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411's Box Office Preview: Can Guardians of the Galaxy Help August Numbers Soar?
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.31.2014

Welcome back to 411's official weekend box office preview! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and we're going to be looking at the upcoming weekend at the movie theater, examining which films are likely to fly high and which ones will crash and burn.

Last weekend saw two films overperform in their opening weekends, but the box office remains a brutal 20% behind last year's summer take to give us the worst summer financially since 2004. This is never good news, but especially when we're coming into the dog days of August. August is renowned to be a slow month at the multiplexes, as movie-goers have given out all their money to the big blockbusters of May through July and are focusing on other things like the home stretch of major league baseball or--more significantly--the impending school year. But it's very possible that the weakened grosses so far this summer may help August, particularly when we have more potential box office hits this year in the month than we've seen since 2007, when The Bourne Ultimatum, Rush Hour 3 and Superbad all scored over $100 million.

The month kicks off this weekend with its strongest contender for blockbuster status in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. As a studio, Marvel has had a "can do no wrong" reputation, at least in terms of securing heavy grosses, and anticipation is high for its latest franchise-within-a-franchise. Early tracking is pegging it for one of the bigger openings this summer, though not quite at the level of Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Godzilla, and the film has exceptional buzz on social media thanks to Marvel's typically fantastic marketing work and an ecstatic critical reaction (94% at Rotten Tomatoes). Marvel's trend has typically seen higher grosses follow the more popular entries; The Avengers boosted the grosses of all three individual franchises (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Solder), and Winter Soldier is as beloved--if not more--than The Avengers. This is good news for Guardians.

And yet, this is also Marvel's riskiest franchise to date. Guardians is based on the least-known Marvel property to become a film in its cinematic universe and as good of a job as the studio has done introducing the characters, there is also no single big name anchoring it the way Robert Downey Jr. did with Iron Man before it became a box office juggernaut. The situation is somewhat comparable to 2011's Thor, which opened to $65 million and went on to bring in a total of $181 million domestically. It's also important to note that all previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films have opened in the blockbuster-friendly months of April, May, June, July or November. The moviegoer fatigue that usually sets in during August could hurt it, as good the glut of action fare at the box office. Still, it's unreasonable to expect anything less than a hit here and Guardians should fall right in line with Thor for a $65 million to $70 million opening weekend.

The only other significant movie opening this weekend is Universal Pictures' Get On Up, the biopic of James Brown. Starring Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, the film is opening in far fewer theaters than Guardians (2,466 compared to the Marvel film's 3,800) and lacks the kind of star power or popcorn entertainment value needed to be a blockbuster. What it does have is a director with a good August track record in Tate Taylor, whose The Help was a big hit in August of 2007, and a very focused theatrical rollout. Universal is targeting African-American markets with Get On Up and is relying on critical acclaim (83% on Rotten Tomatoes) and good word of mouth to give it the traditional long legs of a drama. The fact that rock icon Mick Jagger is producing has gotten it a little bit of credibility as well. There has been early buzz over Boseman's performance so while this won't open to gigantic numbers, it should prove successful in the long-term. A $16 million to $20 million opening is a fair guess and would put the movie well on its way to recouping its $30 million budget.

Among the holdovers from last week, expect moderate-sized falls for Lucy and Hercules. Both films strongly overperformed last weekend and that usually turns into higher-than-average drops in the second weekend; Lucy's C+ CinemaScore won't be doing it any favors either, though Hercules should be in somewhat better shape thanks to a B+. Both films got mildly positive marks by critics, which will neither help nor hurt them. The Scarlett Johansson film has been performing about in line with 2012's The Bourne Legacy throughout the week so far, though that film had less action competition in its second weekend. It will probably have around a 60% drop, which would put it in the $17 million to $18 million range.

Meanwhile, Hercules has also been doing all right for its weekday performances so far, a little better than 300: Rise of an Empire did earlier this year. Despite stronger action competition, the Rock's film received the better word of mouth and better critical reaction, which means that it should be able to do a little better than that film's 57% drop. Figure on Hercules bringing in between $13 million to $14 million for its second week, which is around a 55% fall.

Another film that should make some movement this weekend is A Most Wanted Man. The espionage thriller, which stars the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, opened to a very good $2.6 million in just 361 theaters last weekend and earned raves from critics (90% on Rotten Tomatoes). Based on that strength, Roadside Attractions is doubling the theater count to 726. That should allow it to pull in about the same number this weekend, which will allow it to stick around in the top ten while films like Transformers: Age of Extinction and Tammy drop out.

Below are my final predictions for the three-day weekend box office numbers:

1. Guardians of the Galaxy - $68 million
2. Get On Up - $18.5 million
3. Lucy - $17.4 million (-61%)
4. Hercules - $13.7 million (-54%)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - $8.7 million (-48%)
6. Planes: Fire & Rescue - $6.3 million (-40%)
7. The Purge: Anarchy - $5 million (-52%)
8. And So It Goes - $2.7 million (-42%)
9. A Most Wanted Man - $2.6 million (-4%)
10. Sex Tape - $2.6 million (-57%)


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