Box Office Preview: 'Lone Survivor' Set to Out-Muscle 2014's First 'Hercules' Pic

2:46 PM PST 01/09/2014 by Pamela McClintock

A number of awards contenders expand their footprint this weekend, including Spike Jonze's "Her."

Peter Berg's Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor is on track to easily beat Renny Harlin's The Legend of Hercules, the first of two 2014 movies featuring the muscle-bound, warring demigod. The bigger question is whether Berg's SEALs pic can topple Frozen from the top spot at the North American box office.

Lone Survivor is among several award contenders upping their profile this weekend, timed to Sunday's Golden Globe ceremony and to the announcement of Academy Award nominations on Jan. 16.

While shut out of the Globes, Lone Survivor is still hoping for Oscar love. Based on Marcus Luttrell's memoir, the film stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster as four Navy SEALs on a mission in Afghanistan.

Universal, which is releasing the film domestically and in select foreign markets, is predicting an opening in the $15 million to $19 million range. Rivals believe it could do more, saying the movie's patriotic themes could make it a favorite in America's heartland. The movie's core audience is expected to be male, although older females are showing increased interest.

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Lone Survivor was independently financed for north of $40 million. The R-rated film, which opened in New York and Los Angeles two weeks ago, has done strong business in its exclusive run. Berg needs a box office win after Battleship, a pricey flop for Universal.

Prospects are dim for Millennium Entertainment's Hercules, starring Kellan Lutz as the son of Zeus. The movie, released by Summit Entertainment in the U.S., may only open in the $6 million to $8 million range, despite costing $70 million to produce.

Harlin's epic is the first of two Hercules films coming out in 2014. Paramount and MGM's Hercules, boasting bigger talent, is directed by Brett Ratner and stars Dwayne Johnson. It opens July 25.

Legend of Hercules will be quickly followed by two other sword-and-sandals movies, testing the appetite for such fare: Paul W.S. Anderson's Pompeii (Feb. 21) and sequel 300: Rise of an Empire (March 7).

Summit's campaign for Hercules heavily targets males, including Latinos. The studio also is using Lutz to lure females. Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Liam Garrigan, Johnathon Schaech and Roxanne McKee also star.

Elsewhere, Spike Jonze's Her and John Wells' August: Osage County -- both of which boast top Globe nominations -- expand nationwide Friday after playing in select theaters since December.

Her, scoring Joaquin Phoenix a best actor nomination, will be playing in roughly 1,700 theaters, many of them upscale, according to Warner Bros. Osage County, earning Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts Globe noms, will be playing in around 900 locations.

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Every year, many awards candidates opt to avoid the year-end holiday crush and postpone expanding in a major way until Globes weekend, since conventional wisdom dictates that moviegoers rush to catch up on awards contenders they might have missed in advance of the ceremony. Oscar nominations, which follow four days later, also bring increased attention.

Inside Llewyn Davis, from Joel and Ethan Coen, and Alexander Payne's Nebraska -- both nominated for best picture for a musical or a comedy -- will likewise up their profile considerably on Friday, although they won't yet be playing nationwide.

Paramount plans on increasing Nebraska's theater count from 240 theaters to roughly 500. From CBS Films, Inside Llewyn Davis will be playing in nearly 730 locations. Both films have earned roughly $7 million to date, despite a small footprint.

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