‘Ride Along’ Ready to Roll ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’ at MLK Holiday Box Office

Universal is primed to capture its third straight MLK weekend as studios scramble to find screens for expanding Oscar hopefuls

The Ice Cube-Kevin Hart comedy “Ride Along” looks ready to roll past “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and reigning champ “Lone Survivor” at the box office over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, which also sees a handful of awards hopefuls jockeying for screens.

Universal’s buddy cop tale is heading for north of $30 million over the four days, analysts believe, while the Chris Pine spy thriller is heading for the high-teen millions, distributor Paramount says. The weekend’s other two wide openers — Open Road’s first animated release, “The Nut Job,” and the Fox low-budget horror film “Devil’s Due” — are expected to land in the $10 million range.

It’s going to be very crowded weekend. Besides the four new films, the studios will be looking to cash in on Thursday’s Oscar nominations, and several awards contenders are expanding or re-opening.

Both Warner Bros.’ “Gravity” and Fox Searchlight’s “12 Years a Slave” are returning to theaters, the 3D space epic in roughly 944 theaters, the slavery saga in 740 locations. Sony is jumping “Captain Phillips” back up to roughly 900 theaters starting Friday as well, and will still have “American Hustle” in roughly 2,000 locales. And Disney will have “Saving Mr. Banks” 2,449 theaters.

Also read: 15 Movies We’re Dying to See This Spring, From ‘Noah’ to ‘Divergent’

That “Ride Along” is the weekend favorite is all the more impressive, given that it will be in roughly 2,661 theaters, significantly fewer than “Jack Ryan” (3,300, with 330 Imax) and “The Nut Job” (3,427).

The gritty and R-rated “Lone Survivor” expands by about 100 theaters to 2,988, and if the Mark Wahlberg Afghan war drama can keep half of its nearly $38 million haul from last weekend, Universal has a good at going 1-2 this weekend. It is going for is third straight MLK weekend win, having scored with “Mama” last year and “Contraband” in 2012.

“Lone Survivor” was leading advance sales at online ticket broker Fandango Wednesday, with “Ride Along” and “The Nut Job” next.

The timing looks good for the PG-13-rated “Ride Along,” which Universal picked up in turnaround from New Line last year. It’s directed by Tim Story, who directed and produced last year’s comedy “Think Like a Man,” which also starred Hart. That $12 million comedy made $96 million and has spawned a sequel that lands this summer for Sony.

Tracking has been steadily strong with young males and the year’s first broad comedy is expected to do well with African-Americans. The combination of the veteran Ice Cube (“21 Jump Street”) and the up-and-coming Hart gives it shot at connecting with a wide age range, and a marketing campaign that has launched a couple of viral videos has connected.

Also read: ‘Ride Along’ Review: Kevin Hart and Ice Cube Can Overcome Bad Guys, But Not a Bad Script (Video)

The few critics that have weighed in on “Ride Along” aren’t keen, but this one feels review-proof, at least on its first weekend. Its social media profile looks fairly strong, though not on a level with “The Best Man Holiday,” a comedy that broke out with a $30 million opening for Universal in November.

Kenneth Branaugh directs and co-stars in the PG-13-rated “Shadow Recruit,” the fifth film in the “Jack Ryan” series. This one comes 12 years after the last one, and is a reboot and an original story rather than an adaptation of a particular Tom Clancy novel. David Koepp and Adam Cozad are the screenwriters.

jack-ryanThe franchise goes all the way back to 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October.” That one cost $30 million to make and brought in $200 million worldwide for Paramount. The subsequent films have cost more but been steady performers globally: 1992’s “Patriot Games” ($178 million), 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger” ($215 million) and 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears” ($194 million).

Also read: ‘Jack Ryan’ Extended Clip: Chris Pine Barely Survives Assassination Attempt (Video)

Pine, who anchors Paramount’s “Star Trek” franchise, is the fourth actor to take on the role of the super spy, following Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and director Branaugh co-star.

“Shadow Recruit” has potential abroad, and Paramount is opening it in 31 foreign markets as well this weekend. That represents about half of eventual rollout, and includes key territories China, Russia, Mexico and Australia.

Paramount puts the budget on “Shadow Recruit,” on which it partnered with Skydance Productions, at $60 million. Mace Neufeld, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, David Barron, Mark Vahradian are the producers; David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Paul Schwake executive produce.

The chiller “Devil’s Due” is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and stars Allison Miller and Zach Gilford.

Also read: ‘Devil’s Due’ Baby Prank Scares the Hell Out of New York (Video)

The plot, in which a newlywed couple find themselves dealing with an unexpected pregnancy after a lost night on their honeymoon, has been compared to the 1962 horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby.” Sam Anderson co-stars and Lindsay Devlin is the writer.

While the tracking isn’t strong, the social media is, with “Devil’s Due” pacing well ahead of “The Devil Inside,” the ultra-low budget horror film that pulled off a $33 million opening surprise for Paramount last January.

This one won’t do that, but the budget on the film from Fox and Davis Entertainment was $7 million, which “Devil’s Due” should take in by Sunday. It will be in 2,543 theaters.

Will Arnett voices the squirrel Surly in the 3D computer animated family film “The Nut Job,” which also features Brendan Fraser, Gabriel Iglesias, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl.

Also read: New Line’s ‘Conjuring’ Spinoff ‘Annabelle’ Casts Its Leads (Exclusive)

The film, directed by Peter Lepiniotis, who co-wrote with Lorne Cameron, is based on Lepiniotis’ 2005 short “The Surly Squirrel.” Its $42 million budget makes it the most expensive animated film to come out of South Korea, but that’s still low for an animated film.

The scant reviews have been mainly weak so far; social media has been improving, but it’s still well below that of another original animated film, “Turbo,” which debuted to $20 million this summer.

The continuing presence of “Frozen,” the Disney Animation kids blockbuster that has taken in more than $700 million worldwide, won’ help. And It’s still in 2,979 theaters.