Forecast: 'Lucy' to Beat Up 'Hercules' This Weekend
Friday AM Update: Lucy and Hercules both did solid business on Thursday night. Lucy earned an estimated $2.75 million, while Hercules scored an estimated $2.1 million. Among Summer releases, Lucy is above The Purge: Anarchy ($2.6 million), while Hercules topped Edge of Tomorrow ($1.8 million). For the weekend, both movies are going to earn at least $20 million.

Forecast: On the final weekend of July, two very different action movies will try to reverse the domestic box office's downward trend.

Hercules has a much bigger budget and arguably more star power in Dwayne "Dwayne Johnson" Johnson, but the sword-and-sandals epic doesn't appear to be connecting with moviegoers. In contrast, Lucy's eye-catching visuals and intriguing "what if" story has put it on pace for an opening north of $30 million, which should be enough to take first place this weekend.

At the start of Summer, Lucy's box office potential didn't look so hot. The movie was scheduled for August 8th, which was smack dab in the middle of a hyper-competitive August that included Guardians of the Galaxy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Expendables 3. It also didn't help that director Luc Besson has a so-so track record at the box office: excluding the Taken franchise, his highest-grossing movie (as director or producer) in the past 15 years is Transporter 2 with $43.1 million.

When moviegoers saw the trailer, though, they weren't thinking about the release date or Besson's spotty record. Instead, they were hooked by what appears to be one of the more original movies hitting theaters this Summer. Sensing that the late July schedule was weaker than normal, Universal smartly decided to move Lucy up two weeks. All of a sudden, the movie started to look like a major box office contender.

Lucy's marketing manages to do a few things really well. First and foremost, it sells the movie's intriguing concept: what if a person was able to tap in to more than 10 percent of their brain? While the on-screen results don't appear to be even remotely plausible, they do lend the movie a visual flair that separates it from the rest of Summer 2014's offerings.

Marketing has also put star Scarlett Johansson front-and-center in a role that seems to align nicely with the butt-kicking brand she's established as Black Widow in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Movies with female protagonists are few and far between, and have done impressive business so far this Summer (Maleficent is about to cross $230 million, The Fault in our Stars is wrapping up north of $120 million, and Tammy could ultimately reach $90 million).

Lucy's R-rating could hold it back a bit, though 2014 has been a good year for R-rated fare: 22 Jump Street, Neighbors, 300: Rise of An Empire and Lone Survivor all opened above $30 million, while The Purge: Anarchy barely missed that level last weekend. Three of those movies were released by Universal, who is also distributing Lucy.

According to Universal, tracking suggests that Lucy will also open over $30 million. Meanwhile, Fandango is reporting that Lucy is outselling recent sci-fi movies Oblivion, Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow. Based on this information, it's entirely possible that Lucy winds up near $40 million for the weekend.

The prospects for Hercules aren't quite as good. Playing at 3,595 theaters, this is the second movie about the son of Zeus this year: the first was Renny Harlin's The Legend of Hercules, which took in just $18.8 million in January.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is undeniably a bigger star than Kellan Lutz, and this version of Hercules has a bigger budget and a more robust marketing effort. Still, the earlier version's poor reception seems to suggest that moviegoers aren't particularly interested in the Hercules character. That could be problematic for this movie as well, which is mainly being pitched as the untold story of Hercules ("You think you know the legend, but you only know the beginning.").

Marketing has also focused on selling the star of the movie, and as usual Johnson has been game to get out there and promote. Aside from frequent traditional media appearances, Johnson has also worked overtime to get the message out to his fans on social media (remarkably, he has over 37 million Facebook fans).

Johnson has clearly gotten the message out, but that doesn't guarantee that his fans will show up. While he's had success stepping in to ongoing franchises like G.I. Joe and Fast and Furious, solo projects have been hit-or-miss. Last year's Snitch opened to $13.2 million, while Pain & Gain opened to $20.2 million (with help from Mark Wahlberg). Hercules seems more broadly-appealing than either of those titles, though it's still an indication that star power alone doesn't guarantee huge results. It also doesn't help that this seems like a more serious role for Johnson, whereas moviegoers seem to prefer him in tongue-in-cheek mode.

Paramount is expecting the movie to open in the mid-$20 million range, which would be a disappointing start for this $100-million production. Of course, fantasy movies like this tend to play much better overseas: recently, 300: Rise of an Empire earned over $224 million outside of the U.S., while Wrath of the Titans scored $222 million.

Romantic comedy And So It Goes opens at 1,760 locations this weekend. Directed by Rob Reiner and starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, the movie should have some appeal among older moviegoers. Poor reviews will hold it back a bit, though, as will a light marketing effort, and it's unlikely that the movie opens above $5 million this weekend.

Popular stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias hits the big-screen this weekend in The Fluffy Movie, which will open at 432 locations. Around this time last year, {lnk111429}Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain{/lnk} scored $17.4 million in its first five days (it was playing at twice as many locations). That was a bit of an anomaly, though, and Hart's first stand-up movie (2011's Laugh at My Pain) is a better comparable title here. That movie average $5,177 per-theater when it expanded to 230 locations; a similar result would put Fluffy over $2 million this weekend.

Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here expands to around 600 theaters this weekend. The movie earned a meager $484,401 from 68 theaters last weekend ($7,124 per-theater average), and probably won't make a huge dent in the box office this week; it would be surprising if it earned more than $2 million or so.

Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight opens at 17 theaters this weekend. Allen has had a strong run at the box office as of late, but Magic in the Moonlight's mixed reviews suggest this will wind up more like To Rome with Love ($16.7 million) and less like Blue Jasmine ($33.4 million).

Forecast (July 25-27)

1. Lucy - $36 million

2. Hercules - $24 million

3. Dawn/Apes - $21.5 million (-41%)

4. The Purge - $11.9 million (-60%)

Bar for Success

As a modestly-budgeted R-rated action movie, Lucy is in fine shape over $20 million. The bar is a bit higher for Hercules, though. Over a decade ago—and without 3D—The Rock's The Scorpion King opened to $36.1 million. Hercules needs at least $30 million this weekend to get a pass.

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

Related Stories:

Last Weekend's Report: 'Apes' Rules Again

Last Weekend's Forecast: 'Purge,' 'Sex Tape' Challenge 'Apes'

Summer 2014 Forecast