Forecast (cont.): 'The Best of Me,' 'Men, Women & Children,' 'Birdman'
<< Continued from "Weekend Forecast"

Opening at 2,936 theaters, The Best of Me is the ninth Nicholas Sparks adaptation to hit the big screen. Sparks adaptations have been fairly consistent—the last four movies opened between $16 million and $30.5 million. However, the highest-grossing entry remains 2004's The Notebook, which ended its run with just north of $81 million.

The Best of Me seems to fit nicely in to the Sparks playbook. It's a romance (of course), and posters feature essentially the same image (two lovers touching faces) as virtually every other Sparks movie poster.

There's reason to believe that The Best of Me may fall a bit short of the standard Sparks range, though. James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are respected actors, but don't necessarily fit in to the genre as naturally as Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough (of last year's Safe Haven).

Also, the movie's split timeline has been hard to pin down—are Marsden and Monaghan the stars, or is it really about their younger selves (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato)? Marketing has focused on the older version of the characters, though that storyline seems to be lacking any sort of conflict (there's no "will they or won't they" here).

Regardless, Sparks has a major fanbase who probably won't think much of these quibbles. A debut north of $15 million seems likely.

After two very slow weeks in limited release, Jason Reitman's poorly-reviewed drama Men, Women & Children expands to 608 theaters this weekend (which barely crosses the 600-theater nationwide threshold). Reitman is best-known for Juno and Up in the Air, which were critical and commercial hits in 2007 and 2009; his last two movies, Young Adult and Labor Day, were much less successful.

Through 13 days, Men, Women & Children has earned a paltry $148,856. In comparison, Up in the Air earned over twice as much ($329,199) in its first day (and from a comparable number of theaters). With a cast that includes Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort and Jennifer Garner, the movie may have a bit more success in nationwide release; still, it will almost certainly wind up outside the Top 12 with less than $2 million this weekend.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman opens at four locations in New York and Los Angeles, and seems primed to deliver one of the biggest per-theater averages in recent memory.

Birdman has received strong reviews (94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and tons of awards buzz (the movie, director, and lead actor Michael Keaton are all considered Oscar shoe-ins), which is usually a recipe for success with this type of release. The movie's New York/Los Angeles appeal increases when taking in to account its Broadway setting and its skewering of Hollywood's superhero obsession (something New York and Los Angeles moviegoers can get behind).

Some recent movies that scored huge per-theater averages in New York and Los Angeles include The Master ($147,262), Blue Jasmine ($102,011), Inside Llewyn Davis ($101,353) and Boyhood ($77,524). Look for Birdman to wind up in that range; there's even an obscure chance that it approaches The Grand Budapest Hotel's $202,792 average.

Roadside Attractions is releasing Sundance hit Dear White People at 11 theaters this weekend. The movie has done well with critics (with 26 reviews in, it still has a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes), and there should be additional interest due to the way it tackles the hot-button topic of race relations. An opening weekend north of $100,000 is possible.

Weekend Forecast (October 17-19)

1. Fury - $33 million

2. Gone Girl - $19.5 million (-26%)

3. The Book of Life - $19 million

4. The Best of Me - $15.5 million

5. Alexander - $10.5 million (-43%)

6. Dracula Untold - $10.2 million (-56%)

7. The Judge - $9.2 million (-30%)

Bar for Success

Fury should be at least matching The Monuments Men ($22 million). Meanwhile, The Book of Life and The Best of Me each need to earn at least $15 million this weekend.

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