This Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, Mark Wahlberg will be facing off against a beloved animated classic and a Georgia church choir. And every movie will have to contend with a little American tradition known as the NFL playoffs. I’m giving the edge to Wahlberg’s action thriller Contraband, but don’t be surprised if Disney’s 3-D re-release of Beauty and the Beast gives Marky Mark a run for the money.
Here’s how I think the box office will play out over the four-day holiday weekend:
1. Contraband: $20 million
This R-rated remake of the 2008 Icelandic thriller Reykjavík-Rotterdam stars Mark Wahlberg as a former smuggler attempting to protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord (Giovanni Ribisi). The $25 million movie has earned middling reviews, but Wahlberg’s last picture, 2010′s The Fighter, was a bona fide hit. Plus, action fans haven’t had anything to feast on since Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol expanded to a wide release on Dec. 21. Wahlberg’s last two solo action projects, 2007′s Shooter and 2008′s Max Payne, opened to $14.5 million and $17.6 million, respectively. Count on Contraband to match Max Payne over the Friday-to-Sunday frame, and then add an additional $2 million or $3 million on Monday.
2. Beauty and the Beast 3D: $18 million
After The Lion King 3D opened to an unexpected $30.2 million last September (and finished its run with $94.2 million), Disney announced that four more animated movies would be re-released in the third dimension. The first is this weekend’s Beauty and the Beast 3D, which should perform about half as well as The Lion King 3D for two main reasons.
First, The Lion King grossed more than twice as much as Beauty and the Beast in its original theatrical release ($312.9 million versus $145.9 million). Second, Beauty and the Beast has been on Blu-ray since 2010 and on 3-D Blu-ray since last October. The Lion King, on the other hand, didn’t appear on Blu-ray until after it returned to theaters. Still, keep in mind that Disney spent less than $10 million converting Beauty to 3-D, and the studio should easily make that amount back this weekend.
3. Joyful Noise: $15 million
This looks about as appealing to me as a plate of broccoli, and at least the broccoli would be quiet. But Joyful Noise, which stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton (in the latter’s first live-action feature since 1992′s Straight Talk) as the leaders of a Georgia church choir, should find a sizable audience. It may fare particularly well in small towns like the one portrayed in the PG-13 film, and its religious plot should appeal to Christian moviegoers. The $25 million movie has earned uninspiring reviews, but that won’t matter much to the film’s congregation.
4. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol: $14 million
The action flick has been holding up very well, dropping only 33 percent for $19.9 million last weekend. Contraband will steal some of M:I 4‘s male audience, so a decline that’s closer to 40 percent seems reasonable for this weekend. That’ll push the movie’s cumulative tally to $190 million (and past the original Mission: Impossible‘s $181 million total).
5. The Devil Inside: $11 million
The $1 million horror film stunned prognosticators by scaring up $33.7 million last weekend. It remained in first place on Monday, but fell to second on Tuesday and finished in fourth place on Wednesday. And, let us not forget, The Devil Inside received an extremely rare “F” grade from CinemaScore audiences. So this thing is going to plummet. The question is: how much? I’m counting on a hefty 70-percent drop.