The bad-ass geezers of “Expendables 2” are the favorites to top a broad and eclectic field at the box office this weekend.
Among openers, Whitney Houston’s last film, “Sparkle,” takes on Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first real role in eight years in “Expendables 2.” On the family front, the 3D ghouls of “ParaNorman” match up against the gentle fantasy “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
Reigning champ “Bourne Legacy” is back for its second week, along with ‘The Campaign” and “Hope Springs.” And in its fifth week, “Dark Knight Rises” is still going strong.
With the Olympics over, this week’s deep lineup provides the best chance yet for the overall box office to return to normalcy for the first time since the Colorado shootings. It’s also the last week of summer in which a film is likely to break $20 million in its debut.
“Expendables 2” will take in between $35 million and $40 million, analysts say. After that, it looks like a scramble with “Sparkle,” “ParaNorman” and “Bourne Legacy” all in the $17 million range. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” which opened Wednesday, is expected to bring in around $15 million for the five days.
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Lionsgate has high hopes for the R-rated action sequel from producer Avi Lerner, but this one won’t sneak up on anyone the way “The Expendables” did. That film bowed to $34 million and topped the weekend two years ago, on its way to $274 million in worldwide grosses.
Stallone wrote the sequel with Richard Wenk but hands the directing chores over to Simon West (“The Mechanic”). Stallone also stars along with Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Bruce Willis. Liam Hemsworth and Nan Yu are newcomers.
In this one, the crew reunites for what they think is an easy paycheck, but when one of the team is murdered on the job, the quest for revenge puts them deep in enemy territory. Sixty-two percent of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes have been favorable.
“Sparkle” was a passion project for Houston and was to be her film comeback. She said that the original 1976 film, about a Harlem teen fighting to achieve her dream of a singing career, was a big influence on her as a youngster.
Also read: 'Sparkle' Review: A Thrilling Musical, Despite Damp Sparks
Houston and her producing partner Debra Martin Chase (“The Princess Diaries”) worked for more than a decade to get the remake off the ground. A Warner Bros. version starring Aaliyah Haughton was derailed by the 22-year-old singer’s death in a plane crash in 2001.
The project made its way to Sony in 2009, where the addition of director Salim Akil gave it a kick start. Akil directed last year’s “Jumping the Broom” for Sony, and that low-budget African-American skewing film made $37 million. Akil’s wife, Mara Brock Akil, wrote the screenplay.
Houston, who died in February, received an executive producer credit on “Sparkle.” In this Motown-set version, she also stars as the mother of the young singer (“American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks) and her two sisters. Derek Luke and Mike Epps co-star.
The key to its success, according to the analysts, will be whether “Sparkle” can expand beyond its core base of African-American women. It earned a 54 rating on Metacritic, with 62 percent of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes positive and 45 percent of those on Movie Review Intelligence giving it a thumbs up.
Focus Features’ “ParaNorman’ is a stop-action animated film about a young boy who battles ghouls, witches and grownups to save his hometown.
It is the best-reviewed of the weekend’s openers. Eighty-six percent of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive as are 69 percent on Movie Review Intelligence. MetaCritic gives it a 71 rating.
Also read: 'ParaNorman' Review: Sweet and Freaky Fun for Kids (Who Aren't Too Easily Spooked)
“ParaNorman” is the second outing for Focus and Laika Entertainment, the team behind “Coraline.” That movie was an Academy Award nominee for best animated feature and rang up $75 million at the box office in 2009.
It will compete for the family crowd with “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” from Disney’s Buena Vista. It stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as a childless couple that buries a box in their backyard, containing all of their wishes for an infant, and soon after find a child (CJ Adams) at their door.
Also read: 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green' Review: Comic Fantasy Doesn't Get Too Gooey
Peter Hedges, who directed “Dan in Real Life” and co-wrote “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” writes and directs.
The critics are have been cool to it, with just 41 percent of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews positive, but it took in a solid $2.3 million on Wednesday, it’s first day of release.
Among holdovers, “Bourne Legacy” is expected to perform most strongly and take in around $15 million over the three days, the analysts say. “The Campaign” is looking at $13 million, and “Dark Knight Rises” and “Hope Springs” are projected to be in the $10 million range.
This will be a telling weekend for “Hope Springs,” which Sony is hoping plays strongly over the next few weeks. A film with Meryl Streep typically has legs because of her fan base, but this one received just a “B” CinemaScore from first-week audiences.