‘After Earth’ May Actually Beat ‘Fast & Furious 6′ at Weekend Box Office

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The muscle-car franchise has faltered in the second week before  

Reigning champ “Fast & Furious 6″ has the inside track this weekend at the box office, but Will and Jaden Smith could put them in the rear-view mirror with their sci-fi thriller “After Earth.”

That's if "After Earth" delivers at the high end of analysts' projections — and Universal's cars and criminals sequel takes a big dip, as other entries in the franchise have.

"Fast and Furious 6" will wind up around $40 million if it drops roughly 55 percent from its opening, when it drove the box office to a Memorial Day weekend record. That would be enough to hold off Sony’s "After Earth," which is projected to finish at around $35 million in its debut, according to industry analysts.

But the "Fast & Furious" movies have historically taken major skids in their second week. "Fast Five," the series' highest-grossing entry, dropped 62 percent in its second week after opening to $86 million in 2011. The previous movie, "Fast and Furious," fell 61 percent after a $70 million debut in 2009.

Also read: Can Will Smith Turn His Son Jaden Into the Next Fresh Prince of Hollywood?

"While 'After Earth' and 'Now You See Me' aren't particularly strong contenders, they both will go directly after 'Fast & Furious' audiences,” said Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock. "Typically, the franchise’s films have dropped an average of 60 percent in their second weekends, and with everyone rushing out to see 'Fast 6' on its opening weekend, the dropoff could be very similar."

It may be close for third, too. The weekend's other wide opener, the Lionsgate thriller "Now You See Me," is expected to come in at around $17 million for Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment. Also likely to finish in that same range are last weekend’s No. 2 movie, "The Hangover Part III," Paramount's "Star Trek Into Darkness," which is in its third week, and Fox's animated family film "Epic," back for its second week.

Will Smith has been in just one movie since 2008, last year’s “Men In Black 3,” and cedes much of the spotlight in this film to his son, Jaden. Will remains a box-office force internationally – “MIB 3″ brought in $180 million in the U.S. and $445 million abroad — but “After Earth” will offer a heat-check in terms of his appeal domestically.

M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote “After Earth” with Gary Whitta and is directing, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’ve been paying close attention. The studio's marketing campaign has emphasized the father-son adventure elements of the plot, rather than the director, whose 2010 film ‘The Last Airbender," disappointed.

In the PG-13-rated “After Earth,” a crash landing leaves Kitai Raige (Jaden) and his father Cypher (Will) stranded on Earth,1,000 years after humanity has left. Zoe Kravitz and Sophie Okonedo also appear in the film, but the real co-stars are the computer-generated creatures that menace Kitai, who embarks on a perilous journey.

The critics have been cruel — it's at 14 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes — but the social media indicators have surged in the past few days. "After Earth" had more than 1.1 million Facebook "likes" earlier this week.

Also read: 'After Earth' Reviews: Critics Can't Stand Will Smith's Space Adventure

Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Shyamalan are producers on the Columbia Pictures and Overbrook Entertainment project, which carries a production budget estimated at $130 million. Sony has it in more than 3,000 theaters.

Summit Entertainment’s “Now You See Me” is the PG-13 tale of an FBI agent and Interpol detective tracking a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Common, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman top the ensemble cast, which is directed by Louis Leterrier ("Clash of the Titans").

The challenge for "Now You See Me" is to not get lost amid amid the heavyweight holdovers, and find an audience looking for something other than superheroes and sequels. Summit released the first four minutes of the movie on the site of online ticket broker Fandango during the opening week of "The Great Gatsby," hoping to connect with moviegoers drawn to distinctive fare.

"Now You See Me" was produced by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Bobby Cohen and has a production budget of around $75 million. Boaz Yakin, Michael Schaefer and Stan Wlodkowski are executive producers.

"Now You See Me" will screen in 2,925 theaters.

Also read: Best May Ever at the Box Office – Are We in for a Record Summer, Too?

Two films that made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year top the week's limited releases.

CBS Films is rolling out “The Kings of Summer” in four theaters. This big-screen debut from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was known as “Toy’s House” when it heated up Park City. In it, three teenage friends (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias) decide to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land.

Also read: 'The Kings of Summer' Review: A Giddy, Goofy Teenage Lark

Chris Galletta wrote the screenplay for the R-rated film, which has a glossy 79 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie co-star.

Fox Searchlight is debuting Zal Batmanglij’s thriller “The East,” starring Brit Marling, Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard, in four theaters as well.

Batmanglij and Marling co-wrote the screenplay, which follows a former FBI agent (Marling) who infiltrates an anarchist collective but begins to fall in love with one of its leaders (Skarsgard).