'Despicable Me 2' to beat 'Lone Ranger' at Fourth of July box office

It will be fireworks for "Despicable Me 2" at the box office this Fourth of July, but "The Lone Ranger" could be a dud.

The animated 3-D sequel will probably collect an impressive $110 million between Tuesday night and Sunday evening, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The big-budget western, meanwhile, is poised to gross $70 million during that same period. (Walt Disney Studios, which is distributing the film, is predicting a softer debut of roughly $60 million.)

Though that sounds like a lot of money, "The Lone Ranger" cost Disney at least $225 million to produce. If it is to become profitable, the critically panned movie (which has a 21% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) will need to generate exceptionally positive word-of-mouth and do strong business abroad, where westerns have not been traditionally popular.

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Based on a 1930s radio show that later became a 1950s television series, "The Lone Ranger" was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by "Pirates of the Caribbean" veteran Gore Verbinski. The movie stars relative newcomer Armie Hammer as a lawman trying to avenge his brother's death with the help of the Native American Tonto, played by Johnny Depp.

Since the beginning of production in August 2011, "The Lone Ranger" has been plagued by bad buzz. Disney was forced to stop filming when the movie's budget ballooned to $250 million. Production resumed in February 2012, but the studio later took heat from critics who argued that a Native American should have been cast to play Depp's role. 

Heading into the weekend, the film is appealing most to older men. The picture is set to launch this weekend in a handful of foreign markets, including Russia and Australia. In addition to attending a splashy U.S. premiere at Disney's California Adventure last month, Depp and Hammer traveled to Moscow to promote the film. Depp, 50, has long been a big draw internationally. Only three of 16 live-action movies in which he has appeared over the last decade have grossed more domestically than abroad.

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Meanwhile, "Despicable Me 2" is already off to a strong start overseas. Prior to its U.S. release, the film debuted in seven foreign markets and has so far collected $50 million. This weekend the movie will launch in 38 additional countries. The original "Despicable Me" collected about 53% of its $543 million global tally abroad in 2010.

The animated sequel, produced by Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, was financed by distributor Universal Pictures for $76 million. The movie, whose case of voices includes Steve Carell, Miranda Cosgrove and Kristin Wiig, centers around the minions -- the yellow, blob-like creatures that had only a supporting role in the original film.

On Tuesday morning, the sequel had earned the same 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as the original scored three years ago. So far the movie is generating the most interest among young females.

Also opening on Wednesday is "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain," a stand-up comedy film whose star fully financed the $2.5-million production. The low-budget movie could gross $10 million by Sunday evening -- even though it's only playing in about 800 locations, roughly 3,000 fewer than the weekend's other two debuts.

“Let Me Explain” was filmed during one of Hart’s sold-out performances at Madison Square Garden last year. The movie follows “Laugh at My Pain,” a similar stand-up flick starring Hart that grossed a surprisingly strong $7.7 million from just 285 theaters in 2011.


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