Taylor Kitsch stars in "Battleship." (Universal Pictures )
It won't be smooth sailing for the costly newcomer"Battleship"at the box office this weekend, as "The Avengers" is set to dominate ticket sales for the third consecutive round.
The superhero adventure film is expected to be No. 1 yet again with about $50 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The movie already has surpassed the $1-billion mark at the global box office and will have grossed more than $400 million in the U.S. and Canada alone by Sunday.
"Battleship," the popcorn movie about a maval fleet battling aliens which cost Universal Pictures $209 million to produce, probably will start off with a so-so $40 million in ticket sales. Nonetheless, that would be more than enough to beat Sacha Baron Cohen's spoof"The Dictator,"which debuted Wednesday with a modest $4.2 million. The film about a fictional North African leader is projected to sell about $20 million worth of tickets by the end of the weekend.
The weekend's other new opener,"What to Expect When You're Expecting,"an ensemble comedy, could also make around $20 million -- a respectable figure considering it cost $25 million less to make than "The Dictator."
Universal opted to open “Battleship,” which was directed by Peter Berg, overseas nearly a month before it hit U.S. theaters in an effort to avoid the crowded marketplace of summer tentpoles debuting abroad this summer.
The results of that effort have been decent, as the movie, starring Taylor Kitsch, has collected about $221 million abroad so far. It has performed particularly well in China and Russia, countries where audiences typically embrace special-effects-heavy films.
“Battleship,” in which singer Rihanna makes her acting debut, is the second film this year with a budget of more than $200 million that stars Kitsch. The 30-year-old actor was the lead in Walt Disney Studios’ ill-fated “John Carter,” which performed so poorly at the box office that Disney took a $200-million write-down on the movie. Kitsch has so far received positive reviews for his performance in “Battleship,” and he will star in Oliver Stone’s gritty drug cartel thriller “Savages” in July.
In February 2008, Universal made an agreement with Hasbro toys to make at least four films based on the company’s games and toys, including “Candy Land” and “Monopoly.” “Battleship” is the one movie to result from that deal so far; the only other Hasbro-related project currently in development at Universal is a low-budget version of “Ouija.”
“The Dictator” -- which cost $65 million to make -- was initially slated to open against “Dark Shadows,” but Paramount Pictures decided in at the last minute to push the film’s opening back five days because both movies are comedies. On Wednesday, the picture attracted a young, mostly male audience -- 65% were men, and 56% were under the age of 25. Those who saw the film disliked it, assigning it a grade of C on average, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
The R-rated picture may be failing to attract an older audience because that demographic of moviegoers strongly disliked Cohen’s last film, “Bruno,” which also received a C CinemaScore. “Bruno,” a mockumentary about a flamboyant gay Austrian who comes to America, made a disappointing $60 million in the U.S. in 2009 but fared better overseas, with about $78 million.
The movie did not perform as well as Baron Cohen’s breakout hit “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” another mockumentary, which collected $261 million worldwide in 2006.
“What to Expect While You’re Expecting” is based on the popular pregnancy advice book published in 1984. The film, which features Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez and Chris Rock, has received the worst reviews of any the weekend’s debuts. As of Thursday, it had notched only a 31% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie, co-financed by Lionsgate and Alcon Entertainment for $40 million, is going after the same female audience that turned up to see the hit ensemble romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day” in 2010. “What to Expect” furthers Lionsgate’s efforts to break out from the niche of horror and Tyler Perry-directed films the studio has been best known for. So far, that strategy has had mixed results: Taylor Lautner’s “Abduction” and the mixed martial arts film “Warrior” flopped, but March’s “The Hunger Games” turned out to be a massive blockbuster.
'Battleship' ups game for studio
Movie review: 'The Dictator' rules with crudeness and smarts
'Battleship' keeps Taylor Kitsch afloat after 'John Carter' debacle
Follow Amy Kaufman on Twitter @AmyKinLA.