A summer sequel showdown kicks off this weekend as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum race Toothless the dragon for the top of the box-office charts.
Two new movies -- "22 Jump Street," from Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, and DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon 2" -- will duel for dominance at the multiplex, as both movies play for different, though proven, fan bases.
Both could gross $60 million to $65 million in ticket sales through Sunday in the United States and Canada, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys, though the 3D computer-animated fantasy should out-gross "22 Jump Street" in the long run.
Studios behind the movies are projecting more conservative figures than analysts are predicting. "Dragon 2's" distributor 20th Century Fox says it expects $45 million to $50 million from the opening weekend, while Sony Pictures sees a similar debut for "22 Jump Street."
Critics' reviews bode well for both movies, represented by "freshness" scores of 92% and 87% on Rotten Tomatoes for "Dragon 2" and "22 Jump Street," respectively, as of Thursday.
Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" continues the adventures of the Viking Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, and his dragon Toothless in the second chapter of the film trilogy based on the book series by Cressida Cowell.
The sequel, which cost $145 million to make, should break a rash of recent disappointments for DreamWorks Animation.
The studio's last effort, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," opened with $32.2 million in March and went on to gross just shy of $268 million worldwide, after last year's "Turbo" opened with a weak $21.3 million on its way to a global gross of almost $283 million. Both movies resulted in write-downs for the company.
Even if "Dragon 2" opens at the low end of expectations, it would still beat the debut of the 2010 original, which took in $43.7 million in its first three days in domestic release and ended its global run with nearly $495 million, including $218 million from the U.S. and Canada.
The follow-up should take advantage of the lack of animated competition in the market, unlike last year when executives blamed a cartoon glut for the sluggish performance of "Turbo."
In the $50-million production "22 Jump Street," Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprise their roles as underachieving police officers, who this time must go undercover at a local college. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller returned for the sequel, and had a hit earlier this year with the animated winner "The Lego Movie."
Launched in 2012, "22's" predecessor "21 Jump Street" opened to $36.3 million and eventually grossed $138 million domestically. It added $63 million overseas for a global total of more than $200 million.
"22 Jump Street" should be a successful entrant into this summer's busy lineup of R-rated comedies that has so far included a strong debut from the Seth Rogen and Zac Efron movie "Neighbors" and a lackluster launch for Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in the West."
Last week's victor, "The Fault in Our Stars," about two teens who meet in a cancer support group and fall in love, should add $20 million to $25 million to its domestic haul. It grossed $48 million last weekend.
Disney's Angelina Jolie-starring hit "Maleficent" and the Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure "Edge of Tomorrow," which disappointed in its opening last week, will also compete for box-office dollars.
Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter: @rfaughnderCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun