With two critically lauded dramas debuting at the box office this weekend, moviegoers are choosing the really depressing option over the uplifting one.
The Steven Soderbergh-directed "Contagion," which tracks the spread of a deadly global pandemic from a Chinese pig farm to elementary schools in Minnesotta, grossed $8 million Friday, according to studio estimates.
That total is good enough to end "The Help's" three week run atop the box office. It also puts the $60 million Warner Bros. thriller, which was backed by Participant Media, on pace to match pre-release expectations of more than $20 million for the weekend.
Not faring as well was the Rocky-esque mixed martial arts-themed "Warrior" from Lionsgate, which grossed only around $2 million its first day.
Expectations were modest for the film — $8 million to $10 million for the weekend — but it doesn't appear as if the tear-jerking sports film will quite reach those.
TheWrap will have a full box office report Sunday morning.
Like a terminally ill patient in denial, the broader motion picture industry is having a hard time accepting that the huge pre-release tracking research for Steven Soderbergh's latest film, "Contagion," will actually translate into a huge box office opening this weekend.
In short, the tracking data suggests the star-studded, $60 million global pandemic thriller could open to more than $30 million when it debuts at 3,222 North American theaters Friday.
According to research firm NRG, for example, 20 percent of males 25 and older list "Contagion" as their "first choice" to see next time they are in theaters. Those are the kind of numbers usually associated with summer tentpoles.
But industry watchers are finding it tough to believe that the not-so-cheery movie will do that kind of number amid an anxious moviegoer environment that features double-digit unemployment. Most prognostications tend to broadly range from $18 million – $26 million.
"The numbers are huge, but tracking can't be telling the full story. There must be some false-positive bullshit going on there," said one rival-studio executive.
Regardless of where they shake out, critics are a bit feverish about "Contagion," too, as evidenced by the 79 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. The film will almost undoubtedly unseat DreamWorks' period drama "The Help's" three-weekend run atop the domestic box office.
There are several other wide openings this weekend — Lionsgate's MMA drama "Warrior," Sony's Adam Sandler-produced Nick Swarsdon comedy "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star," and indie horror film "Creature."
"Warrior" arrives at 1,869 theaters with serious critical buzz that's somewhat reminiscent of another fraternally themed fight movie, Paramount's "The Fighter," which took in around $12 million the weekend it went wide last December, before going on to gross nearly $130 million worldwide and contend for Academy Awards.
With stars of a slightly lower caliber than "The Fighter" — Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton vs. Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale — opening expectations are a little lower for "Warrior," with predictions ranging from $8 million – $10 million.
But with critics collectively scoring the sports drama, which co-stars Nick Nolte, at 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the film could play for a while.
An individual close to Lionsgate said the film was shot on a budget in the mid-$20 million range.
Pre-release projections for the R-rated comedy are coming in at around $3 million — not great, but not disastrous for a film shot for under $10 million.
Meanwhile, produced for the low, low price of around $3 million by Bubble Factory, former Universal president Sid Sheinberg's production company, "Creature" is themed around a Louisiana swamp monster and is projected to bring in around $1 million its first weekend while opening in around 1,500 theaters.