Box office preview: 'Identity Thief' will steal No. 1 spot from 'Side Effects'

Identity-Thief

Image Credit: Bob Mahoney

It’s no surprise that the 2013 box office has been cold in the first few weeks of the new year. That tends to be the case in January, when R-rated horror flicks and long-on-the-shelf action stinkers take up multiplex screens. But this weekend, the film industry is set to get even chillier due to a massive snowstorm that’s expected to bring much of the Northeast to a standstill.

Thus, this weekend’s two new releases, Identity Thief and Side Effects (which, almost unbelievably, are already the 10th and 11th R-rated wide releases of the year), are expected to perform moderately over their first three days in theaters. Here’s how the box office might shake out:

1. Identity Thief – $21 million

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy teamed up for Universal’s $35 million comedy, which will easily top the chart over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Bateman has scored comedic hits with ensemble films like Horrible Bosses ($117.5 million) and Couples Retreat ($109.2 million), but he’s proven unreliable as a main selling point in films like 2011’s The Change Up, which opened with $13.5 million on the way to a $37.5 million total. McCarthy isn’t a tested box office lead, but she became the breakout star of Bridesmaids, and audiences may be curious to see her first leading role on the silver screen.

Reviews for the film may be weak, but Identity Thief‘s storyline has been clearly communicated through an aggressive marketing campaign. For comparison, last February, the Reese Witherspoon action-comedy This Means War opened with $17.4 million, although that was vying with The Vow for women’s attention. Warm Bodies as a competitor this week is a considerably smaller film than The Vow, and the presence of McCarthy should draw female moviegoers to Identity Thief. Plus, without any other straight-up comedies currently drawing ticket sales (sorry, Movie 43), the path is clear for Identity Thief to steal the weekend win. The snowstorm puts a big question mark over things, but Identity Thief could earn about $21 million from 3,141 theaters in its first frame.

2. Warm Bodies – $11 million

The zombie rom-com debuted to $20.4 million — and that was with a 65 percent plunge on Super Bowl Sunday — so the well-reviewed YA-adaptation may fall by a relatively soft 45 percent to $11 million, for a $36 million total.

3. Side Effects – $10 million

Open Road Films acquired Endgame Entertainment’s $30 million prescription drug drama, which was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and will release the film in 2,605 theaters. Unlike Soderbergh’s last psychological thriller, Contagion, which opened with $22.4 million in 2011, Side Effects seems more likely to play in the same range as his action romp Haywire, which started with $8.4 million in January 2012.

The film boasts an impressive cast including Jude Law, Rooney Mara, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but none of them are substantial box office draws on their own. Channing Tatum stars in the film as well, but it seems unlikely that his young female fanbase will turn out in huge numbers for a dark adult drama. Strong reviews will certainly help the film (and perhaps so will the idea that this is Soderbergh’s final theatrical release before his oft-discussed retirement), but it faces serious competition in the thick of Oscar season. Side Effects may earn about $10 million in its first three days.

4. Silver Linings Playbook – $6.5 million

The critical darling-turned-audience fave will continue its impressive run — perhaps dipping by a soft 15 percent down to $6.5 million and about $90 million total.

5. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – $4.7 million

The former box office champ is looking at a 50-percent drop to $4.7 million in its third weekend, bringing its total to $43 million.

Check back to EW all weekend long to see how these films fare, and follow @EWGradySmith on Twitter for more box office musing.

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