Box office preview: 'The Purge' ready to scare 'Fast & Furious' out of top spot

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We’re just one week away from the arrival of the likely box-office behemoth Man of Steel, and studios aren’t releasing any real tentpoles this weekend for fear that they’ll be cannibalized by Superman in their sophomore frames. Two newcomers, horror film The Purge and Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy The Internship, are hitting theaters, and while the former looks like it may score a weekend win, the latter seems headed for Burt Wonderstone territory.

The real question for The Purge is whether it can take out Fast & Furious 6, which hasn’t given up the pole position since its May 24 release. For Universal, distributor of both films, that’s a very good problem to have, and the studio may finish in first and second place this weekend — provided Now You See Me doesn’t (once again!) achieve a surprise second-place finish.

Here’s how the weekend is shaping up:

1. The Purge – $26 million
Universal spent only $3 million on this horror thriller, and they’ve kept marketing costs low with a largely digital strategy, so unless the film completely flops this weekend, it’s destined for profitability. (Given Universal’s wise low-budget strategy with films like Pitch Perfect and Identity Thief, it’s tough to believe this is the same studio that shelled out $209 million for Battleship last year.) The film, which stars Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, has a killer premise — for one day every year, all crime is legal — and that is its main selling point. A creepy, effective trailer has driven online buzz for weeks, and Universal expects the film to play very well with young people. Without any other horror titles in the marketplace, The Purge may grab about $26 million from 2,536 theaters this weekend. (Universal says it’s expecting an opening in the teens, but I’m a little more bullish on this one.)

2. Fast & Furious 6 – $19 million
The blockbuster dropped 65 percent in its second frame, partly because Fast‘s debut was inflated by holiday business over Memorial Day weekend. In its third week, Fast & Furious 6 should fall by a more sensible 45 percent (Fast Five fell only 37 percent in its third weekend) to $19 million, which would push its total right past $200 million.

3. Now You See Me – $18.5 million
The magician caper broke out on opening weekend with $29.4 million, and it’s been neck-and-neck with Fast & Furious 6 in weekday competition. With an “A-” CinemaScore and strong business with female audiences, Now You See Me may fall by about 35-40 percent, which would give Summit’s $80 million thriller a great $60 million total after 10 days.

4. The Internship – $13 million
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson made a lucrative duo in Wedding Crashers, and they reunited for this $58 million comedy about working for Google. Unfortunately, they’re no longer the box office forces they once were — and that reality is exacerbated by the new crop of young comedians attracting massive buzz in This Is the End, which hits theaters just five days after The Internship. With poor reviews and minimal buzz, the Fox film could struggle to hit $15 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period, despite the fact that it’s playing in 3,365 theaters.

5. After Earth – $12 million
The $130 million M. Night Shyamalan-directed film crashed on opening weekend with $27.5 million, and after a week of “Will Smith has a flop!” stories, it’s unlikely that many moviegoers will give the poorly reviewed adventure a second look. After Earth may fall by more than 55 percent to just $12 million this weekend.

Check back all weekend for full box office coverage, and follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates.

Read More:
‘The Purge’ trailer: Where do you hide when murder is legal? — VIDEO
The title of ‘Fast & Furious 6′ is not ‘Fast & Furious 6.’ Or is it? No.
A serious attempt to understand the cuckoo-bananas plot of ‘Now You See Me’

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