Forecast: 'LEGO' To Build Big Opening this Weekend
Coming off two slow frames, the box office should pick up substantially this weekend. With its broadly-appealing brand, strong sense of humor and unique animation, The LEGO Movie is poised for one of the best February openings ever. The Monuments Men should also do decent business—though poor reviews could hold it back a bit—while Vampire Academy seems like the latest young-adult miss.

Now more than ever, studios are constantly looking to make movies out of pre-existing brands. Conventional wisdom holds that these brands come with a built-in fanbase, which in turn means it's easier to sell the big-screen version at home and abroad. When it comes to toy brands, this strategy has been hit-or-miss: the Transformers and G.I. Joe movies were all successful, while Battleship was an epic failure.

For a number of reasons, The LEGO Movie looks like it's going to easily avoid the Battleship scenario. The small brick construction sets are more deeply ingrained in our collective psyche—they've been around for over 60 years, and it's nearly impossible to find people who didn't spend hours upon hours playing with them as a child. Also, LEGO is well-known for its tiny characters, which makes it easier to sell a feature-length narrative (in contrast, Battleship was strictly a strategy game).

Warner Bros. is opening The LEGO Movie at 3,775 locations, and is backing that release up with a fairly aggressive marketing campaign. As is the case with most successful animated movies, the movie's humor has been put front-and-center. There's plenty of silly slapstick for kids, but also a solid amount of wry, tongue-in-cheek humor for adults. It's also been made abundantly clear that the movie will include a broad range of well-known characters including Batman and Superman (over two years before their live-action collaboration). Finally, Warner Bros. has emphasized the appealing voice cast that's led by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett and Morgan Freeman.

On top of all of this, The LEGO Movie has been garnering fantastic reviews: as of Thursday afternoon, it has a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (only one negative mark). While it's unclear if reviews can have a substantial impact on animated fare, it's pretty obvious that this will convince some adults to give the movie a chance.

All of these factors have combined to turn The LEGO Movie in to an early-year movie-going event. Online ticket seller Fandango is reporting that The LEGO Movie is on pace for the second-highest pre-sales ever for an animated movie behind Toy Story 3. That puts it ahead of last year's blockbusters Despicable Me 2, Monsters University and Frozen, all of which opened to at least $67 million. Currently, the record for an original (non-sequel/prequel) animated movie belongs to 2007's The Simpsons Movie ($74 million); don't be surprised if LEGO comes close to that level.

Playing at 3,083 locations, The Monuments Men is going to open in a distant second place this weekend. Starring George Clooney (who also directs/writes/produces here) and Matt Damon, the World War II drama was originally slated for a December release, but was pushed back at the last minute to allow for more time in post-production. While this took it out of contention for Oscars, it also kept it away from the tough late-year competition.

On paper, The Monuments Men sounds like a cross between Inglourious Basterds and Ocean's Eleven: the story finds a group of art historians tasked with going behind enemy lines to recover stolen art from the Nazis at the end of World War II. Unfortunately, those movies were both stylish fun, whereas The Monuments Men looks like a history lesson. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though it does make the movie a tough sell to younger audiences.

While older audiences are more likely to be intrigued by the set-up, the terrible reviews (30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) will make some think twice. Fandango is reporting that the movie is selling in line with Captain Phillips and Lee Daniels' The Butler; that suggests the movie could open to around $25 million. Sony is more modestly projecting a debut in the high-teen-millions.

The big loser this weekend is likely going to be Vampire Academy, which is opening at 2,676 locations with little fanfare. Last year, Beautiful Creatures, The Host and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones all tried to get a taste of that Twilight/Hunger Games money. All three bombed with between $7 and $11 million on opening weekend. While Vampire Academy doesn't seem as self-serious as those movies, it has received a noticeably lighter marketing effort. At this point, an opening below $10 million seems like a foregone conclusion.

Forecast (February 7-9)

1. The LEGO Movie - $68 million

2. The Monuments Men - $18.5 million

3. Ride Along - $7.2 million (-40%)

4. Vampire Academy - $6.8 million

5. Frozen - $6.3 million (-30%)

Bar for Success

By animation standards, The LEGO Movie is fairly inexpensive (roughly $60 million budget), and it's going to hold well over the next few weeks. Anything above $35 million should be considered a win. Meanwhile, The Monuments Men needs at least $20 million, while Vampire Academy is in good shape if it gets to $15 million.

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