On a crowded box-office weekend, where four new films will fight for No. 1, "Elysium" may hover just above the competition.
The sci-fi flick starring Matt Damon is set to debut with a solid-if-not-spectacular $32 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
Its only real rival is likely to be the 3-D animated "Planes," a spinoff of Pixar's "Cars" franchise, which is expected to launch with a healthy $28 million.
On Wednesday, the R-rated comedy "We're the Millers" and the sequel "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" both hit theaters in an effort to get out ahead of the packed weekend.
The mid-budget "Millers," costarring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, looks poised to collect $24 million between Friday and Sunday. The "Percy Jackson" sequel, meanwhile, is likely to gross a so-so $19 million.
The well-reviewed "Elysium," set in 2154, stars Damon as an earthbound factory worker. After being diagnosed with cancer, he tries to get to Elysium -- a luxurious world hovering above Earth where only the most fortunate reside.
The movie is the second feature film from South African native Neill Blomkamp. His first release, "District 9," became a surprise box-office success in 2009, opening with $37.4 million domestically and ultimately grossing $210.8 million worldwide.
"Elysium" was financed by Media Rights Capital for $115 million, but is being distributed and marketed by Sony Pictures. Heading into the weekend, the picture appears to be generating the most interest among older males.
As for "Planes," not only does the movie have to contend with three other debuts this weekend, it also will face competition from other animated movies still in the marketplace. "The Smurfs 2" just hit theaters last weekend and "Despicable Me 2" is still a force to be reckoned with even after a month at the multiplex.
However, Walt Disney Studios says the DisneyToon production was made for just $50 million, meaning it has a decent shot at financial success. "Planes" was initially slated to go directly to video, as most of DisneyToon's films do. However, after screening the movie for audiences, Disney decided to give it a theatrical release and is now planning a "Planes" trilogy. The film features the voices of Dane Cook, Teri Hatcher and Brad Garrett.
"We're the Millers" is almost certain to be a hit for Warner Bros. and its New Line label, which made the film for just $37 million. The movie stars Sudeikis as a drug dealer who ropes a stripper (Aniston) and two teenagers into a ruse in which they pretend to be his family members and help him smuggle marijuana out of Mexico.
Those who saw the film Wednesday enjoyed it, assigning it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The comedy is the first release for Sudeikis since leaving "Saturday Night Live" and will be a test of his draw with moviegoers as a leading man. The movie's success would also be good news for Aniston, who is coming off a flop in last year's comedy "Wanderlust."
"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," financed by Fox and the Seelig Group for $90 million, is expected to launch with far less than the original film did in 2010. After starting off with $31.2 million in the U.S. and Canada, "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief" went on to gross $226.5 million -- roughly 60% of which came from overseas.
Based on a beloved bestselling novel by Rick Riordan, the original "Percy Jackson" movie was met with lackluster reviews. So far, the sequel is faring even worse with critics: On Thursday, the film had notched a 33% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared with a 49% grade for the original.
"Sea of Monsters" stars Logan Lerman as Percy, son of the Greek god Poseidon, who sets out on a journey to heal a magical tree that protects his home. Opening-day filmgoers gave it an average grade of B+ -- the same grade the first film received three years ago.
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