Is a decade too long to wait for a film sequel? Is four years too long for the industry's most bankable star to be away from the big screen and keep his box-office mojo?
"Men in Black 3" and star Will Smith will provide answers to both of those questions this Memorial Day weekend as they try to knock "The Avengers" out of the top box-office spot for the first time in a month.
"MIB3" will make about $80 million over the four days and do just that, industry analysts forecast. Sony has "MIB3" on 4,248 screens, 278 of which will be Imax.
Sony is hoping to recreate the magic it found in the 1997 hit “Men in Black,” which had a budget estimated at $90 million and grossed $589 million worldwide; or the second, 2002’s “Men in Black II,” which grossed $442 million on a $140 million budget. Smith is looking to recapture some magic, too. He's been absent from the big screen since 2008's "Seven Pounds."
"They're in a good spot," Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations told TheWrap Thursday. "The last two big films ("Dark Shadows" and "Battleship") have disappointed, so we're still really waiting for something new to fire-up the summer marketplace. You can only see 'The Avengers' so many times."
The critics are lukewarm on "MIB3," with 65% of the critics on RottenTomatoes positive and Metacritic giving it a 59 rating. But as with all would-be summer blockbusters, attracting young audiences will be they key, and analysts outside the studio expressed some skepticism, noting so-so social media awareness.
"Ten years is a long time," said Boxoffice.com editor Phil Contrino told TheWrap Thursday. "And I don't know whether a plot that takes you back to the 1960s is the best way to connect with a new generation of moviegoers."
But the long layoff, at least in terms of Smith, could actually benefit "MIB3."
"I think people are anxious to see Will Smith in a movie again," Bock said, suggesting that will help with the film's target demo. "Young audiences certainly know him."
The film, which ran up a production budget well north of $200 million swollen by shooting delays and script rewrites, will also open in nearly every overseas territory this weekend. Cast members barnstormed premieres in in London, Paris, Berlin and Moscow the past week, and their efforts are expected to help produce a worldwide take that could hit $200 million.
"The Avengers," meanwhile, should take in another $37 million to $44 million, according to projections for the four days, but the film has exceeded expectations since opening.
"Memorial Day is a big family weekend," Contrino said. "If 'The Avengers' really capitalizes on that, it could easily go higher."
Disney's star-studded Marvel superhero saga has taken in $472 million domestically and $747 million overseas, for a whopping $1.2 billion worldwide, No. 4 on the all-time list.
The tussle between the tentpole titans won't be the only intrigue at the cineplexes.
Also bowing are the opening film from this year's Cannes Film Festival, "Moonlight Kingdom," as well as the feel-good French blockbuster "The Intouchables" and "The Chernobyl Diaries" from low-budget horrormeister Oren Pell. The sleeper hit "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," meanwhile, will be going wide for the first time.
Fox Searchlight takes "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" into 1,100 theaters this weekend, hoping to capitalize on the slow build that lifted the tale of Brit retirees in India to the No. 6 box office slot last weekend.
"Other than the huge success of 'The Avengers,' this has been the surprise of the summer," Bock said. "Best Exotic" has already made more than $9 million in limited release in the U.S. on top of the $78 million it has taken in overseas.
Set in the 1960s, the film chronicles two tween lovers who flee their New England island town and the search that ensues. The ensemble cast features Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand and Jason Schwartzman.
The Weinstein Co. will roll out French import "The Intouchables" in two theaters in New York and two in L.A.
Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy star in the feel-good comedy-drama, which was written and directed by Olivier Kakache and Eric Toledano. It carries an R rating.
Warners will open "The Chernobyl Diaries," from Alcon Entertainment and Film Nation, in 2,450 theaters. The R-rated horror film is written and produced by Pell, the man behind the 2009 low-budget hit "Paranormal Activity."
Analysts see a bow between $10 million and $15 million over the holiday for the "found-footage" film, which follows six tourists who tour an abandoned city that was home to the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
Three films will return for second laps.
Universal's "Battleship" will seek to bounce back from its disappointing $25 million No. 2 bow last week along with Sacha Baron Cohen's "The Dictator" from Paramount and Lionsgate's ensemble pregnancy comedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting."