“Pixels,” the sci-fi comedy based on classic video games and starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James, is heading for a box office opening in the mid-$20 millions.
That’s not the kind of number a studio would typically look for from a summer tentpole movie, particularly one with budget of at least $85 million and directed by Christopher Columbus (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”). And Sony currently ranks last among the major studios in market share.
This isn’t a typical summer. The box office has been white hot, with numerous films overperforming and three — “Furious 7,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Jurassic World” — grossing more than $1 billion worldwide.
The domestic box office is running roughly 7 percent ahead of 2013, which ranks as the biggest year ever with $10.9 billion in grosses. Analysts now project 2015 will be the highest-grossing in history.
The marketplace can expand, as happy moviegoers typically encourage others to go and widely viewed trailers bring more excitement, but there are limits. And the PG-13-rated “Pixels” is getting squeezed this weekend.
Universal’s animated “Minions,” from Illumination Entertainment, is in its third week and Disney’s Marvel superhero saga “Ant-Man” will be back for its second. Both target the same family audiences that Sony would like to see “Pixels” connect with, so all three could wind up in the same range and fight for the No. 1 spot. (In addition, two other family-friendly releases, Universal’s “Jurassic World” and Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out,” are showing remarkable staying power in theaters.)
This weekend’s other wide releases are aiming for different audiences. “Paper Towns,” a teenage romance based on a novel by “The Fault in Our Stars” writer John Green, is pointing toward an opening just under $20 million for 20th Century Fox. And The Weinstein Company’s R-rated Jake Gyllenhaal boxing drama “Southpaw” should punch up ticket sales in the low teens.
“Pixels” is an original movie, based on a short film by Patrick Jean and scripted by Tim Dowling and Timothy Herlihy, about aliens who invade earth after misinterpreting video feeds from arcade games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and Frogger.
That makes it fresh, but means it doesn’t have the built-in appeal that sequels do, and the record of movies based on video games wasn’t strong until Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” connected for $471 million globally three years ago.
The potential for profitability is there for Sony, Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions and Columbus’ 1492 Pictures and co-financiers China Group and L Star Capital. The key will be how well it holds domestically, where word of mouth will be critical, and its performance overseas.
The latter is a major factor for most big-budget studio releases today, when foreign returns typically provide 60 percent to 70 percent of a movie’s worldwide grosses.
“Pixels” will roll out in roughly 40 percent of its eventual global run markets this weekend, and is tracking strongly in Latin America, Asia and Western Europe, all regions where Sandler remains a box office force.
“Pixels” can’t be counted out on the home front, however. When the trailer came out in March, it was viewed more than 30 million times in its first 24 hours, the most ever for a Sony release. Josh Gad (“The Wedding Ringer”), Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) and Michele Monaghan co-star.
“We’ve seen a number of family movies do better than expected this summer,” said BoxOffice.com editor Phil Contrino, “and ‘Pixels’ has as a good a chance as any. The same formula of connecting with kids and adults familiar with the classic vid games worked recently for ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and last year for ‘The LEGO Movie,’ so I don’t think anyone will be shocked if it hits $30 million.”