Thursday Update:300: Rise of an Empire earned $3.3 million from late Thursday showings. That's a step up from G.I. Joe: Retaliation ($2.2 million) and is significantly higher than Wrath of the Titans ($1 million at midnight). This suggests that a $40 million weekend is a pretty safe bet for the 300 sequel.
Forecast: Seven years after 300 ruled the box office, a sequel finally arrives in theaters this weekend. While Rise of an Empire isn't going to come anywhere close to that movie's $70 million debut, it should still be mighty enough to take first place ahead of DreamWorks Animation's Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
In March 2007, 300 reached theaters with fairly modest expectations: its cast was largely unknown at the time, and director Zack Snyder's only previous movie was the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake ($59 million). Its mix of unique visuals and high-stakes storytelling proved to be an appealing combination, though, and it wound up setting the March opening weekend record with $70.9 million. Ultimately, 300 earned over $456 million worldwide. 300's massive box office success meant it had franchise potential, though its bleak ending didn't immediately lend itself to a sequel. Seven years later, a follow-up is finally hitting theaters, albeit with commercial director Noam Murro at the helm (Snyder produced and worked on the screenplay).
Warner Bros. has mounted an aggressive marketing campaign for 300: Rise of An Empire, and awareness is clearly high among its target audience. Unfortunately, the material on display isn't nearly as exciting as it was for 300. The style that was fresh and exciting back in 2007 has in the years since been endlessly imitated (Immortals) and parodied (Meet the Spartans). From a story perspective, there's some indication that this is a revenge tale, though that's not as compelling as the original's straightforward underdog set-up.
Still, with seven years of ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D premiums, Rise of an Empire really shouldn't have a problem opening to half as much as 300. Fandango is reporting that the movie is outselling G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which opened to $40.5 million last March (and burned off some demand with a Thursday launch).
Regardless of how Rise of an Empire does in the U.S., it's certain to be a huge hit overseas. The movie opens in 58 markets this weekend, and early numbers suggest it could go on to earn more than the original ($245 million). Mr. Peabody & Sherman is the latest DreamWorks Animation movie to open in March, which has historically been a good month for the studio: in the past few years, The Croods and How to Train Your Dragon opened to $43.6 million and $43.7 million, respectively. Unfortunately, DreamWorks has been hit-or-miss lately with original content. In the past year-and-a-half, they've lost money on Rise of the Guardians ($103.4 million) and Turbo ($83 million). Mr. Peabody should improve on those movies, but it probably won't fly as high as Croods or Dragon. Marketing for the movie has focused heavily on Mr. Peabody, the genius talking dog who built the WABAC (pronounced "Way Back") machine that facilitates the movie's time travel adventures. While this has been amusing enough, its appeal pales in comparison to that of recent animated hits Frozen and The LEGO Movie. With so-so reviews and direct competition from LEGO, Peabody may not be able to get to the DreamWorks standard $40 million debut.
For their part, distributor 20th Century Fox is only expecting $25 to $30 million this weekend. Fandango's numbers are more optimistic: presales are currently exceeding those of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which opened to $34 million in September.
Director Wes Anderson's eighth movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, opens in four locations in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. Anderson's last movie, Moonrise Kingdom, had a similar launch in May 2012, and scored an incredible $130,749 per-theater average (3rd all-time for a live-action movie). The Grand Budapest Hotel is receiving very good reviews (though not quite on par with Moonrise) and has funny, vivid marketing material that aligns nicely with Anderson's brand. The theaters playing Budapest are clearly expecting high demand this weekend—the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles have 18 showtimes a day right now—and a per-theater average north of $100,000 wouldn't be surprising.
From here, Budapest seems slated for an aggressive expansion: next weekend, it will add at least 42 locations. While it may not ultimately get to Moonrise Kingdom's level, it's fair to expect this to get to the same ballpark as Fantastic Mr. Fox ($21 million) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou ($24 million). Forecast (March 7-9) 1. 300 - $42.5 million 2. Mr. Peabody - $37.2 million 3. Non-Stop - $16.2 million (-44%) 4. Son of God - $13.6 million (-47%) 5. LEGO Movie - $13.5 million (-35%) Bar for Success
No one expects 300: Rise of an Empire to match the original. With ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D premiums, though, it would be disappointing if Rise of an Empire opened below $40 million. For Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the standard for a good DreamWorks Animation debut is typically $40 million. With tough competition from The LEGO Movie, we'll cut it some slack—anything above $35 million is a fine start.