat." Both films are likely to cede the No. 1 spot to the Walt Disney Co. animated holdover "Monsters University."
20th Century Fox's "The Heat" will probably have a domestic launch in the range of $32 to $35 million, according to those who have seen prerelease audience surveys, while "White House Down" would land in the range of $30 million. Meanwhile, "Monsters University," a follow-up to the 2001 hit "Monsters, Inc.," is predicted to take in about $45 million. The movie has grossed $115 million domestically since hitting theaters June 21.
"The Heat" stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as a mismatched team of FBI agent and street cop in pursuit of a drug dealer. The movie, which cost $43 million to produce, is generating strong interest from both younger and older women, according to prerelease audience surveys.
"White House Down," budgeted at an estimated $150 million and fully financed by Sony, is not generating strong interest from the same demographic groups -- somewhat of a surprise considering it stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx.
In the last year, big budget Tatum vehicles have opened strongly at the domestic box office: February 2012's "The Vow" opened at No. 1 with $41 million and March 2012's "21 Jump Street" opened at No. 1 with $36 million.
Earlier this year, McCarthy demonstrated she could open a movie, with her Universal Pictures comedy "Identity Thief" taking in $47 million when it unfurled in February.
"The Heat," fully financed by Fox, is opening on 3,181 screens domestically this weekend. It begins showing tonight at 10 p.m. The movie also is debuting in 12 smaller foreign territories this weekend.
"White House Down" is opening on 3,222 screens domestically and also is opening in a smattering of smaller territories, with a broader rollout in mid-July. The studio is counting on solid word of mouth and strong business overseas. The movie begins showing at 7 p.m. tonight.
The action-thriller from director Roland Emmerich centers on a police officer, played by Tatum, who must save the president, played by Foxx, after a paramilitary group launches an assault on the White House.
There has been some concern that audiences could be tired of pictures about the White House under attack in the aftermath of March's similarly themed "Olympus Has Fallen." That movie, which starred Gerard Butler, took in $99 million domestically and $62 million abroad. It had a $30-million stateside take on its opening weekend, good for second place behind animated film "The Croods."
Filmmaker Emmerich, also a producer on "White House Down," is known for big-budget action pictures that deliver at the box office. His 2004 disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow" opened to $101 million and went on to gross $544 million worldwide. And "Independence Day," released in 1996, opened to $50 million and ultimately took in $817 million worldwide.
A No. 3 finish for "White House Down" would be disappointing for Sony, particularly on the heels of the weak showing of its Will Smith action movie "After Earth." That picture, which stars Jaden Smith, opened to $28 million earlier this month and has taken in $58 million domestically. The film, which cost roughly $135 million to produce, finished No. 3 on its debut weekend. It has been somewhat buoyed by a $114-million foreign take.
Sony, which has had success with the summer comedy "This Is the End," could reverse its rocky summer start with a handful of upcoming pictures that are sequels to highly successful movies. "Grown Ups 2," out July 12, follows 2010's "Grown Ups," which took in $271 million worldwide. And "The Smurfs 2," out July 31, follows 2011's "The Smurfs," which grossed $564 worldwide.
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