Forecast: 'SpongeBob' To Take Down 'Sniper' on First Weekend of February
After dominated the box office for three straight weeks, American Sniper will cede first place this weekend to a talking sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water seems poised to open north of $35 million, which would be more than enough to take the top spot over the first weekend of February.

Among the other new releases, the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending will compete with American Sniper for second place, while Seventh Son could struggle to reach $10 million.

Playing at 3,641 locations, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water arrives in theaters over a decade after the first SpongeBob movie, which was a feature length version of the immensely popular Nickelodeon animated show. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie opened to $32 million on its way to $85.4 million, or around $114 million adjusted for ticket price inflation.

While SpongeBob and company are still fairly popular, it's likely that they've fallen off a bit from their prime. Recognizing this, Paramount and Nickelodeon have gone out of their way to differentiate this movie from what's come before. As the title suggests, SpongeBob and his friends (Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, etc.) head to the surface, where they turn in to CGI characters a la The Smurfs.

That's not the only change the characters undergo, though: once on the surface, they take on superhero alter egos in order to do battle with the movie's villain, portrayed by Antonio Banderas. This seems particularly well-timed, given how popular superhero movies have been in the past few years. Its tongue-in-cheek approach to the genre should help sell the movie to parents, which is crucial to reaching family moviegoers.

On this same weekend last year, The LEGO Movie opened to nearly $70 million. That was a true phenomenon, though, and there's no reason to expect that SpongeBob can match that. According to Fandango, the movie is out-selling Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which opened to $32.2 million last February; Paramount is similarly expecting an opening in the mid-$30-millions, which would put it in the same range as Rango ($38.1 million), Hop ($37.5 million) and The Smurfs ($35.6 million).

Opening at 3,181 locations, Jupiter Ascending is a sci-fi epic written and directed by the Wachowskis and starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. The siblings have struggled to create a hit in the years since The Matrix trilogy ended: Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas bombed with $43.9 million and $27.1 million, respectively.

Jupiter Ascending seems to have a bit more potential than either of those titles. The movie's eye-popping visuals and effects-heavy sci-fi action make this seem like The Matrix in space, while the movie's storyline is essentially a gender reversal of The Matrix: Mila Kunis' character discovers that she's heir to an intergalactic throne much the same way Neo discovered that he's "The One."

Jupiter Ascending also has a lot working against it, though. Marketing has never quite figured out how to distill the movie's convoluted plot, and has done a so-so job hiding some of the movie's sillier aspects. Also, while stars Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis are fairly popular, both have been successful primarily in comedic roles. Tatum, specifically, has a recent action movie flop under his belt with White House Down. It also doesn't help that the movie has been savaged by critics: as of Thursday afternoon, it was at 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

In the past 18 months, Elysium, Edge of Tomorrow and Ender's Game all opened in the $25 to $30 million range, which seems a bit high for Jupiter Ascending. Warner Bros. is more modestly expecting an opening in the low $20-millions.

Even if Jupiter Ascending flops in the U.S., it's the type of visually compelling movie that plays disproportionately well overseas. While it may not reach Edge of Tomorrow's $269 million, it should have no problem reaching $200 million.

Nearly three years after principal photography began, Seventh Son finally arrives in 2,872 theaters this weekend. The movie has had a number of release date shifts, which culminated in a year-long delay when production company Legendary Pictures moved from Warner Bros. to Universal.

Months ahead of the movie's release, Legendary took a massive writedown on the movie, which shows an astonishing lack of confidence in the fantasy movie's prospects. It's also not encouraging that they decided to open the movie against Jupiter Ascending, which targets a similar audience and is, by most accounts, vastly more appealing.

Regardless, Seventh Son has received a moderate marketing push (including a spot before the Super Bowl) in the past few weeks. Ads have emphasized that the movie is from the production company behind 300: Rise of An Empire and Godzilla, which both did strong business while drawing mixed reactions from moviegoers.

Universal is expecting an opening in the $7 to $10 million range; if it makes it to the upper end of that, it will be in the same ballpark as similar flops Conan the Barbarian ($10 million) and Pompeii ($10.3 million).

Seventh Son has, at least, saved some face overseas: it began rolling out in December, and has so far earned over $82 million (that includes $26 million in China). It will continue to reach new markets through the end of March.

Forecast (February 6-8)

1. SpongeBob - $41 million

2. Jupiter Ascending - $22 million

3. American Sniper - $20.8 million (-32%)

4. Seventh Son - $9 million

Bar for Success

With a decade of ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D premiums, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water ought to at least match The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie's $32 million debut. Meanwhile, Jupiter Ascending gets a pass at $30 million, while Seventh Son would be in great shape at $20 million.

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