Forecast: 'Snitch,' 'Dark Skies' Debut on Oscar Weekend
The final weekend of February is typically a slow time at the box office, and that looks to be the case again this year. With many moviegoers gearing up for the Academy Awards on Sunday, new nationwide releases Snitch and Dark Skies are both poised for modest debuts, and there's a good chance holdover Identity Thief winds up taking first place. Overall box office will once again be down year-over-year this weekend, which brings to an end a very mediocre month.

At 2,511 locations, Snitch is the latest starring vehicle for wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "Dwayne Johnson" Johnson. Johnson has a solid track record at the box office: last year, he led Journey 2: The Mysterious Island to a very good $103.9 million, and the year before he helped Fast Five set a franchise record with $209.8 million. He's also headlined a handful of modestly-successful family movies like Tooth Fairy ($60 million), Race to Witch Mountain ($67.2 million) and, most-notably, 2007's The Game Plan ($90.6 million).

Unfortunately, Snitch is a solo outing targeted exclusively at older males, which hasn't worked as well for Johnson. For example, 2010's Faster wound up with a terrible $23.2 million, while 2005's Doom only earned $28.2 million. Additionally, the market in general hasn't been kind to these type of tough-guy action movies lately: in the last five weeks, The Last Stand, Parker and Bullet to the Head have all opened to $7 million or less.

Snitch does appear to be in a better position than those three titles thanks to its PG-13 rating and a solid (albeit modest) marketing effort from Summit Entertainment that's clearly outlined the movie's high-stakes story about a father going undercover to keep his son out of jail. Summit is currently expecting between $10 and $12 million for the weekend, which seems like a fair forecast.

Extraterrestrial horror movie Dark Skies also debuts this weekend at 2,313 locations. A big part of The Weinstein Company's marketing effort has been the movie's connection to Paranormal Activity and Insidious through producer Jason Blum. That strategy worked well for last October's Sinister, which opened to $18 million on its way to $48.1 million total. That movie's advertising campaign delivered the scares, though, while Dark Skies hasn't really hit the mark in that department. Also, Dark Skies features an extraterrestrial threat, which historically isn't nearly as appealing to audiences as the supernatural.

The Weinstein Company also doesn't appear to be very confident in the movie's potential: they have a very tight review embargo on it, and they also wound up getting in in to fewer theaters (2,313) than the 2,400 that they initially projected last week. All of this suggests that the best-case-scenario is an opening in line with Insidious ($13.3 million), though it's more likely that it will wind up close to $10 million.

Arenas Entertainment is giving Bless Me Ultima a moderate release at 263 locations. The light marketing campaign—which has included some television spots—is targeted mostly at Hispanic audiences, which could push the movie over $1 million on opening weekend.

Forecast (Feb. 22-24)

1. Identity Thief - $13.5 million (-43%)

2. Die Hard 5 - $12.1 million (-51%)

3. Snitch - $11.2 million

4. Safe Haven - $10.5 million (-51%)

5. Escape From Planet Earth - $10.3 million (-35%)

6. Dark Skies - $10.2 million

Bar for Success

Over a five-day weekend in 2010, The Rock's Faster disappointed with $12 million; if Snitch can hit that number in three days, though, it's off to a fine start. Most horror movies manage to open north of $10 million, and Dark Skies also needs to hit that threshold to at least get a pass.

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