Box-Office Preview: '300: Rise of an Empire' to Top 'Peabody & Sherman'

Warner Bros. and Legendary's ancient epic 300: Rise of an Empire is eyeing a strong North American debut north of $40 million, with more bullish observers predicting north of $45 million.

That's well short of the record-breaking $70.9 million debut of the first 300 on the same weekend in 2007, but would still mark a strong start, considering changes in the marketplace in the intervening years (namely, the flight of male moviegoers) and the fact that Zack Snyder didn't direct the sequel.

Producers Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton reteamed to make Rise of an Empire alongside Snyder, Deborah Snyder and Bernie Goldmann. Warners and Legendary co-financed the $110 million sequel, which is also making a major international push.

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Snyder's 300, earning $456.1 million worldwide, was considered groundbreaking for its visual effects and greenscreen work. However, a sequel was considered out of the question, since most of the characters died, including the main character, played by Gerard Butler. But Frank Miller, who wrote the graphic novel upon which the first 300 was based, revealed that he was writing a follow-up that Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad would adapt for the big screen.

Warners still hadn't given the go-ahead to make Rise of an Empire when Snyder was offered a job directing the studio's Superman reboot Man of Steel. Snyder informed Canton and Nunnari that he would not be able to direct the 300 sequel, but would remain a producer.

The directing gig went to Noam Murro, with Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green signing on to play the leads. This time, the action is set during the second Persian invasion of Greece. (Stapleton hasn't been available to do pre-release press for Rise of an Empire because of an accident in which he suffered a concussion, forcing his new Cinemax primetime drama Strike Back to go on hiatus.)

Also opening nationwide Friday is DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox's 3D animated event pic Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which is expected to debut in the $25 million to $35 million range. The time-travel adventure faces competition from family blockbuster The Lego Movie, which continues to do notable business after opening to a stunning $69.1 million in early March. Frozen, which won the Oscar for best animated feature last weekend, is also still in theaters.

The DreamWorks Animation title is based on the characters from Peabody's Improbable History, a segment airing on the hit 1960s television series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The film's star is a genius talking dog who cares for a human boy.

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Directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), Peabody cost $145 million to make and has already earned $40 million in select markets overseas where it rolled out early. The voice cast is led by Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Allison Janney, Stephen Colbert, Stephen Tobolowsky, Mel Brooks, Leslie Mann and Stanley Tucci.

Alex Schwartz and Denise Nolan Cascino produced Peabody.

Elsewhere, Oscar best picture winner 12 Years a Slave expands nationwide again on Friday, hoping for a boost following last weekend's Academy Awards ceremony. The film, which debuted on DVD earlier this week, will be playing on roughly 1,000 screens. It has earned $50.8 million in North America, and nearly $90 million overseas. Fox Searchlight handles 12 Years on behalf of New Regency, River Road Entertainment, Plan B and Film 4.

A flurry of titles launch in select markets at the specialty box office, including Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. Searchlight opens the movie in New York and Los Angeles.

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