Moviegoers love redemption stories, and this weekend should see a nice comeback for the box office of its own.
After weeks of declining ticket sales, including the worst weekend since the one after 9/11, theaters finally have a chance to top last year's numbers with the arrival of the kid-friendly "Hotel Transylvania" and R-rated sci-fi drama "Looper."
"It's Sony's box office to lose, as the studio churns out a double bill on the same weekend — something that almost never happens," Exhibitor Relations box -ffice analyst Jeff Bock told MTV News, giving Sony strong odds for the #1 and #2 spots.
During the same timeframe last year, "Dolphin Tale" hung on to the top spot with $14.2 million during its second weekend. "Moneyball" (#2) and "The Lion King 3D" (#3) were also holdovers. IMDb's Keith Simanton pointed out that all of the new releases were much "weaker" films then than now, including Kirk Cameron's "Courageous" (a $9.1 million opening), "Looper" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "50/50" ($8.6 million) and "Dream House" ($8.1 million).
" 'Hotel Transylvania' should make more than those three 2011 openers combined," Simanton predicted.
"Hotel Transylvania" is an animated romp featuring the voice talents of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi and David Spade. It's absolutely on track to demolish the poor performance of the last Sandler/Samberg team-up, "That's My Boy." The last time Sandler shared billing with James and Spade, in 2010's "Grown Ups," resulted in $40 million opening.
"No doubt 'Hotel Transylvania' will bite — in a good way," Bock said. "This has been a troubled and long-gestating project at Sony, but it looks like they've finally assembled a product worth seeing. Whereas 'ParaNorman''s dark sensibilities had families wary, 'Hotel Transylvania' looks like more typical kiddie fare that should attract a sizable amount of tweens, too."
Simanton predicted a $28 million opening for "Hotel Transylvania," with "Looper" settling for #2 in the $14 million range. " 'Looper' plays well, but it's two hours long and very much R-Rated," he noted.
"Looper" does bear the distinction of being the best reviewed of the weekend's new films. "But just ask 'Dredd 3D' how much solid reviews helped its cause," Bock joked. "Still, [co-star] Bruce Willis is a big draw in the right type of film and this is definitely a role his fans will flock to. Expect a gross in the high teens, maybe even the low twenties, as buzz has been building."
Much further under the radar is the Fox drama "Won't Back Down," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Her brother Jake's "End of Watch" topped the box office last weekend, but expect her movie to come and go. "It's a film that's getting swept under the rug by the studio, as advertising has been nearly non-existent," said Bock. "It likely won't debut in the top five."
"Solomon Kane" seems doomed as well, particularly given that it's debuting in a paltry 15 theaters. "It had a pre-theatrical release on sites like Amazon and from that I'd hear good things about it," Simanton said of the fantasy action flick. "However, it's only in a baker's dozen of theaters, so it's unlikely to make much of a dent in the top 10."
Speaking of limited releases, "Pitch Perfect" is opening in 335 theaters, but Universal plans to expand it to 2,700 locations the following weekend, hoping that word-of-mouth and positive reviews give it some momentum.