Two years ago, an animated "threequel" topped the box office against new movies from Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler. If industry-watcher prognostication proves correct, it'll be déjà vu this weekend as another big-budget cartoon trounces the two stars.
Experts predict last weekend's #1 movie, "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," is likely to beat back new competition from Cruise and his singing compatriots in "Rock of Ages" as well as "That's My Boy," which pairs Sandler with fellow "Saturday Night Live" veteran Andy Samberg.
"I think this frame will shape up just like the weekend of June 25 to June 27, 2010," BoxOfficeGuru.com editor Gitesh Pandya told MTV News. That summer, "Toy Story 3" remained #1 for a second consecutive weekend against Cruise's "Knight and Day" and Sandler's "Grown Ups."
Edward Douglas, who writes "The Weekend Warrior" for ComingSoon.net, agreed, predicting between $30 and $35 million for "Madagascar 3." Movie City News Editor David Poland didn't see a $30 million opening as out of the realm of possibility for Sandler, but countered that "Madagascar" certainly wouldn't drop any lower than that. " 'Rock of Ages' has no chance [at being #1]," he added.
Both of the weekend's big new movies failed to impress critics. "Rock of Ages" had a "rotten" 49 percent critical average on Rotten Tomatoes at press time. "That's My Boy" stood at 15 percent, which is on par with other Sandler comedies ("Grown Ups" had just 10 percent).
" 'Rock of Ages' will get hurt by bad reviews more than 'That's My Boy,' " Pandya predicted. "One of the favorite exercises of film critics is to think of new ways to rip apart the latest Sandler film, so audiences would be shocked by anything other than bad reviews."
Douglas agreed: "It will have less of an effect on 'That's My Boy.' Not only because both Sandler and Samberg have their own dedicated fans, but also because the movie's going to get a significant bump on Father's Day when fathers and their teen and older sons make this their first choice."
"Rock of Ages" arrives armed with a slew of recognizable hair-metal songs from the '80s written by platinum-plus acts like Def Leppard and Poison, as well as built-in support from the fans who saw the show on Broadway. And while the film boasts a large ensemble that includes Malin Akerman and this year's MTV Movie Awards host, Russell Brand, shirtless shots of Cruise as rocker Stacee Jaxx certainly played a big part in marketing.
Pandya said Cruise's star power, the built-in Broadway buzz and the songs are all equal draws for the film, but Poland disagreed: "Broadway buzz, with very few exceptions, is good for less than $20 million total, in my opinion," he said. "And who is coming to hear the songs sung by this cast?"
Douglas noted, "Even with bad reviews, most of the critics have been impressed with Cruise in the role of Stacee Jaxx. It's just not enough to overcome other problems.
"The Broadway show certainly has its fanbase, as do the actual songs, but I believe that's a fairly small group that may go out to see it on Friday. And I really don't think the fans of the Broadway show are going to like the movie at all. It's just too different."
"Knight and Day" was one of only a handful of mainstream-targeted Cruise movies to fail to crack $100 million. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," however, took in nearly $210 million. So, what will the success or failure of "Rock of Ages" mean for his career?
"Honestly? Absolutely nothing," Douglas reasoned. "I don't think it's only being sold based on Cruise, and he's a supporting character at best rather than the lead. He has already increased his Q-rating with the success of 'Ghost Protocol,' so there's very little that can actually hurt him. While Cruise will contribute to the film opening well, I don't think he'll get blamed if it doesn't have significant legs."
Pandya explained, "Cruise has shrewdly put himself into a win-win situation with 'Rock of Ages,' because if the film does well, he can take some credit due to his buzz-worthy role. However, if it tanks, then it's not his fault since it's an ensemble with a big cast and not resting on his shoulders. There's only upside here for him, so I think this is a great move for his career."
As for Sandler's career, "Jack and Jill" opened with $25 million last year, and like "Knight and Day," finished around $75 million. "Just Go With It" took in $104 million earlier in 2011. In 2009, the more highbrow dramedy "Funny People" opened with $22 million.
"I see 'That's My Boy' opening closer to 'Funny People' and not near his bigger PG-13 hits, which had more appeal," Pandya said. "There's no major female star here, plus the R rating may cut down on some of his younger teen business."
Poland pointed out that "Jack and Jill" was the first broad Adam Sandler comedy (i.e. not a "Punch Drunk Love"-type movie) that didn't break $100 million domestically since "Little Nicky" collected just $40 million in 2000.
"It's definitely not a 'Little Nicky' because Sandler isn't really playing a character as he did in that," Douglas said. "He's just playing an exaggerated version of his 'Big Daddy' character in some ways. And it's a much bigger deal that he's paired with Andy Samberg, who is pretty hot right now. In some ways, it should have a similar effect as when Sandler did 'Grown Ups' because the combined star power will make up for any misgivings people will have about seeing an Adam Sandler movie.
"I'd say this is more in the range of 'Just Go With It' or 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,' " he added.
The last big movie to do battle with "Madagascar" was "Prometheus," which settled for a nevertheless-strong #2 opening. While the brainy sci-fi movie presented audiences with juicy questions about its story (many handily answered by co-writer David Lindelof in a series of emails with MTV News' own Josh Horowitz), the remaining head scratcher for box-office watchers is how much it will decline in its second weekend. Despite a Friday-to-Saturday drop last weekend, though, predictions were optimistic.
"As people seem to be forgetting, there were a number of huge sports events on Saturday, which probably cut into its male-driven business," Douglas noted. "While there may be a large Friday-to-Friday drop this week, the Saturday-to-Saturday won't be so bad, and I can see it actually doing decent business for Father's Day, so I don't see a catastrophic second-weekend drop — definitely sub-55 percent."
Poland predicted, "I see a drop in the mid-40s [percentage wise], as it is still the must-see studio movie for adults."
As for the biggest box-office story of the year thus far, "Marvel's The Avengers" should pass $600 million domestically this summer. "I'd say by the end of July it should be there, if not sooner," Douglas said.
"Disney will jump through every hoop to be able to say it topped 'Titanic' domestically, even if it means a re-release," Poland explained. "But it probably won't be necessary. Looks to me like they can get to $600 million before 'The Amazing Spider-Man' lands in theaters."
It's not all about the big-budget summer flicks, of course. This weekend's smaller releases include "Your Sister's Sister" with Emily Blunt, "The Woman in the Fifth" with Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, and hip-hop documentary "The Art of Rap."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.