After three weeks on top, The Avengers will almost certainly have to settle for second place behind MIB 3 over Memorial Day weekend. The sci-fi comedy three-quel, which marks star Will Smith's return to the big screen following a three-and-a-half-year absence, will reach 4,248 theaters, which is the 12th-widest opening ever. Horror flick Chernobyl Diaries will also open nationwide at 2,433 locations, though it's unlikely to drive significant traffic.
It's pretty widely accepted that as of 2008, Will Smith was the undisputed king of the box office. From 1996 to 2008, the Fresh Prince headlined a dozen $100 million movies, which is more than any other actor including Tom Cruise (nine during that same time). That tear began with 1996's Independence Day, which is still Smith's highest-grossing movie at $306.2 million, and ended with Hancock, which earned a whopping $227.9 million in Summer 2008. Unfortunately, Smith's last movie Seven Pounds was one of his rare box office disappointments at just under $70 million, and the former work horse hasn't made an on-screen appearance since.
Included in that phenomenal box office run were the first two Men in Black movies, which earned $250.7 million and $190.4 million, respectively, in 1997 and 2002. While the original movie is a fan favorite, though, the sequel was much maligned in its day and currently holds a terrible 5.8 rating on IMDb. The success of sequels is usually largely dependent on the reception for the previous entry, and in this case that should spell trouble for MIB 3.
That being said, Sony has put together a nice marketing effort in the past month or so. The tagline "Back in Time" underscores the campaign's attempt to demonstrate that the popular series is back, but that this entry is just different enough thanks to the inclusion of time travel. Commercials have also put an emphasis on Josh Brolin's impeccable Tommy Lee Jones impersonation (he plays a younger version of Jones' Agent K), which suggests that this movie does offer something unique. These previews can be a bit disjointed—the production was plagued with delays and rewrites, and if you look hard enough you can almost see the seams—but it's a nit-picky thing that isn't going to affect most movie-going decisions. MIB 3 could also be held back by the fact that The Avengers and Battleship have already done the alien invasion thing to death this Summer, though the Men in Black franchise can at least claim to be one of the progenitors of this craze. Sony is projecting around $80 million for the four-day holiday weekend, though don't be surprised if the movie winds up above this mark.
Aside from its domestic opening, MIB 3 is also reaching most international markets this weekend. Will Smith, Men in Black and 3D are all huge overseas, which suggest that the movie is going to make quite a mark in its opening.
Chernobyl Diaries is the latest scare-fest from Paranormal Activity producer Oren Peli. Those three movies have averaged nearly $100 million at the domestic box office, and Warner Bros. would obviously like to see a similar result for Chernobyl. Unfortunately, those movies had a clear supernatural threat, and made strong use of the now-popular found footage concept. Chernobyl, on the other hand, finds young adults terrorized by a vague, possibly mutant threat, and it's unclear how much if any of the movie is presented as found footage. The movie is at least being pushed as a strong midnight choice—it's playing at 1,300 theaters at midnight—and it's been a while since audiences have had a straight-forward horror option. Still, reaching $20 million for the four-day frame seems very unlikely.
Aside from these nationwide releases, two major movies open in four theaters each this weekend. Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom has been getting strong marks out of the Cannes Film Festival, where it debuted last week. Anderson's movies aren't for everyone, but he does have a loyal fanbase that even managed to get The Darjeeling Limited to $11.9 million, and Focus Features should be able to capitalize on word-of-mouth to get Moonrise Kingdom to at least the same level in the next few months.
French comedy The Intouchables is the highest-grossing foreign language movie ever with at least $340 million in revenue so far. The movie was obviously a huge hit in native France, though it's also the highest-grossing movie of the year in Germany, and managed to spend at least six weeks in the Top 10 in South Korea. The story, about a friendship between a quadriplegic and a kid from the projects, has clearly resonated with audiences from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, and if this doesn't hit it big in the U.S. it will be more a result of poor marketing/distribution and less about the accessibility of the movie.
Also worth noting: after earning $9.7 million in just under three weeks of limited release, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is expanding nationwide in to 1,233 locations this weekend.
Four-Day Forecast (May 25-28)
1. MIB 3 - $84 million
2. The Avengers - $41.7 million (-25%)
3. Battleship - $15.3 million (-40%)
4. Chernobyl Diaries - $14.8 million
5. The Dictator - $11.5 million (-34%)
Bar for Success
A four-day start north of $70 million puts MIB 3 at roughly the same level as most of Will Smith's bigger movies, and that would be a fine start for this three-quel. Chernobyl Diaries can't be expected to reach Paranormal Activity 3 ($52.6 million), but with a prime Summer slot and decent promotion the movie needs to earn at least $15 million this weekend to get a pass.
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• Last Weekend's Forecast: 'Battleship' Will Likely Miss 'Avengers'
• Last Weekend Report: 'Battleship' Drowns Under Weight of 'Avengers'
• May Preview
• Summer 2012 Domestic Forecast