The legacy of this weekend's box office seems certain to be a victory for a visual effects-heavy event movie over a sophisticated adult comedy and a children's animated tale.
"Tron: Legacy," Walt Disney Studios' big-budget resurrection of the 1982 cult favorite, is strongly expected to be the most popular movie this weekend in the U.S. and Canada. People who have seen pre-release audience surveys say it should take in about $50 million, a solid but not spectacular start for such a highly anticipated movie.
"Yogi Bear," Warner Bros' hybrid of animation and live action, is appealing mainly to families with young children and is expected to kick off its run with a so-so $20 million.
The weekend's big question, however, is just how poorly Sony Pictures' "How Do You Know" will do. The costly adult comedy, directed by James L. Brooks and starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson, is generating very soft interest and is projected to open to only about $10 million.
It could even get beat by two low-budget specialty films expanding into nationwide release this weekend. After a strong start in five theaters last weekend, the Mark Wahlberg boxing drama "The Fighter" is expected to gross $12 million to $15 million. The dark ballet fantasy "Black Swan" will play in about 1,000 theaters, fewer than half as many as "How Do You Know." But after two strong weekends in limited release, it should collect about $10 million this weekend.
Sony spent a little more than $100 million to produce "How Do You Know," a very hefty budget for an adult comedy, and will probably lose millions of dollars if ticket sales are in line with expectations. It appears likely to perform similarly to director Brooks' last picture, the 2004 comedy "Spanglish," which opened in mid-December to $8.8 million and ended up with $42.7 million domestically and only $12.3 million outside the U.S. and Canada.
Middling reviews could hurt "How Do You Know" with its target audience of adult women.
Disney is hoping "Tron" will be a "four-quadrant" movie that appeals to men and women, young and old. However, tracking surveys indicate that on the film's first weekend, at least, it will draw primarily men. Women appear to be more hesitant about the science-fiction sequel, which stars Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde.
The studio spent an estimated $170 million to produce the movie, and its sibling divisions have invested millions in the brand, developing products such as video games and an animated television series. Disney is also spending about $150 million to market the movie worldwide. An opening in the $50-million range would mean that to be profitable, "Tron" would have to perform strongly over Christmas and bring in even more money overseas.
The movie could perform well internationally, particularly in Asia, where films loaded with special effects tend to be particularly popular. It opens this weekend in a small number of foreign countries, including Argentina, Australia and Greece.
"Yogi Bear" is an effort by Warner Bros. to duplicate the success of 20th Century Fox's "Alvin and the Chipmunks," the 2007 surprise hit based on another classic cartoon that opened to $44.3 million. Although movies that appeal mainly to young children are difficult to track, it appears that "Yogi" will fall far short of the "Alvin" opening.
Warner spent about $80 million to produce "Yogi," whose animal characters are computer generated. The film has to prove popular with families over Christmas in order to become a big hit.
Also competing for the family audience this weekend, though for slightly older children, is "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." After a soft domestic opening last weekend, Fox and Walden Media are hoping the movie's second-weekend decline is modest.
In limited release, Lionsgate's "Rabbit Hole" will open at five theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star in the adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a family coping with loss.