Forecast: 'Sniper' Set to Three-Peat Over Super Bowl Weekend
For the third weekend in a row, American Sniper is going to easily take the top spot at the box office. Even with the Super Bowl monopolizing attention on Sunday, Sniper should still easily add at least $30 million over the three-day period.

Among the weekend's new releases, found footage time travel movie Project Almanac should provide decent counterprogramming for teen moviegoers, while Black or White and The Loft will be lucky to earn a combined $10 million.

Through 13 days in wide release, American Sniper has already earned $213.4 million. This weekend, it expands to an additional 180 locations, which brings its total count to 3,885; that's a new record for an R-rated movie, ahead of the record that Sniper set last weekend.

On fantastic word-of-mouth, the movie dropped a very light 28 percent last weekend. With tough competition from the Super Bowl on Sunday, a similar drop this weekend is out of the question. Still, it's a pretty safe bet that it adds another $35-million-plus, which will rank among the Top 10 all-time for third weekends.

Project Almanac debuts at 2,893 theaters this weekend, and will almost certainly finish in second place (it's only going to take around $10 million to get there). It was originally scheduled for release last February under the title Almanac, before Paramount abruptly pulled the plug at the last minute. Ultimately, it settled in to this January 2015 date, and tacked Project on to the front of its title (which was itself a change from the original title, Welcome to Yesterday).

The movie is the latest from Michael Bay's product company Platinum Dunes, which has maintained a very consistent track record at the box office: 10 out of their 11 nationwide releases have opened north of $18 million, with 2007's The Hitcher being the sole exception. Will Project Almanac make it 11 out of 12?

Maybe. In general, Super Bowl weekend tends to be a bad time to release movies: you're only really getting two out of three days, and people are generally distracted all weekend anyway. The one exception, though, is teen-friendly programming. In recent years, Chronicle, The Woman in Black and Warm Bodies all opened in the $20 to $22 million range over Super Bowl weekend.

Perhaps the best comparison for Project Almanac is the similarly titled Project X, which was also a found footage movie with a mostly-unknown cast of teenagers. That movie opened to $21 million on a traditional weekend back in 2012, when found footage was at its peak in popularity. Since then, though, the subgenre has fallen off substantially—the biggest opening in the past two years belongs to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones at $18.3 million, and there were a handful of titles that missed $10 million.

Based on the genre's declining popularity, its likely that Project Almanac falls short of $20 million mark. Instead, look for a gross in the $13 to $17 million range (Paramount is more modestly expecting $10 to $12 million).

Playing at 1,823 locations, Black or White finds Kevin Costner reteaming with writer/director Mike Binder, who he previously worked with on 2005's The Upside of Anger ($18.8 million). Costner has lately been aggressively promoting the movie, which he reportedly financed himself.

Advertisements for the movie have leaned heavily on positive review quotes that attempt to put an uplifting spin on the movie's racially-focused drama. It still seems unlikely, however, that this is the type of subject matter most people are interested in grappling with when they head out to the movies.

A decent comparison is Labor Day, which was a similarly star-driven, poorly reviewed drama that opened over Super Bowl weekend last year. That wound up earning $5.18 million over its first weekend; while Black or White has more family-friendly content, it would still be surprising if it wound up significantly higher.

The Loft is opening at 1,841 locations, and will almost certainly earn less than $5 million this weekend. The movie is a remake of 2008 Belgian thriller Loft, which was also directed by Erik Van Looy. It was originally set for an August release via Universal Pictures, though they pulled it from the schedule and eventually handed it off to Open Road Films.

The cast has a handful of recognizable actors, though no one who is particularly bankable: James Marsden and Karl Urban are the featured names, and their leading role track records include movies like Dredd ($13.4 million), The Box ($15.1 million) and Straw Dogs (2011) ($10.3 million). With a very light last minute marketing push, it would be surprising if this wound up on par with those titles.

It's important to note that Black or White and The Loft are both very modest releases: each has a fairly low theater count, and neither has received a big marketing spend. The point here is that when these wind up earning very little this weekend, it isn't nearly as painful as when Mortdecai or Blackhat flopped (in both of those cases, the studios were all in).

The most interesting release this weekend might not even be a movie: the final two episodes of the fourth season of HBO's Game of Thrones will play at 205 IMAX locations this weekend, via a release from Warner Bros. (HBO and Warner Bros. are both in the Time Warner family).

These are two of the most cinematic episodes of one of the most cinematic shows ever produced—full disclosure, I'm a pretty big fan—and they seem well-suited for the IMAX format. As an added incentive, a never-before-seen trailer for the fifth season will play at the very end.

It's still unlikely, though, that a huge portion of the Game of Thrones fan base is interested in paying for a ticket that costs a bit more than a month of HBO. The best comparisons here are the Raiders of the Lost Ark IMAX re-release and the Top Gun 3D re-release, which earned $1.67 million and $1.97 million on their opening weekends. Look for a number in the same general range—$1 to $2 million—for Game of Thrones this weekend.

After four weeks in limited releases, A Most Violent Year expands nationwide to 818 theaters this weekend. That's the widest release for distributor A24 since Spring Breakers back in early 2013.

The movie has received a solid marketing push, and stars Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac have done the rounds on talk shows lately. While Chastain did receive a Golden Globe nomination, though, she missed out on an Oscar nomination, which would have probably drawn more attention to the movie this weekend.

A Most Violent Year has earned $1.35 million through Sunday, and will probably double that number by the end of the weekend.

Forecast (January 30 - February 1)

1. American Sniper - $37.4 million (-42%)

2. Project Almanac - $16 million

3. Paddington - $7 million (-43%)

4. The Boy Next Door - $6.9 million (-53%)

-. Black or White - $6 million

-. The Loft - $2.7 million

Bar for Success

Project Almanac is in good shape if it hits $15 million this weekend. Meanwhile, anything over $5 million is fine for Black or White and The Loft, which are both very modest releases.

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