Forecast: 'Fifty Shades' Set to Spank 'Hot Tub' Sequel This Weekend
Coming off one of the busiest weekends in years, the box office is going to quiet down significantly this coming weekend.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, McFarland, USA and The DUFF are all opening in at least 2,500 theaters, though it would be surprising if any of these took in over $15 million this weekend. Therefore, the top three spots should once again belong to Fifty Shades of Grey, Kingsman: The Secret Service and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

Coming off a massive $85.2 million debut, Fifty Shades of Grey seems poised to take a dive this weekend. Word-of-mouth is mixed, die-hard book fans likely already made it out last weekend, and romantic movies tend to fall hard coming off Valentine's Day. About Last Night (2014), Endless Love and Valentine's Day all fell at least 70 percent on this same weekend, while the Twilight sequels and The Fault in our Stars had similar second weekend drops.

That being said, Fifty Shades of Grey has played surprising well throughout the week. On Wednesday, it earned $4.2 million, which is nearly twice as much as Valentine's Day's $2.23 million on the same date back in 2010. If that same math plays out over the weekend, Fifty Shades would wind up over $30 million.

Opening at 2,880 theaters, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 will likely wind up leading the newcomers this weekend. The movie arrives nearly five years after the original Hot Tub Time Machine, which opened to $14 million and held well on its way to a $50.3 million total. The first Hot Tub also reportedly did well in the post-theatrical marketplace (DVD, cable, VOD, etc.), which made a sequel seem like a good opportunity.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 brings back Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, all of whom have done a solid amount of promotion for the movie (including an appearance at Mardi Gras this week). Unfortunately, John Cusack did not return; he's been replaced by Adam Scott, who is barely visible in the marketing campaign.

Alongside the change in lead actor, the five-year gap between installments is a bit concerning. Typically, comedy sequels are most successful if they arrive around two years after their predecessor (The Hangover Part II, 22 Jump Street) or open so much later that there's a nostalgia angle (Dumb and Dumber To, Anchorman: The Legend Continues).

This feels a bit like Horrible Bosses 2, which opened three-and-a-half years after its well-liked—but not really loved—predecessor, and went on to earn less than half as much at the domestic box office. If Hot Tub Time Machine 2 fared similarly, it wound wind up with less than $25 million total—which would likely translate to an opening below $10 million. Paramount is a bit more bullish, and are currently forecasting a debut in the mid-teen-millions.

Playing at 2,755 theaters, McFarland, USA will almost certainly open below $10 million this weekend. Kevin Costner—the go-to guy for sports movies for three decades now—stars in the true story about a small town high school cross country team that makes an unlikely bid for the California state championship.

After stepping out of the limelight for a few years, Costner has been pretty ubiquitous lately: in the past 12 months, he's headlined 3 Days to Kill, Draft Day and Black or White. Each movie has opened lower than the last, with Black or White starting off with just $6.2 million. McFarland, USA should reverse that trend, though not in a dramatic way.

The movie does have above-average reviews, and Disney has done a nice job with outreach to the Hispanic community (including a first-of-its-kind promotion with myLINGO, a smartphone app that will translate the movie for Spanish-speaking audiences). Still, cross country running isn't exactly a spectator sport, and doesn't have the kind of built-in familiarity that football or baseball does.

Even movies that do feature those popular sports have struggled lately. Million Dollar Arm—also a true story from Disney—debuted to a weak $10.5 million last May, and When the Game Stands Tall opened even lower ($8.4 million) in August. Add Draft Day in there ($9.8 million), and it seems like there's a pretty small range of potential outcomes for McFarland, USA this weekend.

Opening at 2,575 locations, The DUFF is this weekend's big wild card. The comedy is based off a 2010 young-adult book in which a high school student is designed the DUFF, or "designated ugly fat friend." The setting, female lead and sharp humor has led some to make the bold declaration that The DUFF is this decade's Mean Girls.

It's unclear if that message has really gotten across, though. CBS Films—which now has Lionsgate handling distribution on their titles—has been screening the movie aggressively, and word-of-mouth and reviews both seem solid. Still, it doesn't seem like there's been the kind of advertising spend necessary to really open a movie at this scale (2,500 theaters). It's also hard to tell if there's much of an existing fanbase here; even if there was, that's often an unreliable indicator (remember last year's Vampire Academy?).

A good comparison for the movie is 2010's Easy A, which opened to $17.7 million off of a much more robust marketing effort. CBS Films is expecting a more modest $7 to $9 million this weekend.

Forecast (February 20-22)

1. Fifty Shades of Grey - $30.7 million (-64%)

2. Kingsman - $19.5 million (-46%)

3. SpongeBob - $19.2 million (-39%)

4. American Sniper - $10 million (-39%)

5. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 - $9.5 million

6. The DUFF - $9 million

7. McFarland, USA - $8.7 million

Bar for Success

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 isn't going to have the kind of legs that its predecessor did, so it really ought to be opening close to the same level ($14 million). Meanwhile, McFarland, USA and The DUFF are in fine shape if they get to $10 million this weekend.

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