Forecast: 'Kick-Ass,' 'Butler' Battle for First This Weekend
The Summer movie season is finally starting to wind down, though that didn't stop studios from scheduling four different nationwide releases this weekend. Judging exclusively by fanboy buzz, Kick-Ass 2 seems like the top contender, though Lee Daniels' The Butler has strong appeal among neglected adult audiences and could wind up over-performing. Meanwhile, Paranoia and Jobs each seem poised to open below $10 million.

Kick-Ass 2 hits theaters almost three-and-a-half years after the first Kick-Ass, which opened to $19.8 million on its way to a fine $48.1 million. It didn't do great business overseas either (over $48 million), so on the surface, at least, it's a surprising choice for a sequel. According to distributor Universal, though, the movie did disproportionately well on home video, which ultimately makes the sequel economics work out.

While it may be true that Kick-Ass gained a bigger following after its theatrical run, that doesn't guarantee that the sequel will perform better. Kick-Ass was by no means a "surprise" at the time of its release: its extensive marketing effort kicked off at Comic-Con nine months earlier, and distributor Lionsgate was able to get the movie in to over 3,000 locations on opening weekend (a very high number for an R-rated action comedy from a mid-major distributor). It had the advantage of looking fresh and fun, and generated plenty of buzz thanks to Nicolas Cage's portrayal of a psychotic Batman wannabe.

Kick-Ass 2 has received about the same marketing push, though it's been arguably less effective. Most of the imagery looks like it could have been pulled straight from the first movie—the teaser poster, found here, is particularly derivative. Also, Cage has been replaced by Jim Carrey in this movie, though Carrey has been largely absent from advertisements (his part is comparatively small, and he opted out of doing publicity). It also doesn't help that Kick-Ass 2 has been eviscerated by critics—it currently has a poor 28 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ultimately, this seems like a classic case in which a well-liked original movie spawns an underperforming sequel. Two strong examples in the past year are Red 2 and The Expendables 2, both of which opened a bit lower than their predecessors. Based on those comparisons, Kick-Ass 2 could be in line for as low as $15 million this weekend. Universal is more optimistically projecting that Kick-Ass 2 will open around the same level as the original ($19.8 million).

Opening at 2,933 locations, Lee Daniels' The Butler could actually wind up ahead of Kick-Ass 2 this weekend. The movie has an all-star cast led by Forest Whitaker and Oprah, who is appearing on the big screen for the first time in over a decade and has been doing tons of publicity for the movie. The Weinstein Company has also done a lot of outreach to churchgoers, which is a group that can drive a lot of business to inspirational movies like this.

One of The Butler's biggest advantages is its very strong release date. After a few months of big-budget, male-skewing blockbuster fare, female-skewing adult dramas have consistently done good business in August. From 2009 to 2011, Julie and Julia, Eat Pray Love and The Help all opened over $20 million. The Help in particular is a good match for The Butler, as both movies deal with race issues during the U.S. civil rights movement.

All of this data suggests that a $20 million debut is a safe bet for The Butler, which should put it ahead of Kick-Ass 2.

Jobs opens at 2,381 locations this weekend. The biopic, which stars Ashton Kutcher as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, has received a modest marketing push, and critics have given it generally poor reviews (22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). This is the opposite of 2010's The Social Network, which had fantastic reviews and a broad marketing effort. With Jobs generating a fraction of the interest, it's likely that it opens to less than half of The Social Network's $22.4 million; distributor Open Road Films is expecting $8 to $9 million.

Corporate thriller Paranoia, which stars Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman, is opening at 2,459 locations. With a vague premise, light marketing, and a ton of competition in the market, it's likely that this winds up getting lost in the shuffle. Distributor Relativity Media is expecting between $4 and $6 million this weekend.

Forecast (August 16-18)

1. The Butler - $24.1 million

2. Kick-Ass 2 - $17.1 million

3. We're the Millers - $14.2 million (-46%)

4. Planes - $13.9 million (-37%)

5. Elysium - $13.1 million (-56%)

-. Jobs - $8.3 million

-. Paranoia - $6.6 million

Bar for Success

Kick-Ass 2 should at least match its predecessor's $19.8 million debut, while anything above $15 million is fine for Lee Daniels' The Butler. Considering they are each going out in over 2,300 locations with a nationwide marketing effort, Jobs and Paranoia ought to earn at least $10 million this weekend.

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