Forecast: Four new movies hit theaters over Easter weekend, though the fight for first place will likely be a rematch between holdovers Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Rio 2.
This is because the weekend's highest-profile release, Transcendence, is limping in to theaters with little buzz and horrible reviews. The movie is enough of a curiosity that it won't be a complete disaster, but there is a chance it winds up below $20 million.
That would put it close to Heaven is for Real, which got a strong start on Wednesday. Meanwhile, spoof sequel A Haunted House 2 and Disneynature documentary Bears are also opening.
Debuting at 3,455 locations, Transcendence stars Johnny Depp as a scientist who has his consciousness uploaded in to a supercomputer. While Depp is still one of the biggest stars in the world, he's coming off two pricey disappointments in Dark Shadows ($79.7 million) and The Lone Ranger ($89.3 million). His presence alone is no longer enough to sell a movie.
Outside of Depp, Transcendence doesn't seem to have much to offer. The movie explores big ideas about the relationship between humanity and technology, but the presentation seems to be on par with a very expensive TED talk. These loftier ambitions clash with sci-fi action that appears to mostly take place between faceless adversaries. The movie does at least have strong support from Morgan Freeman, who has likely elevated box office prospects for recent movies like Oblivion, Now You See Me and Last Vegas.
Trailers point out that the movie is from director Wally Pfister—a name few will recognize—while ignoring the fact that Christopher Nolan is an executive producer. That's odd, considering Nolan's directorial efforts have netted nearly $3 billion in the past six years. It's possible that Nolan had the foresight to jump ship early: as of Thursday afternoon, Transcendence has a horrible 15 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
There's a slight chance that Heaven is for Real actually opens above Transcendence this weekend. The faith-based drama debuted in first place on Wednesday with $3.7 million, and is leading weekend pre-sales on Fandango. That's likely a result of group sales to religious groups, which has been a large part of Sony's marketing campaign for this adaptation of the popular 2010 book of the same name.
If Heaven is for Real breaks out, it would be the latest in a series of faith-based movies to put up impressive box office numbers. Despite being repurposed from content on TV, Son of God is nearing $60 million. On strong word-of-mouth, Freestyle Releasing's God's Not Dead has been a surprise hit with $42.8 million (and counting). Noah has earned more than either of these movies ($87.5 million), though its Old Testament story, fantasy elements, and acclaimed director broadened the appeal outside of the Christian base.
It's hard to know exactly how Heaven is for Real will play over the weekend, as many Christians will be preoccupied with various family gatherings and religious services. Sony is currently expecting around $20 million for the five-day period, which seems like a safe bet given the movie's strong Wednesday performance.
A Haunted House 2 reaches theaters 15 months after its predecessor did solid business at the domestic box office. The micro-budget horror spoof opened to an impressive $18.1 million, though it fell off quickly and wound up closing just over $40 million.
Marketing for the sequel has played off recent horror movies like The Conjuring, Mama and Insidious Chapter 2. It's also attempting to mix things up by bringing in popular comedian Gabriel Iglesias (aka Fluffy). Still, this installment doesn't feel nearly as fresh as the first one, which also benefited from a less-crowded January schedule. At this point, it would be shocking if A Haunted House 2 came anywhere close to the first movie's $18.1 million debut.
Opening at 1,720 locations, Bears is the fifth nature documentary from the Disneynature label. All five have opened around Earth Day (April 22nd), which falls on a Tuesday this year. The very first movie, Earth (2009), remains the highest-grossing one with $32 million, though 2012's Chimpanzee was also a strong performer with $29 million. For the weekend, Bears should fall anywhere from $5 to $10 million.
Forecast (April 18-20)
1. Rio 2 - $25.1 million (-36%)
2. Captain America - $22.7 million (-45%)
3. Transcendence - $20.9 million
4. Heaven is for Real - $15.3 million ($21.8 million five-day)
5. A Haunted House 2 - $11.9 million
6. Bears - $7.4 million
Bar for Success
With a huge budget and an A-list star, Transcendence ought to be opening over $30 million. Heaven is for Real is in great shape at $20 million for the five-day period. A Haunted House 2 needs to retain a solid percentage of the original movie's audience; anything over $15 million is a win. Finally, Bears should be hitting the Disneynature minimum ($6 million).
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• Last Weekend's Report: 'Captain America' Wins Close Fight with 'Rio 2'
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• April Preview