Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure Oblivion—in to theaters nationwide this weekend. While strong word-of-mouth will keep 42 in play, Oblivion has enough going for it that it should open on top with at least $30 million, which will be the highest opening weekend in April 2013.
At the beginning of the new century, Tom Cruise was arguably the biggest movie star in the U.S.: from Mission: Impossible II in 2000 to Mission: Impossible III in 2006, Cruise starred in seven-straight movies that earned at least $100 million at the domestic box office.
Towards the end of that run, though, Cruise's public image took a hit due to some of his more eccentric behavior and his strong association with the controversial Church of Scientology. Since 2006, Cruise has only had a single $100 million domestic earner, which was the fourth Mission: Impossible movie in 2011. Excluding Rock of Ages and Lions for Lambs—both of which are way outside of Cruise's wheelhouse—his non-sequels have essentially settled in to a $75-$85 million range.
Oblivion does appear to have more going for it than Jack Reacher, Valkyrie and Knight & Day, though. First, this is Cruise's third sci-fi movie, and his first two—Minority Report and War of the Worlds—are some of his more popular outings. Oblivion's aggressive marketing has also been solid, if not spectacular. The campaign has emphasized the impressive post-apocalyptic imagery (which many have compared to Pixar's Wall-E), though the vagaries surrounding the actual story itself isn't helpful. It has also promoted filmmaker associations with Tron Legacy and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (both of which earned over $170 million), and has given Morgan Freeman almost equal billing with Tom Cruise (which should help attract with urban audiences).
Similar to Cruise's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Oblivion was supposed to open a week early in IMAX to build word-of-mouth. That plan was cancelled recently, likely because the final product wasn't exactly stellar—it's currently below 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—and instead Universal opted for a more traditional launch in to 3,782 locations this weekend. While there's not a ton of competition in the marketplace right now, there is Iron Man 3 on the horizon, which is a big-enough event that it could slightly mute Oblivion grosses. Still, Universal is expecting at least $30 million this weekend, which should be an easy number to reach for Oblivion.
It's worth noting that regardless of how Oblivion fares in the U.S., it's already a solid earner overseas: the movie opened to $61 million from most foreign markets this past weekend, and it appears on track for at least $200 million before the end of its run.
After three weeks in limited and moderate release, Ryan Gosling/Bradley Cooper crime drama The Place Beyond the Pines expands nationwide to 1,542 locations this weekend. To date, the movie has grossed $6.4 million, and it's possible that it earns about that much this weekend (which should be good for a spot in the Top 5).
There are also three noteworthy limited releases this weekend. Rob Zombie horror flick The Lords of Salem reaches 354 locations, while Christian baseball movie Home Run is opening at 348 theaters. Finally, Lionsgate/Pantelion's Filly Brown debuts in 188 venues. While none of these are likely to be big hits, they should all make it in to the Top 20 this weekend.
Forecast (April 19-21)
1.Oblivion - $36.9 million
2. 42 - $20.4 million (-26%)
3. The Croods - $9 million (-31%)
4. G.I. Joe 2 - $6.4 million (-41%)
5. Place Beyond the Pines - $6.1 million
-. Scary Movie 5 - $5.4 million (-62%)
-. Evil Dead - $4.5 million (-53%)
Bar for Success
Tom Cruise's Minority Report opened to $35.7 million over a decade ago, and there's really no reason Oblivion should be opening below that level. Meanwhile, The Place Beyond the Pines ought to be earning at least $5 million (it did $3.9 million at 514 theaters last weekend).