Box office preview: 'Need for Speed' revs up for No. 1

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Image Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

It’s another testosterone-driven weekend at the multiplexes as the video game-turned-movie Need for Speed faces off against last week’s reigning box office conqueror 300: Rise of an Empire.

The question is whether or not Aaron Paul, beloved as the tragic Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, can carry a movie. The idea of a star-driven film is a bit of an outdated mentality, but choosing Paul to lead a fairly expensive action pic was at turns unconventional and bold. It’s also a lot of pressure, especially if DreamWorks and EA are eyeing a potential franchise in the vein of the insanely successful Fast & Furious films.

Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club also opens in under 2,000 locations for Lionsgate and the female-driven pic hopes to reach a very different audience, but it’s unlikely to beat the 3-D cars to the finish line.

Here’s how things might play out.

1. Need for Speed — $26 million
In his first major starring role, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays Tobey, a blue-collar racing prodigy who is framed for a crime he didn’t commit by a wealthy ex-NASCAR jerk about town (Dominic Cooper). After a stint in jail, Tobey’s got revenge on the mind and heads off on a cross-country race to get to another race where he’ll finally get to confront his lifelong rival. Based on the popular Electronic Arts video game, the Scott Waugh-directed (Act of Valor) PG-13 action pic promises a return to the spirit of ’60s and ’70s car films and is reported to have cost around $65 million to make. The DreamWorks film has been heavily promoted since Thanksgiving, including a Super Bowl spot and a few contests along the way. They also recently converted the film to 3-D. Disney is distributing the film in the U.S. and Canada, set to open in 3,115 theaters. Analysts are predicting an opening in the high $20 millions for the pic, which also stars Imogen Poots, Scott Mescudi, Dakota Johnson, and Michael Keaton.

2. 300: Rise of an Empire – $20 million
Need for Speed may have the gloss of being this weekend’s major new release, but according to Fandango’s Fanticipation index and advance weekend ticket forecast, 300: Rise of an Empire has a slight edge in its popularity. Still, the drop off will probably be steep (in the 55 percent range), thanks to the new competition.

3. Mr. Peabody & Sherman — $17 million
Still showing in nearly 4,000 locations, DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman should hold fairly well in its second weekend in theaters with a 35-40 percent drop, putting it in the $17 – $21 million range.

4. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club – $15 million
Tyler Perry returns to form with a non-Madea film. The female-led Lionsgate pic has not been screened for critics, but Perry fans are a force all their own and should help the film score a decent opening. Starring Nia Long, Amy Smart, Cocoa Brown, and Wendi McLendon-Covey, it’s set to open in 1,896 locations (a slightly lower theater count than usual for Perry) and could earn around $15 million, though some analysts have it in the higher teens.

5. Non-Stop — $9 million
Universal’s Liam Neeson thriller fell nearly 45.2 percent this past weekend and will likely drop a similar amount as it enters its third weekend in theaters. This is a saturated marketplace for the same audience. As of March 12, the $50 million in-flight nail-biter had earned approximately $56.9 million domestically. It might not be headed for a $100+ million life domestically, but it is performing decently overseas — particularly in South Korea and the U.K. Its current worldwide total is $76.9 million according to Box Office Mojo.

In limited release, Veronica Mars opens in 291 theaters on Friday. It’ll also be released on VOD. Though the Kickstarter fans were overwhelming in their enthusiasm for the film, all eyes will be on this limited opening weekend to see if the cult TV adaptation can reach a broader audience.

Jason Bateman’s vulgar spelling bee comedy Bad Words opens in six locations in New York and Los Angeles before expanding nationwide on March 28th. Finally, Wes Anderson’s record-breaking The Grand Budapest Hotel expands into a few dozen theaters in 17 new markets and could chart in the top ten.

Check back in to EW.com this weekend for estimates and analysis.


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