After a modest February, things should start picking up across the board at the box office as we enter March. This weekend, Warner Bros. and Legendary’s macho sequel 300: Rise of an Empire debuts against DreamWorks’ animated family pic Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Clearly neither are going after the same audience, and both are primed to hit decent $30 plus million debuts, but the Greeks versus Persians sword-and-sandals epic is going to win the weekend and redeem the genre from Pompeii‘s and Hercules‘ poor 2014 box office showings.
Here’s how things might play out:
1. 300: Rise of an Empire — $45 million
Zack Snyder’s bombastic 2007 Battle of Thermopylae pic 300 may have failed to impress critics, but the ab-packed $65 million Frank Miller adaptation grossed nearly $210.6 million domestically (and $456 million worldwide). A sequel was inevitable for Warner Bros., but this time, Snyder has stepped back to take the producer’s chair, leaving the visually arresting 3-D pic in the hands of Smart People director Noam Murro. This version is pricier (Legendary financed half and produced), but still reasonable for an effects-driven epic of this scope. Estimates put the budget in the $108 million range. With little direct competition, analysts are predicting a $43-$45 million weekend from upwards of 3,400 theaters — which is respectable, but still a far cry from the first’s $70 million opening. The epic, which stages the battle on the sea, stars Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes, Sullivan Stapleton as Themistokles and Eva Green as Artemisia and is picking up mild to decent reviews. The pic is also leading Fandango’s “Fanticipation” indicator for the weekend and ticket sales are outpacing last year’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation which opened to $40.5 million. EW’s Chris Nashawaty, who was not a fan of the first, gave the film a B and wrote: “There’s so much crimson gore flying off the screen you feel as if you should be wearing a tarp like the folks in the front row of a Gallagher show.”
2. Mr. Peabody & Sherman — $35 million
The first fresh animated pic to challenge The Lego Movie for family ticket dollars, DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman opens in 3,932 locations this weekend. Featuring the voices of Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell and Ariel Winter, the movie pairs the most accomplished dog in the world with the troublemaking little boy he adopts. Together, they use their time machine to travel throughout history. The $145 million pic is tracking in the $25 million to $30 million range, but it wouldn’t surprise if it went a little higher than that this weekend thanks to strong reviews (74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and a the possible nostalgia factor for parents who might remember the characters from Rocky and Bullwinkle. According to Fandango, ticket sales are outpacing Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, which opened to $34 million this time last year. Internationally, Mr. Peabody & Sherman has been doing decently well. Since its Feb. 7 opening in the U.K., the film has made $19.3 million there for a $39.5 million overseas total.
3. Non-Stop – $19.5 million
After its impressive, expectation-exceeding debut last weekend, Liam Neeson’s in-flight thriller should hold up fairly well. Universal’s $50 million pic has made an estimated $33.5 million as of March 4, according to BoxOfficeMojo. Two of Neeson’s recent modern action pics — The Grey and Taken 2 — dropped upward of 50 percent in their second weekends. Non-Stop‘s fall could prove smaller, thanks to strong word of mouth. Expect a 30 to 35 percent drop this weekend, which would put the film in the $19 million range.
4. Son of God — $13 million
Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s life of Jesus epic Son of God opened to $25.6 million in its first weekend in theaters despite a lack of enthusiasm from critics. In his C+ review, EW’s Stephan Lee wrote: “This biopic faithfully and inoffensively checks off all of Jesus’ life events, from birth to death, with absolutely no point of view.” Audiences seemed to love the movie, though. Just as with its debut, it is hard to tell how Son of God will hold up in its second weekend in theaters. It’s possible that church groups and all interested parties rallied for the opening weekend. The drop off could be in the 50% range, or even higher.
5. The Lego Movie — $10 million
With the added competition of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Lego Movie could drop off by 50 percent this weekend after modest to inconsequential drops in its first four weekends in theaters. As of March 5, Warner Bros. 3-D blockbuster had made an estimated $212.9 million domestically.
In the specialty box office worlds, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel opens in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for Fox Searchlight and IFC’s The Face of Love debuts in two theaters. Best Picture-winner 12 Years a Slave also expands to 1,000 theaters.
Check back in to EW.com this weekend for estimates and analysis.