Unfortunately, this is the one-year anniversary of The Hunger Games's incredible $152.5 million debut, so it will be the latest weekend in which there's a noticeable year-over-year decrease.
The Croods arrives at a critical time for DreamWorks Animation, which since 1998 has produced 25 movies that have earned over $10 billion worldwide. From 2006 to 2012, DreamWorks had an exclusive output deal with Paramount Pictures; that was not renewed, though, and beginning with The Croods all DreamWorks movies will be handled by 20th Century Fox. Also, DreamWorks is coming off one of their biggest disappointments ever in November's Rise of the Guardians, which will likely end its run with less than $104 million at the domestic box office.
Ahead of opening weekend, The Croods at least looks to be in better shape than Guardians. The marketing campaign has successfully introduced the titular prehistoric family, while also showcasing the vibrant, colorful animation. It has also extensively promoted the movie's association with 2010's How to Train Your Dragon, which feels more relevant here than it was for Guardians.
The Croods isn't the first animated movie of the year—that title technically belongs to Escape From Planet Earth—and it's also not the first March movie targeted at family audiences. However, Oz The Great and Powerful's audience skewed a bit more towards adults than originally expected, which is a positive sign for The Croods.
In 2010, DreamWorks Animation movies How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind opened to $43.7 million and $46 million, respectively. The Croods will likely wind up slightly below that, but could definitely top $40 million (which is what Fox is hoping for at this point).
The Croods is also opening in over 45 foreign markets this weekend, including Brazil, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain and the U.K. International distribution is Fox's specialty, and it wouldn't be surprising if The Croods winds up earning around $300 million overseas.
While it won't be able to match The Croods, Olympus Has Fallen should also be in line for a good debut at 3,098 locations this weekend. The movie is the first of two 2013 releases that revolve around the White House being taken siege by terrorists; at this point, though, awareness is basically non-existent for June's White House Down, so that redundancy isn't likely to deter moviegoers in any significant way this weekend.
Distributor FilmDistrict, who acquired the movie from Millennium Films, has executed a heavy, comprehensive marketing effort over the past few months that's been nicely targeted at adult male audiences (in particular, they've carpet-bombed sports programming with ads in the past few weeks). Commercials clearly articulate the movie's premise, highlight some decent action, and make it known that widely-liked star Morgan Freeman has a significant role.
Based on all of these factors, an opening north of $20 million would normally seem like a lock. Unfortunately, movies aimed specifically at adult males have been getting crushed so far in 2013, and even with Gerard Butler in the lead it doesn't look like Olympus Has Fallen has a ton of appeal for women. FilmDistrict is currently expecting high-teen-millions this weekend, which seems fair given the tough climate for action movies.
The weekend's third nationwide release is Tina Fey-Paul Rudd comedy Admission, which Focus Features is releasing in to a modest 2,160 theaters. The marketing has focused entirely on the two leads, and has even gone so far as to show the two of them talking to a camera about why audiences should go see the movie. Otherwise, though, the movie's previews are extremely generic (the movie's about college admissions, after all), and it is unlikely Fey and Rudd are likeable enough to help the movie overcome this problem. As a result, Admission will probably open under $10 million.
After averaging a fantastic $87,667 at three theaters last weekend, Spring Breakers expands to 1,104 locations to take advantage of the very tail end of Spring Break season. The movie hasn't really had any TV promotion at all—instead, distributor A24 is relying almost exclusively on reviews (a fine 73 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and on social media. That buzz is through the roof, and Spring Breakers's performance this weekend could be viewed as a referendum on the value of social chatter.
Even with James Franco, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, though, Spring Breakers is still likely to be too violent and controversial to really draw major crowds. There are plenty of examples of movies putting up fantastic numbers at premium theaters in Los Angeles and New York, but struggling a bit in nationwide release. The most recent one is last September's The Master (also produced by Annapurna Pictures), which averaged an incredible $147,262 at five theaters ahead of a mildly disappointing $5,572 average at 788 theaters the following weekend. That movie had plenty of social buzz, great reviews, and even had a television campaign, but was ultimately not accessible to the majority of moviegoers.
If Spring Breakers can match The Master's per-theater average, it will earn over $6 million this weekend, which would be a good start.
Forecast (March 22-24)
1. The Croods - $38.6 million
2. Oz - $21 million (-49%)
3. Olympus Has Fallen - $19.2 million
4. The Call - $10.2 million (-40%)
5. Admission - $7.7 million
-. Spring Breakers - $5.5 million
Bar for Success
With the Easter holiday coming up and no competition whatsoever through the month of April, The Croods is in really good shape if it opens north of $40 million this weekend. FilmDistrict's highest three-day opening belongs to November's Red Dawn with $14.3 million; Olympus Has Fallen is okay with anything above that, though it would obviously be nice to hit $20 million. Admission gets a pass at $10 million, while Spring Breakers ought to be earning at least $4 million.