Tornadoes and turtles and space cowboys careen into each other at the multiplexes this weekend as studios looking to wring the last juices out of a parched summer flood the box office with four new wide releases.
The big question mark isn't which of the new releases will win, it's how much gas "Guardians of the Galaxy" has left after it dazzled the industry with a $94.3 million debut last week. If enough Marvel fans waited to catch the adventure film until its sophomore weekend in theaters or enjoyed the picture so much they're going back for seconds, it could spell trouble for Paramount Pictures' reboot of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
The film about the karate-trained amphibians may draw enough of a young crowd thanks to its relaunched Nickelodeon small-screen cartoon to be able to thrive in a "Guardians"-dominated world, but it also needs teenagers and younger males to show up. At a cost of $125 million, it's a pricey stab at corporate synergy, with Paramount and Nickelodeon's corporate parent Viacom trying to cross-pollinate between its film and television arms. Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes produced the film.
"We're looking at a pretty close one, but I feel like 'Guardians' has a chance to repeat even though 'Turtles' is tracking stronger than a lot of people initially thought," said Shawn Robbins, assistant editor of BoxOffice.com. "The brand has been re-launched effectively with the TV show, but it comes down to what moviegoers see as a fresh movie they've heard good things about versus a remake of a 30-year property."
That said, there's still a lot of Turtle power left in this brand. Analysts expect the film will open to north of $40 million, thanks in part to a clever marketing campaign featuring the turtles' masked peepers in posters and outside art, as well as witty tie-ins with the likes of Pizza Hut. It will debut in more than 3,800 locations.
"Guardians" should also ride positive word-of-mouth and social media buzz to a second weekend of roughly $45 million, making it a tight race for first place.
"Movies that open that big usually drop big, but I think it's going to have a modest drop," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.
When "Guardians" burned up the box office last weekend, studios heaved a sigh of relief after eight straight weeks of falling short of last summer's numbers. The summer is still tracking down more than 18% from 2013, but "Guardians" helped cushion that shortfall. It could also help films like "Turtles."
"So many people went to movie theaters last weekend and they were exposed to lots of 'Ninja Turtles' marketing," said Dergarabedian. "'Ninja Turtles' could end up benefiting from 'Guardians.'"
Internationally, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" will kick off in 17 markets, including such key territories as Russia and Mexico.
Nearly 20 years after scoring a summer smash with "Twister," Warner Bros. will try to reinvigorate the inclement weather craze with "Into the Storm." The special effects are the main attraction in this storm chaser tale, which was surprisingly economical to produce, carrying a pricetag of less than $50 million. It is looking at an opening of roughly $18 million when it bows in 3,434 theaters.
Then there's "Step Up All In." The fifth installment in the dance competition series is set in Las Vegas, with all that Sin City hoofing dramatized in 3D. It should bump and grind across 2,072 North American locations. Given how prior films in the series have performed, a debut of roughly $8 million seems likely.
Summit took over the franchise from Disney and has been busy releasing the film overseas, where it has already picked up $27.3 million in 26 foreign territories. The dance series tends to play better with international crowds than it does with U.S. audiences.
Not everything in summer is geared towards the young and teen-at-heart. The second weekend of audience is the traditional spot for a "women's movie" like "Eat Pray Love" or "Julie and Julia." To that end, DreamWorks and Participant Media are cooking up "The Hundred-Foot Journey," a heartwarming Lasse Hallstrom foodie travelogue that stars Helen Mirren. Its main competition will likely be the second weekend of "Get on Up." The James Brown biopic debuted to a mediocre $13.6 million last week, but received an A CinemaScore from audiences, so it could have some staying power.
Reviews for "Journey," about a feud between a high-end French dining spot and an Indian restaurant have been lukewarm, with the drama receiving a 46% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It will need viewers to have a strong association with producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey if it wants to break through the clutter.
The film carries a $22 million production budget and should hit $10 million. Walt Disney will roll out "The Hundred-Foot Journey" in 2,023 theatres in the U.S. and Canada as part of its distribution pact with DreamWorks.
In limited release, Daniel Radcliffe will try to spark up the dormant romantic comedy genre with "What If." The CBS Films release will debut on 20 screens in various major markets.
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