Forecast: 'Godzilla' Poised for Monster Debut
Thursday Update: Playing at around 3,400 locations, Godzilla earned a phenomenal $9.3 million from late Thursday shows. That's one of the best late-night openings ever for a non-sequel.

Compared to recent releases, Godzilla actually performed better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($8.7 million), and was only a bit behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($10.2 million). It also did over twice as much business as World War Z ($3.6 million), which had the advantage of opening when school was out.

This debut guarantees at least $70 million for Godzilla. If it plays like Spider-Man 2, it will have the biggest opening of the year with around $98 million. It could go even higher, though: using Thor: The Dark World or 300: Rise of An Empire as comparable titles puts the movie above $110 million for the weekend.

Of course, those are all sequels, which should theoretically be more front-loaded. At this point, the sky is the limit for Godzilla.

Forecast: One of the most-anticipated movies of the Summer stomps in to theaters this weekend. But will Godzilla's box office match the hype, or will it be this Summer's Pacific Rim?

Baseball drama Million Dollar Arm also opens this weekend, though it will likely trail holdovers Neighbors and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the original Godzilla, which introduced the world to the giant monster. Since then, the character has appeared on the big-screen dozens of times, and become a huge symbol in pop culture all over the world. However, most moviegoers in the U.S. likely associate the character with Roland Emmerich's 1998 version, which did fine business—$136.3 million, or $231 million adjusted—but was a creative disappointment (5.3 rating on IMDb).

16 years later, Hollywood is taking another stab at the character. This time, Legendary Pictures (which funded 75 percent of the project) brought on director Gareth Edwards, whose only previous movie was a micro-budget flick aptly titled Monsters (released by Magnolia in 2010). This is the final "original" movie under the Legendary/Warner Bros. relationship, which goes back to Batman Begins in 2005 (Legendary is now working with Universal).

Dating back to December's effective teaser trailer, Warner Bros. has executed a strong marketing campaign that's gone a long way toward erasing the memory of the Emmerich version. Instead of pitching it as a monster movie, advertisements have positioned Godzilla as a disaster flick: imagery primarily focuses on the destruction inflicted by the creatures, while limiting the title character's screen time to a few glimpses. This has distanced Godzilla from last Summer's Pacific Rim—which wound up being a for-geeks-only affair—and moved it closer to broadly-appealing blockbusters like World War Z, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

Playing at 3,952 locations, Godzilla should also benefit from a lack of competition this weekend: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is dropping off quickly, while Neighbors doesn't really target the same audience. Reviews for the movie are solid (78 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), which means they likely won't have an impact one way or the other.

According to Fandango, Godzilla has stronger presales than World War Z, Prometheus and Thor: The Dark World. Thor had the highest debut of that bunch with over $85 million; while it would be shocking if Godzilla got that high, this data does suggest that $70 million is definitely a possibility.

Godzilla is also opening in 64 international markets this weekend, including all majors except China (June) and Japan (ironically the final market to get the movie in July). It took first place in all seven territories where it debuted on Wednesday. Last year's World War Z earned $338 million overseas, which is a number that Godzilla will likely crush.

At 3,019 locations, Million Dollar Arm is being positioned as counterprogramming for people who are already tired of all of the Summer's big-screen destruction.

The movie tells the true story of a sports agent (played by Jon Hamm) who goes to India to recruit cricket players to become Major League Baseball pitchers. As the owners of ESPN, Disney has been employing some serious corporate synergy to promote the movie. Popular ESPN personality Bill Simmons is an executive producer on the project, and various promotional material has been popping up on SportsCenter lately.

They've also emphasized the studio's history with inspirational sports movies: many commercials include the logos from Miracle, Invincible, The Rookie and Remember the Titans. While the most recent of those movies is nearly eight years old, they do add up to create a strong brand for Million Dollar Arm to associate with.

Still, baseball movies don't have a great track record: last year's 42 is the first and only one to open over $20 million. Moneyball, which had a much bigger star in Brad Pitt, could only muster $19.5 million in 2011; add in mixed reviews, and it would be a bit surprising if Million Dollar Arm opened over $15 million this weekend.

Forecast (May 16-18)

1. Godzilla - $73 million

2. Neighbors - $26 million (-47%)

3. Spider-Man - $17 million (-52%)

4. Million Dollar Arm - $14 million

Bar for Success

World War Z opened to $66.4 million during a more competitive time period last year. Godzilla ought to at least match that this weekend. Meanwhile, Million Dollar Arm is in fine shape with anything over $15 million.

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