'Despicable' has some obstacles to overcome in its drive toward box office victory. Its marketing seems misleading; this tale of Gru, a supervillain who finds himself adopting three little girls, is being sold on its family-friendly cuteness (particularly those ubiquitous yellow "minions" who do Gru's bidding). But as my colleague Mike Ryan points out, it's really a comedy for teens and parents, with many jokes that will go over tykes' heads and a voice cast (Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig) known more for often raunchy, grown-up fare than for kid-friendliness. Also, it's not based on a recognizable, pre-sold franchise (though this summer, with audiences shunning most sequels and retreads, that seems more of a plus than a minus). Finally, it's competing with the still strong 'Toy Story 3' for both family ticket sales and scarce 3D screens.
On the plus side, the film has a talented cast, strong buzz, some bonus 3D rental fees, a wide opening release pattern (3.474 screens) and diligent promotional work by co-star Miranda Cosgrove, the star of Nickelodeon's 'iCarly,' cultivating her massive tween fan base. Predictions have varied widely, from $24million to $37 million (for 'Predators,' the range is nearly as wide, from $24 million to $34 million, but word of mouth and broad demographic appeal should give 'Despicable' an edge).
Conversely, 'Predators' comes from a well-known franchise, but that's not necessarily an asset this summer. The sequel/reboot, which finds a group of humans stalked on another planet by the dreadlocked alien hunters, comes from the pen and production house of fanboy favorite Robert Rodriguez, but he handed over directing duties to Nimrod Antal ('Vacancy'). Instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, there's Adrien Brody (but an impossibly ripped and buff Adrien Brody) and Topher Grace, along with less unlikely action hero Laurence Fishburne.
The film has a hard R rating, which will keep out younger viewers, but may also attract genre fans knowing they're going to get an undiluted action thriller. (They'll be the same crowd who stayed away from last month's flop 'Jonah Hex' because they felt the PG-13 comic book adaptation had been watered down.) Still, it's been a long time since a 'Predator' movie made any money. The cast isn't likely to sell many tickets (fanboys weren't drawn to see Brody earlier this summer in 'Splice'). The movie is opening on a moderate 2,669 screens. And Fox's marketing of the film has been awfully low-key. Despite the large overlap with 'Despicable' in the range of its projected take, 'Predators' will probably have to settle for second place.
Last weekend's newcomers, 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' and 'The Last Airbender,' are both expected to lose nearly two thirds of their business this week -- 'Eclipse' because so much of the demand was satisfied by an early release on a Wednesday and by a six-day holiday weekend opening, and 'Airbender' because of poor word of mouth. Such declines would bring 'Eclipse' down to about $26 million and 'Airbender' down to about $16 million.
Taking the last slot in the top 5 will be 'Toy Story 3.' In its fourth week, it should dip about 40 percent to around $17 million, enough to edge out 'Airbender' for fourth place.
Top five predictions:
1. 'Despicable Me,' $32.5 million
2. 'Predators,' $27.9 million
3. 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,' $26.4 million
4. 'Toy Story 3,' $17.3 million
5. 'The Last Airbender,' $16.1 million
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.