Forecast: 'Pacific Rim' Goes to War With 'Grown Ups 2' This Weekend
Saturday AM Update: While Pacific Rim had more hype, general audiences ultimately chose to go with Grown Ups 2 on Friday. Adam Sandler's first sequel took first place with an estimated $16.3 million, which is a bit above the first movie's $14.4 million opening day. Meanwhile, Pacific Rim took second place with an estimated $14.6 million, which is a tad disappointing considering how strong its Thursday night grosses were. Meanwhile, Despicable Me 2 fell 56 percent to an estimated $13.4 million.

For the weekend, it looks like Grown Ups 2 and Despicable Me 2 will be in a tight race for first place with between $44 and $46 million. Meanwhile, Pacific Rim should earn between $37 and $41 million.

Friday AM Update: Pacific Rim got off to a strong start on Thursday night, and now seems on pace for a very good opening this weekend. The movie took in an estimated $3.6 million, which is on par with World War Z ($3.6 million) and Prometheus ($3.56 million at midnight only). Even more impressive was that a whopping 23 percent ($835,000) came from IMAX sales.

While Pacific Rim's weekend will likely be a little bit more front-loaded than World War Z, it still stands to reason that an opening north of $50 million is doable at this point.

Meanwhile, Grown Ups 2 took in $2.3 million from late shows, which also suggests its in line for a good debut this weekend.

Forecast: One of the most-anticipated movies of the year—at least according to the online crowd—opens this weekend, though it may wind up being beaten by two family-oriented sequels.

Pacific Rim, a monsters vs. robots epic, has been generating relentless online buzz since Warner Bros. premiered footage for the movie at last year's Comic-Con convention. Unfortunately, its marketing campaign hasn't done enough to attract average moviegoers, and as a result it should be in a tight race this weekend with holdover hit Despicable Me 2 and the weekend's other opener, Grown Ups 2.

Opening at 3,275 locations—2,737 of which will play the movie in 3D—Pacific Rim's release marks the seventh-straight time that distributor Warner Bros. has released a big-budget movie in mid-July. The first six times alternated between a Harry Potter movie (2007, 2009, 2011) and a Christopher Nolan movie (Batman in 2008 and 2012, Inception in 2010). With the Potter series over and Nolan on a break between movies, Warner Bros. is turning to Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim to fill this spot.

Prior to Pacific Rim, the only original movie to fill Warner Bros.'s mid-July slot was Nolan's Inception; with stunning sci-fi visuals and a director with geek credibility, it's likely that Warner was hoping for another Inception-level hit. That movie opened to $62.8 million, then held well throughout the Summer to close with over $292 million.

Unfortunately, Del Toro is no Nolan. That's not a knock against Del Toro, or a compliment to Nolan; instead, it's worth remembering that Nolan only reached the point where his name could sell a movie once The Dark Knight (already an established brand) became a sensation in 2008. While Del Toro undoubtedly has a following, his highest-grossing movie to date is Blade II, which earned just $82.3 million in 2002. It's also worth noting that Inception's marketing put highly-bankable lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio front-and-center, while Pacific Rim's advertising barely features its recognizable (but far from bankable) actors.

Without marketable talent, Warner Bros. has instead resorted to building brand awareness from scratch around the title Pacific Rim. Commercials begin by showing the title, then include the title in Twitter hashtag form throughout, then of course conclude with the title once again. In between, the advertisements showcase stylized robot vs. monster action that resembles a mix between Transformers and Godzilla. This has gone a long way to establishing awareness, at least—audiences clearly know a monsters vs. robots movie called Pacific Rim is coming out this weekend.

The big question now is whether or not that movie has much appeal with average moviegoers. Younger males are undoubtedly already sold on it, though that demographic can only take a movie so far. With CGI-heavy visuals and indistinguishable human characters, it's tough to imagine many women are on board, though recent advertisements have attempted to counter that a bit with some self-aware humor.

So far this Summer, three expensive non-sequels have underperformed—After Earth, White House Down and The Lone Ranger all opened under $30 million. The main exception has been World War Z, which unexpectedly debuted north of $66 million last month. While Pacific Rim has been battling reports of poor tracking for the past few weeks, online ticket seller Fandango reported this morning that the movie is actually outselling World War Z through the same point. While that figure is probably skewed by rabid Guillermo Del Toro fans, it still confirms that Pacific Rim will open to at least $30 million, which Warner Bros. says they would be happy with.

Even if Pacific Rim doesn't perform well at the domestic box office, it appears to be the type of movie that will have disproportionately high overseas grosses. It opens in 38 foreign markets this weekend (including the U.K., Italy, Russia, Mexico, South Korea and Australia) followed by France and Germany next weekend and China at the end of the month.

Grown Ups 2, which is star Adam Sandler's first sequel, opens at 3,491 locations this weekend. After debuting to $40.5 million in June 2010, the first Grown Ups went on to be a word-of-mouth hit and became Sandler's second-highest-grossing movie ever with $162 million.

At the time, Sandler was riding a wave of hits, as was co-star Kevin James. Since then, though, it's been a different story. For Sandler, Jack and Jill disappointed with $74.2 million, while last Summer's That's My Boy tanked with $36.9 million. For James, The Dilemma ($48.5 million) and Here Comes the Boom ($45.3 million) were both major misses, while Zookeeper ($80.4 million) also fell a bit short. These poor grosses suggest that audiences are, to some extent, tiring of Sandler and James's shtick.

Still, Grown Ups 2 combats those issues by bringing most of the gang (including Chris Rock and David Spade) back together, which gives this movie a major leg-up over those solo outings. Additionally, the marketing campaign has been very strong: it's shown off a handful of memorable gags—including an amusing nude cliff jump—and also highlighted attention-grabbing cameos from Shaq and Taylor Lautner. Sony is hoping for around $40 million this weekend, which would be identical to the first movie's $40.5 million.

In limited release, Sundance hit Fruitvale Station opens at seven locations this weekend. The movie has been garnering great reviews (92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and a ton of publicity, and should put up strong per-theater averages this weekend.

Forecast (July 12-14)

1. Pacific Rim - $46 million

2. Despicable Me 2 - $45.1 million (-46%)

3. Grown Ups 2 - $38.8 million

4. The Heat - $15.5 million (-38%)

5. Lone Ranger - $13.1 million (-55%)

6. Monsters U - $11.1 million (-44%)

7. World War Z - $10 million (-46%)

Bar for Success

Considering it's an original property without any stars whatsoever, the bar shouldn't be set too high for Pacific Rim. Still, it needs $40 million this weekend to put it on the right track long-term. For Grown Ups 2, a modest drop from the first movie would be acceptable—anything over $35 million is a win.

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