Three new nationwide releases attempt to dethrone box office sensation The Avengers this weekend, though it's unlikely any of them come very close. Battleship has the best shot at 3,690 locations, but the rampant cynicism surrounding the project should keep the movie from reaching blockbuster levels. Meanwhile, What to Expect When You're Expecting tries to reach female audiences at 3,021 theaters, while The Dictator will attempt to build on its decent $4.18 million Wednesday opening at 3,008 venues.
Battleship is the third Hasbro product to get the big-budget, big-screen treatment in the past five years following Transformers and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra. All three Transformers movies made over $300 million at the domestic box office, while G.I. Joe earned a respectable $150.2 million. Those movies were logical extensions of character-driven action figure brands, though, and they had already been proven from a story-telling perspective with comic books and animated TV series. Battleship, on the other hand, is adapted from a strategy-based board game where two players attempt to sink each other's NAVY ships: there are no characters, and there are definitely no aliens. As a result, this adaptation has generated almost non-stop negative press since its inception.
In an attempt to get some positive momentum and take advantage of April holidays in Europe, Battleship has already opened in most overseas markets and has earned a solid $215.3 million through Sunday. That's not an overly impressive number, though, and any buzz that would have generated has been counteracted by scathing reviews out of English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom and Australia. The tune didn't change much when American critics got a look: while reviews commend the movie for its technical proficiencies, it gets slammed in nearly every other department and currently has a poor 37 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Battleship does at least look like it delivers the goods in the action department, and big-budget alien invasion spectacles usually perform well at the Summer box office (though Cowboys & Aliens is an example of a recent disappointment). Unfortunately, the movie is running headfirst in to the path of The Avengers, which targets a similar audience with its alien invasion storyline. Battleship probably won't outright bomb this weekend, but an opening above $50 million looks almost impossible at this point.
To counterprogram the noisy, effects-driven action of The Avengers and Battleship, Lionsgate is releasing pregnancy comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting. The strategy of creating a story based on a popular self-help book and populating the movie with a likeable ensemble cast was just successfully pulled off last month with Think Like a Man ($82.8 million so far). That movie had date night appeal, though, while a movie about the challenges of pregnancy isn't exactly something men are going to be eager to see. To combat that, Lionsgate's campaign has put a large emphasis on the movie's "Dudes Group," which is basically a bunch of dads goofing off with their young children when the wives aren't around. These ads never quite connected, though, and they distracted from the central story about a handful of expectant couples. In recent weeks, the focus has turned back towards the main women in these couples, though, and the movie should do solid business as a result.
The Dictator opened to $4.18 million on Wednesday, which rules out any possibility that it will be a MacGruber-esque flop (that data does include some late Wednesday grosses, though, which Paramount is unfortunately not reporting separately). The audience skewed male (65 percent) and younger (56 percent under the age of 25), indicating that star Sacha Baron Cohen's outrageous comedy is once again appealing to college-aged males. Unfortunately, it's still unclear if his shtick is going to play outside of that group this time around. Politically subversive movies don't generally jive with audiences—Team America: World Police only earned $32.8 million in 2004—and The Dictator's not-very-kind views towards gays, minorities and women are a tough sell. It is the first R-rated comedy of Summer, though, and the title character skews much closer to Borat ($128.5 million) than Bruno ($60.1 million), so it could still wind up playing well.
Forecast (May 18-20): 1. The Avengers - $53.2 million (-48%) 2. Battleship - $38.7 million 3. What to Expect - $21.9 million 4. The Dictator - $17.5 million ($24.5 million five-day) 5. Dark Shadows - $14.6 million (-51%)
Bar for Success Battleship is a big-budget action movie with a recognizable brand and a huge marketing campaign behind it, so it really ought to be earning at least $50 million in its opening weekend. What to Expect When You're Expecting and The Dictator are both in fine shape if they get to $25 million for their three-day and five-day weekends, respectively.