Movie projector: 'Despicable Me' and 'Predators' open as 'Eclipse' falls further behind 'New Moon'
Universal Pictures' first attempt at computer animation and 20th Century Fox's bid to revive "Predators" are both headed for good openings, but "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" should again emerge the winner this weekend at the box office.
The animated "Despicable Me" is set to open to about $35 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen pre-release audience polling, while "Predators" will probably start off with about $25 million. Both are good though not sensational debuts given the movies' costs.
"Eclipse," meanwhile, has been trailing a bit behind last November's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" in weekday grosses. Ticket sales on Tuesday and Wednesday were $10.6 million and $8.8 million, respectively, compared with $11.3 million and $14.2 million on the same days of the week after "New Moon" debuted. The Wednesday for "New Moon" was the day before Thanksgiving -- giving it some comparable advantage -- but distributor Summit Entertainment had hoped "Eclipse" would surpass the previous "Twilight" movie on weekdays because it's playing in the summer, when many young fans are out of school and able to go to matinees. That doesn't appear to be happening so far.
"Eclipse" has grossed $195.7 million in its first eight days, compared with $205.8 million for "New Moon" in the same period.
People who closely follow box office results are expecting that "Eclipse" will gross about $40 million this weekend, similar to what "New Moon" did on its second weekend in theaters. In addition, the new movie opens in 23 foreign markets this weekend, including France, Great Britain and South Korea.
"Despicable Me" looks like it will perform well compared with other recent animated films that aren't sequels and don't come from established studios like DreamWorks Animation or Pixar. "The Princess and the Frog" from Disney Animation Studios, which has been in a box office slump, opened to $24 million in December, while Sony Pictures Animation's "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" opened to $30 million in September.
"Despicable Me" is the first movie from Illumination Entertainment, a company founded by former Fox executive Chris Meledandri to produce family films for Universal. Animated by a studio in France as contract work, "Despicable" cost about $70 million, less than half the cost of Pixar and DreamWorks animated films.
Like "Cloudy," "Despicable Me" is being released in 3-D, which will boost its box office potential. Universal booked 1,551 theaters with 3-D screens for the movie. That's about 800 fewer than recent movies such as "Shrek Forever After" that opened with no other 3-D pictures in the market, but "Despicable Me" comes amid a 3-D traffic jam in theaters, with "The Last Airbender" and "Toy Story 3" still playing.
It has been 20 years since "Predator 2," although the human-hunting aliens also appeared in "Alien vs. Predator" movies in 2004 and 2007. Fox's revival of the series was produced by Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios and cost the studio and its financing partner Dune Entertainment about $40 million.
Polling indicates that the new movie will draw a primarily male crowd evenly mixed between younger men who are new to "Predators" and older ones who remember the 1987 original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
-- Ben Fritz
Top photo: A scene from "Despicable Me." Credit: Illumination Entertainment. Bottom photo: Adrien Brody and Alice Braga in "Predator." Credit: Rico Torres / 20th Century Fox.