Forecast: 'Neighbors' Set to Party Hard Over Mother's Day Weekend
Friday AM Update: Neighbors earned an estimated $2.56 million from Thursday night shows beginning at 8 p.m. That's a strong result for a comedy; in comparison, Ted earned $2.63 million from midnight shows in June 2012. While it's unlikely that Neighbors comes close to Ted's $54.4 million debut, it still seems poised for at least $35 million this weekend.

Forecast: It's Mother's Day weekend. Do you know what your neighbors are doing?

If they're fans of R-rated humor, chances are they're on their way to see Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy Neighbors. Thanks to a highly relatable, laugh-out-loud marketing effort and strong early reactions, the Universal release could earn over $40 million this weekend.

That would likely be enough to upset The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is poised for a steep drop from its $91.6 million debut. The superhero sequel has received middling reviews (55 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and mixed word-of-mouth ("B+" CinemaScore): on both of those metrics, it trails recent comic book movies like Man of Steel, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. All three of those fell by at least 57 percent in their second weekends, which is a probable outcome for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as well. A weekend gross between $35 and $40 million is a safe bet.

This weekend, Neighbors reaches 3,279 theaters on the heels of an aggressive, highly-effective marketing campaign. Advertisements play up the "Family vs. Frat" storyline, which presents a clear conflict that seems rife with comedic potential. There are a ton of strong jokes scattered throughout, all of which seem to flow naturally from that set-up. The movie also benefits from a likeable cast that should be equally appealing to men (Rogen) and women (Efron, Rose Bryne).

Recognizing that they have a winner on their hands, Universal has screened Neighbors early and often. Similar to their 2011 hit Bridesmaids, the studio premiered the movie at South by Southwest in March before showing it off at hundreds of word-of-mouth screenings. The movie is also getting a solid critical reception: as of Thursday afternoon, it had a 79 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Six original R-rated comedies have opened over $35 million: 21 Jump Street, The Heat, Scary Movie, The Hangover, Ted and Sex and the City. Universal isn't expecting Neighbors to go that high, and are instead predicting a more modest mid-to-high $20 millions.

However, online ticket seller Fandango reports that the movie is selling twice as many advanced tickets as This is the End ($20.7 million), and the most for an R-rated comedy since Ted in 2012. That puts it above The Hangover Part III ($41.7 million) and The Heat ($39.1 million). With great marketing and strong advanced ticket sales, Neighbors could absolutely open above $40 million this weekend.

If Neighbors does top The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it will be Universal's fourth original movie to open in first place in 2014. The other three are (in order) Lone Survivor, Ride Along and Non-Stop.

First-time distributor Clarius Entertainment is releasing animated movie Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return at 2,641 locations this weekend. As the title suggests, the movie is a sequel of sorts to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz; as Oz The Great and Powerful showed last year, the land of Oz continues to have major box office potential. Legends of Oz has also received a solid marketing push, and theaters are lacking fresh family entertainment: Rio 2, Bears and Mr. Peabody & Sherman earned less than $10 million combined this past weekend.

Unfortunately, the movie looks transparently cheap—much more so than recent independent animated features like Free Birds or The Nut Job. In fact, it calls to mind animated flops like Happily N'Ever After ($6.6 million debut) and Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil ($4.1 million). While the movie will have some appeal with very young children, most families will likely choose to save their money for upcoming releases like Maleficent and How to Train Your Dragon 2.

The big surprise this weekend could be comedy Moms' Night Out, which Sony is releasing at 1,044 locations. While it's not clear from the marketing material, Moms' Night Out is targeting the same group of Christian moviegoers who have recently turned out in droves for Son of God, God's Not Dead and Heaven is for Real. The content here isn't as faith-affirming, but it is family-oriented and ties in nicely with the Mother's Day holiday.

According to Fandango, it's the third-highest ticket seller going in to the weekend. While it would be shocking if it matched God's Not Dead ($9.2 million), it's still possible that Moms' Night Out opens above $5 million.

Writer/director Jon Favreau's Chef gets started at six locations this weekend. Favreau is coming off a run of big-budget movies, though his roots are in indie fare like Swingers and Made. Chef is getting solid reviews so far—over 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—and should put up a strong per-theater average (at least $30,000) in New York and Los Angeles this weekend.

Forecast (May 9-11)

1. Neighbors - $41 million

2. Amazing Spider-Man 2 - $37.6 million (-59%)

3. The Other Woman - $8.1 million (-44%)

4. Mom's Night Out - $6.7 million

5. Legends of Oz - $5.5 million

6. Heaven is for Real - $5.3 million (-38%)

Bar for Success

This is the End opened on a Wednesday and earned $33 million through its first five days; if Neighbors can get to $30 million over its three-day weekend, that's a big win for Universal. As an animated movie playing at over 2,600 locations, Legends of Oz needs at least $10 million this weekend. At a modest 1,044 theaters, Moms' Night Out is in good shape over $5 million.

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