Forecast: This weekend, Captain America: The First Avenger invades close to 6,700 screens at 3,715 locations (including around 2,500 showing the movie in 3D), while Friends with Benefits grabs around 3,500 screens at 2,926 locations. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will cast a formidable shadow, though, after breaking the opening weekend gross record.
Captain America is the most mainstream superhero making a big screen debut this summer, which presumably gives it an advantage over Thor and Green Lantern. The marketing has taken great pains to make the character relatable and heroic, focusing on his origin as a physically-weak-but-earnest soldier. As well-known as the name and costume are, though, Captain America's powers have always been unclear to the uninitiated, but the movie's advertising has explained that he is a buffed-out super soldier. While that initially appeared to lack the wow factor, the marketing has deftly made it work with the character and World War II setting. Supernatural powers like Thor's and Green Lantern's would have made Captain less grounded, and, generally, a superhero that's not seemingly invincible works best. Captain also has a strong villain in Red Skull, and the marketing has pitched it as a rip-roaring retro adventure. The tagline "Heroes are made in America" was a ballsy move and, hopefully, the movie lives up to it.
Distributor Paramount Pictures said their pre-release tracking pegged Captain America in the range of X-Men: First Class ($55 million) and Thor ($65.7 million). Thor had the early May advantage, when screens are freer and business is more concentrated on the weekends than in late July. However, adjusted for ticket price inflation, past July superhero debuts have fared better: the first X-Men did the equivalent of nearly $80 million, while Fantastic Four (also featuring Captain's Chris Evans) adjusted to $69 million. Another proper comp would be G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which abandon its "real American hero" roots and debuted to the equivalent of $58 million.
If Captain America can just muster an average start for a major superhero movie, it could dethrone Deathly Hallows Part 2. The final Harry Potter made history with its $169.2 million, but, to paraphrase a quote from Singin' in the Rain, "all-time smash end of first weekend, all-time flop end of the second." Now, that's an exaggeration, but Deathly Hallows Part 2 is in store for a massive weekend-to-weekend decline, due to the franchise's historic patterns, the movie's daily gross pattern and the fact that its first weekend included a record-breaking $43.5 million midnight Friday launch. The last July Potters, Half-Blood Prince and Order of the Phoenix, fell 62 and 58 percent, respectively, in their second weekends, and their first weekends were muted from Wednesday openings to begin with, not pumped up like Deathly Hallows Part 2's.
Meanwhile, Friends with Benefits is the second "friends-with-benefits" sex comedy of the year after No Strings Attached, which opened to $19.7 million and closed with $70.7 million. The connection extends further than just the premise: No Strings Attached was originally called Friends with Benefits, both movies feature two actresses hot off Black Swan (Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis) and two people from That '70s Show (Ashton Kutcher, Kunis), and both made acronyms out of their titles in the ads (NSA and FWB). Just because two movies with the same concept open in close proximity with each other, doesn't mean they necessarily cannibalize each other or that the second movie suffers (ex. Armageddon opened after Deep Impact but made more). Also featuring Justin Timberlake, who has established a comedy persona (through Saturday Night Live, etc.), Friends with Benefits comes off as a more outrageous version of No Strings Attached and stuffs more gags in its ads, so it should hook up with many, mostly female moviegoers.
In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, Captain America scored 41 percent for opening weekend, edging out Green Lantern's 39.4 percent and Fantastic Four's 38.3 percent but trailing Thor's 53.6 percent. With 12 percent for opening weekend, Friends with Benefits was stronger than No Strings Attached (10 percent) and What Happens in Vegas (9.6 percent) and behind Bridesmaids (13.4 percent).
The Forecast, July 22-24
1. Captain America: The First Avenger - $62 million
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - $48 million
3. Friends with Benefits - $23 million
4. Transformers: Dark of the Moon - $11.5 million
5. Horrible Bosses - $10.5 million
Bar for Success
Captain America needs to at least strike the recent opening range for comparable superhero origin stories, normalized for inflation. That means at least the low $60 million's. It also needs to show greater gumption than the lesser-known superheroes of the summer, but, since long term playability can be greater in the late summer, that doesn't necessarily mean it has to exceed Thor's debut. As for Friends with Benefits, if it can get in spitting distance of No Strings Attached, then it'll be peachy.
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• Last Weekend's Forecast: 'Harry Potter' to Go Out with a Bang
• July Preview
• Extended Summer Forecast: 'Harry Potter,' 'Transformers' & More Vie for Top Gross
• 'Captain America: The First Avenger'
• 'Friends with Benefits'