"Battle: Los Angeles" is expected to wipe out the competition at the box office this weekend, leaving "Mars Needs Moms" searching for any signs of life.
Sony Pictures' "Battle: L.A.," an alien invasion story starring Aaron Eckhart, could open with ticket sales of $30 million to $35 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
But the biggest news at the box office this weekend is projected to be a disastrous debut of "Mars Needs Moms," a big-budget animated movie from Walt Disney Studios that is on track to open at just $10 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, Warner Bros.' gothic retelling of "Red Riding Hood," will probably collect about $20 million.
"Battle: Los Angeles" was co-financed by Sony and Relativity Media for about $75 million, according to two people close to the production, and a Sony spokesman said the cost was $70 million after tax incentives. The movie, about a Marine unit's struggle against aliens invading the city, is generating strong interest among men of all ages.
Because the film has an ethnically diverse cast that includes Latina actress Michelle Rodriguez and African American R&B singer Ne-Yo, Sony is hopeful that "Battle: L.A." will attract a large minority audience. The movie is also opening in 33 foreign markets this weekend, including Britain, Russia and South Korea.
Less certain is how many will show up to see "Mars Needs Moms," the 3-D performance-capture film about a 9-year-old boy who travels to outer space to save his mother from Martians.
The movie was produced by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital, which also partnered with Disney on 2009's "A Christmas Carol." The collaboration between the companies ended last year when Disney shut down the Northern California digital production studio and took a write-down on its investment.
If projections prove accurate, "Mars Needs Moms" will be one of the biggest box-office flops of the year, given its cost of about $150 million. The film is also launching in 15 foreign countries.
"Red Riding Hood," which stars Amanda Seyfried as a strong-willed teenager in a love triangle, is generating solid interest from teenage girls, whom Warner's advertising campaign has been courting heavily. It's the first movie from director Catherine Hardwicke since 2008's "Twilight," a mega-hit with young females.
Hardwicke said "Red Riding Hood" cost $42 million to produce. That means its projected debut would be good but not great.
Beyond the new releases, the biggest question is how Paramount's computer-animated western "Rango" will hold up in its second weekend in theaters after opening to a so-so $38.1 million. Animated family films typically have smaller declines at the box office than other genres, as parents often wait to hear what people they trust say about the movie.
Despite primarily positive reviews, initial audience response to "Rango" was largely negative: On average, moviegoers older than 13 gave the film a weak grade of C-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore. If the movie, which stars Johnny Depp as the voice of a chameleon, drops less than 40%, that will bode well for its box-office prospects.
In limited release, Focus Features' "Jane Eyre" — its new adaptation of the 19th century English literary classic, starring Mia Wasikowska — will open at two theaters in Los Angeles and two in New York.