Like the market culture it denigrates, Oliver Stone's follow-up to his 1987 Oscar-winner "Wall Street" faces an uncertain economic climate this weekend.
Debuting in around 3,400 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, and produced at a cost of $55 million, the Fox-distributed "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" will deliver Stone his best domestic opening ever if it can reach the $20 million mark, the high end of its pre-release projections.
But that's the high end. With low-side projections set in the mid-teens, the film — which re-casts Michael Douglas as darkly iconic corporate raider Gordon Gekko, with Shia LeBeouf stepping into Charlie Sheen's young-and-corruptible slot — might not even win the weekend.
Its main competition — Warner's Zack Snyder-directed 3D-animated "Legend of the Guardian: The Owls of Ga'Hoole — is s also garnering predictions in the $20 million range.
Set for release in 3,575 theaters, most of them 3D-equipped, "Ga'Hoole" — co-financed by Warner and Village Roadshow at a cost of $80 million — is the studio's first animated movie since 2006's highly successful "Happy Feet."
Also in the mix: Disney's revenge comedy "You Again," which is tracking to bring in about $10 million this weekend, targeting both the young and older female quadrants with talent that spans from Kristen Bell and Kristin Chenoweth to Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis to Betty White.
"There's some really tough subject matter out there right now, and we think people might jump to see a light and funny PG comedy," said Chuck Viane, president of worldwide theatrical distribution for Disney.
Certainly, Stone's PG-13-rated "Wall Street" sequel doesn't count as light, with Douglas' Gekko fresh off a 20-year-plus prison stretch and once again eager to play racquetball with the nation's financial markets, seeking to exploit all their inherent weaknesses, as the always controversial Stone sees them.
"The subject matter is as timely as it was in 1987," said Chris Aronson, executive VP of distribution for Fox.
Coming off the heels of Stone's 1986 breakthrough "Platoon," the original "Wall Street" burnished the filmmaker's reputation as a forceful chronicler of powerful geo-political forces, winning Douglas an Oscar in the process.
Since that time, however, Stone's credibility hasn't exactly grown much. And his box-office chops have never been blockbuster, with no film since "Platoon" coming close to surpassing $100 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Reviews for "Money Never Sleeps" have been soft, with aggregator Rotten Tomatoes scoring it at 53 percent.
"I think you have to give the edge this weekend to the owl movie," said one rival-studio distribution executive. "This is always a good time of the year for family movies."
Last year, on virtually the same weekend, several distribution executives noted, another 3D-animated book adaptation, Sony's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," debuted strongly to $30.3 million.
But tonally, "Lord of the Rings"-ish "Ga'Hoole" is no "Cloudy." In fact, Warner executives say it compares more to Focus' 3D animated "Coraline," which grossed $124.6 million worldwide last year. Similarly, the film's voice cast verges on the dark side, including Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish.
Based on an obscure source book, Warner marketers went out of their way to remind moviegoers that "Ga'Hoole" is from the studio that brought you "Happy Feet," not the director (Snyder) who wrought "300" and "Watchmen."
"This is not as light a fare as 'Cloudy,' and there could be some concern about the look," noted a rival-studio executive.
Reviews-wise, "Ga'Hoole" is also in the middling range, registering a 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Holdovers-wise, the new entries will be competing with Ben Affleck film "The Town," which topped the box office last weekend with an impressive $23.3 million opening for Warner Bros. Also likely to affect the outcome is Sony's low-budget youth film "Easy A," which finished second last weekend with $17.7 million.
Predictions call for both films to decline less than the standard 50 percent in week two.
Limited openings this weekend include Lionsgate's Ryan Reynolds thriller "Buried," which will start out in around 10 theaters.
Sony, meanwhile, plans to expand the run of its low-budget youth comedy "The Virginity Hit" into around 700 locations.