Even with a major winter storm threatening the Northeast, the box office should pick up a bit this weekend thanks to the arrival of sure-fire comedy hit Identity Thief. Starring Jason Bateman and Bridesmaids's Melissa McCarthy, the R-rated comedy will open at 3,141 locations and take first place this weekend with at least $20 million. Meanwhile, director Steven Soderbergh's "final" movie Side Effects also debuts at 2,605 theaters, though its vague, dreary marketing will keep it from really breaking out.
Going in to opening weekend, Identity Thief seems very well-positioned to be a box office success. The movie has a unique, relatable premise (what would you do if you had your identity stolen?) that's been clearly and humorously articulated both in the title and in Universal Pictures' ubiquitous marketing campaign. It also has virtually no comedy competition thanks to Movie 43's disastrous performance at the end of January.
Most importantly, the interaction between Jason Bateman's uptight businessman and Melissa McCarthy's wild identity thief is the kind of mismatch that's broadly appealing to men and women, and should make the movie a great date night choice. Also, McCarthy has definitely established a fan-base following her Oscar-nominated turn in 2011's Bridesmaids ($169.1 million), and that group will turn out as well to see how she fares in her biggest role to date.
Director Seth Gordon's last movie, Horrible Bosses, also starred Bateman and opened to $28.3 million in July 2011. With awful reviews (under 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and a much lighter cast, Identity Thief will likely wind up below that, though it should still exceed the $20 million that Universal is expecting this weekend.
Side Effects is supposedly director Steven Soderbergh's last movie (sure), though that fact hasn't been a big part of the general marketing campaign. Instead, the movie is being pitched as a dark, clinical thriller with a casual association to Soderbergh's 2011 hit Contagion ($75.7 million). For any number of reasons, though, Side Effects isn't going to come close to matching Contagion's $22.4 million debut.
Most importantly, Contagion's disease outbreak storyline was way more interesting than Side Effects's undefined pharmaceutical thrills. Also, Contagion put its biggest star (Matt Damon) front-and-center, while Side Effects relegates Channing Tatum to the background (suggesting Tatum's character has limited screen time).
Around this time last year, Soderbergh's Haywire—which also had Tatum in a supporting role—opened to $8.4 million. Side Effects is receiving slightly better reviews, and could wind up above $10 million (which distributor Open Road Films suggests would be a good start).
Top Gun, which earned $176.8 million in 1986, is being re-released in 3D at 300 locations this weekend. Last September, distributor Paramount re-released Raiders of the Lost Ark to 267 theaters and earned $1.67 million on opening weekend; Top Gun is no Raiders of the Lost Ark, but with 3D premiums and a few more theaters it could match that amount this weekend.
Bar for Success With a strong premise, appealing stars, a heavy marketing push and little competition, Identity Thief really ought to be hitting $20 million this weekend. Meanwhile, Side Effects is in decent shape if it matches Soderbergh's The Informant! ($10.5 million).