Will Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal Turn Rave Reviews Into Box Office Bucks?

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Projections show the movie opening No. 1 – but could its long run time and dark subject matter hinder it?

Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve have dazzled critics with “Prisoners,”the tale of a father who abducts the man he believes has kidnapped his daughter. This weekend we’ll find out whether audiences agree with the adoring reviews, which reserved special praise for Jackman and Villeneuve since their film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival.

Box office analysts and studio tracking forecast “Prisoners” will find itself in first place Sunday, grossing around $20 million in its first weekend for Warner Bros. That should be more than enough to top “Insidious: Chapter 2,” which is expected to tumble to the mid-to-high teens after grossing $40.9 million last weekend.

“‘Prisoners’ is definitely No. 1; it’s just a matter of how much,” BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino told TheWrap, noting that most horror movies fall precipitously after their first weekend.

Also read: ‘Prisoners’ Review: Smart Thriller Kidnapped by Red Herrings

Yet a movie described by most as either complex, bleak or both is not an easy sell – especially when it’s so long.

“Any time you have a movie that is that dark and comes with a running time of 2 and a half hours, you can never say it’s a sure thing,” Contrino told TheWrap. “If it’s going to surprise, it will be on the lower end. We’re hearing people in the industry telling us it’s great, but we’ll know a lot more on Saturday morning and Sunday morning how it’s playing with the masses.”

Early indicators of audience sentiment are very strong. Fandango cited the movie as the one fans are most excited to see, as it scored a 74 percent in the site’s Fanticipation rankings. That placed it just ahead of “Insidious: Chapter 2″ and “The Family.”

Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock said thrillers often surprise in September, and estimated that if anything, it would overperform.

“It has Jackman and Gyllenhaal — great castmembers whom people gravitate towards,” Bock said. “Warner Bros.’ last two weeks of marketing have also been pretty top notch about what film is about.”

The movie’s strong 83 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes should boost it as well, though Contrino said strong word-of-mouth will be more important with a movie that skews older. It also means that even if “Prisoners” disappoints this weekend, it could hold up quite well.

“Movie like this don’t ever die based on the opening weekend,” Contrino said. “Anything that skews older, people don’t rush out. They see it when life allows them to.”

Also read: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman and ‘Prisoners’ Cast: Who Would They Want to Be Held Captive With? (Video)

Audience response to “Prisoners” will be the first test of whether we’re in for another fall season when critical and commercial tastes harmonize. Six of the nine nominees for Best Picture last year topped $100 million at the box office, a group that includes both major studios movies like “Argo” and independently financed films like “Silver Linings Playbook.”

This year seems to be a mixed bag. Early favorites “Nebraska” and “12 Years A Slave” face uphill climbs – one is shot in black-and-white and the other depicts in great anguish the brutality of slavery.

Yet numerous others, including “American Hustle,” “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Gravity” are considered hits before they’ve even opened.

“We’re looking at a replay of [last year],” Bock said. “I don’t know if [Prisoners] is in that category, but look at what ‘The Butler’ has done. That’s just the beginning.”