‘Wreck-It Ralph’ Eyes $50M Box-Office Bow Despite Hurricane Sandy Fallout

Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" will lead the weekend box office and is looking at a $50M debut

Disney's animated movie "Wreck-it Ralph" is projected to open to more than $50 million this weekend at a box office that may feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy with between 150 and 200 East Coast theaters still shuttered. 

Much of the Atlantic Coast is still reeling from the megastorm. Exactly how many theaters will remain closed is unclear, with power and transportation services coming back sporadically.

Late Thursday,  Clearview Cinemas still had 19 theaters closed in New Jersey and New York  and AMC reported 15 of its locations were dark in the same locations. Factoring in smaller chains and independent exhibitors, box office tracking service Rentrak estimated that as many as 200 locations will remain dark over the weekend. That's a lot of unsold tickets and many of the theaters are in typically very busy New York City locales.  But the number is down from the 320 East Coast theaters that reported shutdowns Monday.

"It's impossible to say how much it's going to hurt," an exhibition executive at one studio told TheWrap, "but it's going to take a toll."  Physical considerations aside, whether a region digging out will be in a moviegoing mood remains to be seen. 

Also read: 'Skyfall' Shatters U.K. Records for Monday Box Office

Whatever the case, the projections for "Wreck-It Ralph" remain impressive. Disney’s computer-animated homage to classic video games is expected to easily eclipse "Flight," Paramount’s airline thriller starring Denzel Washington. "Flight" will bow on around half the number of screens — about 1,900 compared to 3,752 — for “Ralph” and is expected to come in at around $15 million. The weekend’s other wide opener, Universal’s martial arts movie “The Man With the Iron Fists,” will finish under $10 million, according to analysts.

“Wreck-it Ralph” is Walt Disney Animation’s first film since “Tangled,” the Rapunzel tale that did $200 million domestically and $590 million in 2010. The reviews — it has a 79 percent positive rating on Movie Review Intelligence — and tracking have been strong. Disney is confident “Ralph” will connect with a broad audience.

“We think it’s going to play straight down the middle,” Disney’s executive vice-president of exhibition Dave Hollis told TheWrap, when asked if the arcade-setting skewed too much toward little boys. “The strong female character Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and the Sugar Rush game are going to appeal to young girls and Ralph (John C. Reilly) and the Heroes’ Duty realm will be as much fun for the boys.”

Also read: 'Wreck-It Ralph' Review: Arcade-Generation 'Roger Rabbit' Is Worth Every Quarter

Hollis thinks parents will be happy, too. “We believe they’ll relate to the classic video game characters of their childhood, and there are plenty of jokes that play over the kids’ heads. Our hope is that this becomes a date-night movie, like the ‘Toy Story’ films.”

Pixar co-founder John Lasseter is an executive producer, and the storyline and multiple characters of “Ralph”– as well as merchandising opportunities — are reminiscent of that franchise. The last entry in that series, “Toy Story 3,” rolled up $1.06 billion worldwide in 2010.

“The bar has very much been raised when it comes to animation artistry today, but I’d hold this up against anything Pixar has put out recently," Hollis said.

In addition to Reilly and Silverman, the voice cast includes Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Mindy Kaling and Ed O’Neill. Rich Moore, who’s helmed multiple episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” is the director. 

“Flight” represents a departure for director Robert Zemeckis, known for lighter classic fare like “Back to the Future” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” as well as “Forrest Gump.” The R-rated drama revolves around the investigation of a pilot's heroic emergency landing, during which it’s found he had alcohol and drugs in his system.

Also read: 'Flight' Review: Denzel Washington Perfecly Captures an Imperfect Man

The good news for Paramount is that Washington remains among the few bankable box-office stars. There may not be a blockbuster on his recent resume, but there are very few flops. Since 2000 his films — which include “Training Day,” “Man on Fire” “The Book of Eli and “Remember the Titans” — have averaged $23 million openings and overall domestic grosses of $77 million, according to Boxoffice.com.

This one — which could bring awards nominations for Washington and Zemeckis — figures to wind up in that same range. That would be fine with Paramount; the “Flight” production budget is a reported $31 million. Nadine Velazquez and Carter Cabassa co-star and John Gatins (“Real Steel”) wrote the screenplay.

The reviews are outstanding. Eight-five percent of the notices at Movie Review Intelligence are positive, as are 84 percent of those on Rotten Tomatoes.

Rapper-turned-filmmaker RZA makes his directorial debut in Universal's martial arts movie “The Man With the Iron Fists.”

The film is presented by Quentin Tarantino, who served as its creative godfather, and stars Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu and an eclectic mix of figures from global cinema and the world of sports entertainment.  RZA also stars and co-wrote the screenplay with his longtime collaborator Eli Roth. Strike Entertainment's Marc Abraham and Eric Newman produced.

“The Man With the Iron Fists” was filmed entirely in China on a budget of $15 million. In it, a band of warriors, assassins, and a rogue British soldier Jack Knife (Crowe) descend upon a village in feudal China, where a humble blacksmith (RZA) looks to defend himself and his fellow villagers.

The R-rated "The Man With the Iron Fists" is tracking most strongly with older males and ethnic moviegoers. Universal has it in 1,868 theaters and the studio sees it doing between $7 million and $10 million. The international rollout will begin on Nov. 12.