Forecast: Great Odin's Raven! 'Anchorman 2' Set for Strong Start
Over nine years after the Channel 4 news team first appeared on the big screen, Ron Burgundy and crew return this weekend in Anchorman: The Legend Continues. With a robust marketing campaign targeted at the original's rabid fanbase, Anchorman 2 should open in first place ahead of The Hobbit and a handful of newcomers.

After opening to $28.4 million in July 2004, the original Anchorman ended its run with $85.3 million. Unfortunately the movie made next-to-nothing at the overseas box office, so initially a sequel didn't seem like it had much potential. In the years since, though, stars Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd have all seen their stars rise substantially. More importantly, the movie wound up connecting with a much larger audience in its post-theatrical release, and the endlessly quotable characters have become a permanent pop culture fixture.

Eventually, it became fairly obvious that there was potential for a sequel. Paramount agreed to finance the sequel for a surprisingly-low $50 million, which suggests that stars Ferrell, Carell and Rudd cut their upfront fees in exchange for more backend participation.

Paramount's marketing for Anchorman 2—which opens at 3,450 locations on Wednesday—has been, to say the least, aggressive. It got started in early 2012 when Ferrell appeared in character on late-night talk show Conan to announce the movie. Closer to release, Ron Burgundy has been popping up in numerous other places including a North Dakota newscast and, of course, those ubiquitous Dodge Durango commercials.

Ads for the movie itself have focused on the story—the Channel 4 news team moves to New York to help start the first 24-hour news station—while also providing a few solid laughs. Still, nothing on display here is going to win over any converts: Paramount's marketing has been aimed exclusively at generating awareness among Anchorman fans, and in that regard it's been an overwhelming success.

While Anchorman 2 has all the makings of a blockbuster comedy opening (a la The Hangover Part II), it's going to initially be held back a bit by its release date: historically, movies opening before Christmas have smaller-than-expected debuts ahead of strong holds through the end of the year. As of Tuesday afternoon, Paramount was expecting $40 to $45 million for its five-day start, though a gross north of $50 million does seem very doable.

The only other brand-new movie this weekend is Walking with Dinosaurs, which will reach roughly 3,200 locations. The family adventure follows a group of CGI dinosaurs on a journey of some kind, and the light humor on display in advertisements suggests this is only for the youngest of audiences. In an effort to broaden interest a bit, Fox has been invoking Avatar in its marketing lately—"Experience the adventure that seeks to give kids what Avatar offered to adults."

From a box office perspective, Walking with Dinosaurs calls to mind Yogi Bear, which opened to $16.4 million on the same weekend in 2010 before becoming the de facto choice for families with younger children through the holidays. With tough competition from Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks, though, expect Walking with Dinosaurs to start a bit slower.

American Hustle expands to around 2,500 locations after opening to a phenomenal $740,455 at six locations last weekend. Its $123,409 per-theater average ranks fourth all-time for a live-action movie, and is nearly $50,000 above director David O. Russell's The Fighter ($75,003). Intense demand in New York and Los Angeles doesn't always portend a strong nationwide opening—look no further than The Master for evidence of that—though it does seem like American Hustle has enough appeal to reach general audiences.

Sony's marketing campaign has first-and-foremost emphasized the talent involved: nearly every advertisement points out that the movie is from the director of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, and it's also been made pretty clear that Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence are underneath those awful 70s hairdos. In the past week, there's been an additional push around American Hustle's critical acclaim (94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and awards attention (seven Golden Globe nominations).

All of this messaging conveys that, above all else, American Hustle is going to be a good movie, which is a strong value proposition for adult audiences. The Fighter earned $12.1 million when it expanded nationwide at the same time in 2010—look for American Hustle to open over $15 million.

Disney's Saving Mr. Banks is also coming off a week in limited release, though it was much less successful: playing in 15 locations, Banks earned a fine $413,373. This is a movie more for general audiences than for arthouse crowds, though, so this performance isn't necessarily indicative of the movie's overall potential.

Expanding to around 2,200 theaters this weekend, Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) convinced P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to allow Walt Disney Pictures to adapt her book Mary Poppins. While that's not the most accessible storyline, advertisements do give off a feel-good vibe reminiscent of Banks director John Lee Hancock's The Blind Side. The movie also provides the unique, appealing opportunity to see modern movie legend Hanks bring Walt Disney to life. Still, audiences aren't likely to rush out to this one—look for a low opening followed by stronger-than-average holds through the holiday season.

Director Spike Jonze's Her opens in six locations on Wednesday. The movie has been getting a decent amount of awards attention lately, and should play well in limited release. Warner Bros. is currently planning on expanding the movie nationwide on January 10th.

Forecast (Dec. 20-22)

1. Anchorman 2 - $40.1 million ($61.3 million)

2. The Hobbit - $29.6 million (-60%)

3. American Hustle - $16.6 million

4. Frozen - $16 million (-29%)

5. Saving Mr. Banks - $12.4 million

6. Walking with Dinosaurs - $11.8 million

Bar for Success

Anchorman: The Legend Continues is in fine shape if it reaches $40 million over its first five days. Meanwhile Walking with Dinosaurs, American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks get a pass if they earn at least $10 million this weekend. While these numbers seem fairly low, it's important to remember that these titles will perform better in the long-term thanks to the upcoming holidays.

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

Related Stories:

Last Weekend's Report: 'Smaug' Sets Fire to Box Office, Misses First 'Hobbit's Mark

Holiday 2013 Forecast