Meanwhile, Laika Animation's The Boxtrolls will battle The Maze Runner for the runner-up spot.
The Equalizer is based on the TV show of the same name, which ran for four seasons in the 1980s. It featured a former intelligence agent who uses a unique set of skills to help average people "equalize" the odds against them. The connection to the TV show should generate some curiosity among older moviegoers, though the primary draw here is star Denzel Washington.
In the past decade, Denzel has starred in 11 movies which were released in to at least 1,800 theaters; all 11 of those took in north of $20 million on opening weekend. Remarkably, nine of those 11 movies were rated R. Without a doubt, Denzel is currently one of the most bankable stars at the domestic box office.
The Equalizer aligns well with the butt-kicking brand that Denzel has established in the last 10 years; his Robert McCall character feels like an amalgamation of his roles in Safe House, The Book of Eli and Man on Fire. The movie also reteams Denzel with director Antoine Fuqua, who he previous worked with on 2001's Training Day (which, of course, won Denzel an Oscar for Best Actor).
Awareness is high among prospective moviegoers thanks to a major marketing push that's managed to reach a diverse audience. One noteworthy element is the outreach to Eminem's massive fanbase; the rap star's latest single "Guts Over Fear" plays over the movie's end credits.
A sequel to The Equalizer is already in development, which suggests Sony is fairly bullish on the movie's prospects. If it moves forward, it will be the first sequel in Denzel's 30-plus-year career.
According to Fandango, The Equalizer is out-selling Safe House ($40.2 million), 2 Guns ($27.1 million) and Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen ($30.4 million). This data suggests that The Equalizer has a strong shot at opening north of $30 million this weekend.
Opening at 3,464 theaters, The Boxtrolls is the latest movie from stop-motion animation house Laika Animation. While stop-motion is an acclaimed filmmaking style, it's not known for strong opening weekends: the biggest ever belongs to Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, which opened to $19.1 million back in 2005.
Laika's last two movies—Coraline and ParaNorman—opened to $16.8 million and $14.1 million, respectively. The Boxtrolls has probably had a more aggressive marketing push, though it's still not clear if it has as much immediate appeal as their previous movies.
Coraline and ParaNorman had a creepy, dark sensibility to them that called to mind Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas. With its more colorful aesthetic and decidedly British flair, The Boxtrolls seems to skew closer to Aardman Animation efforts like Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and The Pirates! Band of Misfits.
Based on these comparisons, The Boxtrolls should wind up anywhere from $11 to $17 million this weekend.
Country music drama The Song is getting a moderate release (at least 300 theaters) via Samuel Goldwyn Films. It's targeted toward Christian moviegoers, which means there's always a chance that it surprises; still, the country music focus calls to mind The Identical, which recently opened to just $1.59 million from nearly 2,000 theaters.
Lionsgate/Pantelion's Mas Negro Que La Noche is opening at around 150 theaters this weekend. Outside of Instructions Not Included, Pantelion movies (targeted toward Latino moviegoers) have had a fairly low ceiling: so far this year, Cesar Chavez topped out at $5.6 million, while Cantinflas will likely fall short of $7 million.
CBS Films is releasing Pride in six locations. The movie has done solidly in the U.K. ($3 million through its first 10 days), and could be a word-of-mouth hit here (it has a fantastic 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Still, without any huge art house talent attached, it probably won't get off to a massive start this weekend (less than $20,000 per-theater average seems likely).
Forecast (September 26-28)
1. The Equalizer - $32 million
2. The Maze Runner - $15.6 million (-52%)
3. The Boxtrolls - $14 million
Bar for Success
The Equalizer needs at least $25 million this weekend, while The Boxtrolls ought to be matching ParaNorman ($14.1 million).
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• Last Weekend's Forecast: 'Maze Runner' on Track for Big First Place Debut
• Last Weekend's Report: 'Maze Runner' Franchise Off to Strong Start