Forecast: 'Resident Evil,' 'Nemo' Should Revive the Box Office This Weekend
Midnight Update: Resident Evil: Retribution grossed an estimated $665,000 at midnight last night, which is up a bit from the last Resident Evil's $625,000. That movie went on to set a series record with a $26.7 million debut, and Retribution will likely wind up at about the same level for the three-day weekend.

Coming off the lowest-grossing weekend in at least four years, the box office is poised to get some serious help from two trustworthy brands this weekend: the fifth Resident Evil movie reaches 3,012 locations, while Finding Nemo's 3D re-release swims in to 2,904 venues. Also worth keeping an eye on are Last Ounce of Courage, which will try to tap in to the heartland audience at 1,407 theaters, and Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which should score one of the top per-theater averages ever at five venues in New York and Los Angeles.

Compared to most franchises, Resident Evil is fairly modest: its first four movies combined for just $202.1 million at the domestic box office, and the highest-grossing one yet (2010's Afterlife) topped out at $60.1 million. So why, then, did Sony back a fifth movie with a franchise-high $65 million budget? Simple—thanks to the addition of 3D, Resident Evil: Afterlife was an international sensation with over $236 million, or roughly the same amount as the prior three movies combined.

Even though it's tailor-made for foreign audiences, there's still a very good chance that Resident Evil: Retribution opens strong at the domestic box office this weekend. The franchise has seen higher debuts for each outing, culminating in Afterlife's $26.7 million opening at around the same time in 2010. Thanks to a grander scale (the tagline is "Evil Goes Global") and the return of series all-stars Michelle Rodriguez and Sienna Guillory, Retribution should at least come close to topping that figure. Sony is expecting low-to-mid $20 millions, which is generally in line with the last three entries.

Targeting very different audience, Finding Nemo (3D) could give Resident Evil: Retribution some competition for the top spot this weekend. This is the fifth major 3D re-release during the boom that started with last September's release of The Lion King. That debuted to a massive $30.2 million before closing at $94.2 million; unfortunately, the 2012 entries have been much less successful. The only other animated re-release, Beauty and the Beast, opened to a much lower $17.8 million in January, and closed with around half as much as The Lion King ($47.6 million). Non-animated titles The Phantom Menace ($43.5 million) and Titanic 3D ($57.9 million) were in that same ballpark, suggesting that some of the novelty has worn off.

Aside from the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 double feature, Finding Nemo is the first Pixar movie to get the 3D re-release treatment. Back in 2003, the movie grossed $339.7 million, and to this day remains the most-attended Pixar movie ever. While this suggests the movie has a large following, it's tough to say whether it's bigger than Beauty and the Beast or Titanic. Also, the movie is going to be held back by the fact that it opened a mere nine years ago, and practically every household has a copy of the DVD sitting around. All of this is to say that it's very unlikely that Finding Nemo (3D) matches The Lion King (3D), though without any competition for family audiences a $20 million opening is within reach.

Overtly blending patriotism and Christianity, Last Ounce of Courage is the latest Rocky Mountain Pictures release targeted specifically at heartland audiences. At 1,407 locations, it's getting a wider release than usual for this type of movie, and it's backed up by a substantial marketing effort that even includes some television buys in Los Angeles. It's not going to be the next Courageous ($9.1 million debut at fewer theaters last September), but it will absolutely earn over $1 million and could even crack the Top Five.

Opening at three theaters in New York and two in Los Angeles, The Master is writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's highly-anticipated follow-up to There Will Be Blood, which is his highest-grossing movie ever at $40.2 million. That movie scored one of the best per-theater averages ever when it grossed $95,370 at two venues on opening weekend: with strong reviews (88 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), a ton of Internet buzz and a dash of Scientology-related controversy, it wouldn't be surprising at all if The Master wound up at a similar level this weekend.

Besides The Master, a handful of other notable movies are opening in limited release this weekend. Richard Gere drama Arbitrage debuts at 197 locations, while Nicolas Cage actioner Stolen is getting dumped at 141 venues. Writer-director-star Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts reaches four theaters, while ensemble comedy 10 Years opens at three theaters.

Forecast (September 14-16)

1. Resident Evil 5 - $27.4 million

2. Finding Nemo 3D - $22.3 million

3. The Possession - $4.6 million (-51%)

4. Lawless - $3.7 million (-38%)

-. Last Ounce of Courage - $2.1 million

Bar for Success

The real money is overseas for Resident Evil: Retribution, but it still needs to clear $20 million at the domestic box office this weekend to get a pass. With its very wide release and strong brand recognition, Finding Nemo 3D also ought to get to around $20 million.

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