Box office preview: 'Brave' targets No. 1 debut

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Image Credit: Pixar/Disney

Blockbuster animated movies are usually few and far between, but after two weeks of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted reigning at the box office, another animated film is ready to take first place, and neither a vampire hunting emancipator nor an outright apocalypse will get in its way.

Disney-Pixar’s Brave should easily top the box office this weekend, thanks mostly to the tremendous amount of goodwill that Pixar has shored up with audiences over the last 15 years. The $185 million effort hasn’t earned the uniformly stellar reviews that Pixar films typically do, and Brave‘s advertising campaign hasn’t clearly communicated the story to audiences — so as not to give away the film’s central plot twist. These factors have limited hype for the Scotland-set film, which may also be too serious to attract youngsters — especially with a zippy, colorful offering like Madagascar playing a few screens down the hall.

Much has been made of the fact that Brave is Pixar’s first film with a female lead, but I doubt that will have much of an effect at the box office. Sure, fewer boys may turn up in theaters, but increased numbers of girls will make up the difference — ladies have already proven with The Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman that they will buy tickets for strong heroines.

Most significantly, what’s missing from Brave‘s pre-release campaign is a sense of fun. The film looks gorgeous, and people certainly have respect for the Pixar pedigree, but as a piece of popcorn-munching summer entertainment, it doesn’t seem likely to engage the casual moviegoing family. Thus, I’m doubtful that Brave will reach the the same heights as Cars 2, which opened with $66.1 million over this weekend last year. Although part of me thinks Brave will only finish in the $40-50 million range, the film’s 3-D ticket prices and ultra-wide theater count (4,124) should help. I’m thinking Brave misses the bullseye (yet still wins easily) with $53 million.

This week’s other big opener, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is looking like it may have worked better as a one-gimmick Tumblr page. Fox’s $70 million adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s popular revisionist novel, which re-imagines Abraham Lincoln as an axe-swinging vamp-destroyer, was greeted with goofball enthusiasm upon its announcement, but it hasn’t effectively built buzz leading up to its release.

As both Dark Shadows and Fright Night have recently proved, non-Twilight-affiliated vampire tales don’t necessarily draw crowds, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fighting an uphill battle convincing 2012 audiences to see check out a period film. Of course, other costumey action flicks like Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean have sailed away with gigantic grosses, but those were upbeat PG-13 films with an ample amount of swashbuckling adventure. Vampire Hunter is a darker, more horror-tinged tale (and oddly serious considering the subject matter) with an R-rating that will keep young men out. Out in 3,106 venues, good old Abe may have to settle for a $15 million weekend.

Focus Features is also bringing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which stars Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, into 1,618 theaters. The quirky romantic dramedy, which is set during an apocalypse, feels similar in tone to Carrell’s offbeat 2007 film Dan in Real Life, which opened with $11.8 million from 1,912 theaters. I expect Steve Carrell loyalists to show up on opening weekend, but middling reviews may keep some more selective adult viewers away. Seeking may gross about $7 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period.

1. Brave – $53 million
2. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – $17 million (-50 percent)
3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – $15 million
4. Prometheus – $9 million (-55 percent)
5. Rock of Ages – $7.3 million (-50 percent)
6. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – $7 million

Stay tuned to EW all weekend long for complete box office coverage on Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute box office updates.

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