Box Office Preview: 'The Butler,' 'Kick-Ass 2' Battle for No. 1; Jury Out on 'Jobs'

There's no shortage of new offerings at the North American box office this weekend, led by Universal's fanboy-fueled Kick-Ass 2 and The Weinstein Co.'s The Butler. Biopic Jobs -- starring Ashton Kutcher as the iconic Steve Jobs -- and corporate thriller Paranoia also enter the fray.

All four films were independently financed and waited to open until after the crush of studio summer tentpoles. That doesn't mean they don't face competition, as Elysium and We're the Millers head into their second weekend.

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The Butler and Kick-Ass 2, albeit polar opposites, could find themselves in a close race for the No. 1 spot, although Kick-Ass 2 is given a slight edge by most box office observers since it's a sequel and will appeal heavily to younger moviegoers. The first Kick-Ass, distributed by Lionsgate domestically and quickly transforming into a sleeper hit, debuted to $19.8 million in April 2010. Universal handled the original film in a number of international territories and scooped up worldwide
rights to the sequel.

This time out, Jeff Wadlow directs the dark superhero pic instead of Matthew Vaughn, although Vaughn returns as a producer alongside Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack and David Reid. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse return in the roles of Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist, respectively.

While reviewers largely embraced the 2010 Kick-Ass, the sequel, independently financed for $28 million, is receiving generally poor reviews. 

Thanks to its director, Lee Daniels, and star-studded cast -- led by Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey -- The Butler has the highest profile of the new entries and should play across racial lines. The adult drama, earning generally strong reviews, recounts the real-life story of Eugene Allen, a butler who served in the White House through eight presidencies.

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Both Kick-Ass 2 and The Butler are opening on more than 2,900 screens. As of Thursday, August 15, The Butler led in advance ticket sales, according to online ticketing service Fandango (it's not a surprise, since adults are more inclined to buy tickets ahead of time).

TWC decided to open The Butler nationwide based on positive test screenings and is anticipating a debut in the $17 million to $19 million range. More bullish box office forecasters believe it could hit $20 million. Independently financed for $30 million, The Butler is already being declared a likely awards contender by Oscar pundits.

The fate of biopic Jobs is murky. Tracking suggests the independent film may have trouble clearing $10 million, a soft start considering its star and subject matter. Poor reviews won't help matters, since the movie needs adults to flourish. Jobs, produced and paid for by Five Star Pictures, doesn't have a lot of financial exposure as its budget was under $15 million. Endgame Entertainment and Endgame split the $20 million marketing tab, while Open Road Films is distributing.

It won't be the last time moviegoers have a chance to see a Steve Jobs film; Sony and Aaron Sorkin have their own project in the works.

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Paranoia faces even worse prospects, with tracking suggesting a debut of no more than $5 million. The dismally reviewed corporate thriller, directed by Richard Luketic, stars Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard and Harrison Ford. IM Global and Demarest Films co-financed the $35 million movie, with IM Global also handling international sales. Relativity Media, which put up the marketing money, is handling in the U.S.

The specialty box office sees the New York and Los Angeles debut of the female-driven Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess. The movie stars Keri Russell as a woman obsessed with Jane Austen who goes to a theme park in England bringing to life the world described in the author's books. The film sparked a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, with U.S. rights ultimately going to Sony Pictures Classics after it personally pitched producers Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame and Gina Mingacci.

Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, likewise from Sony Classics, also will remain a force to be reckoned with.

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