Box Office Preview: 'Madagascar 3' Likely to Beat 'Prometheus' for No. 1 in U.S.
Elsewhere, "Men in Black 3" is set to surpass "Men in Black II" at the worldwide box office on Friday; a slew of indies open in limited runs, including Robert Pattinson historical drama "Bel Ami," "Safety Not Guaranteed" and Jane Fonda's "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding."
Hollywood could be in for a wild ride at the domestic box office.
A wide range of opening numbers are being offered up for both Ridley Scott's highly anticipated sci-fi epic Prometheus and animated event sequel Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.
DreamWorks Animation and Paramount are predicting a $45 million to $50 million launch for Madagascar 3, but others believe it could land in the $55 million range or higher because of the pent-up demand for family product and the popularity of the successful franchise.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa debuted to $63.1 million in early November 2008, and the first Madagascar scored $61 million over the long Memorial Day weekend in 2005.
Most box-office observers believe Madagascar 3 will come in ahead of Fox's Prometheus, though opinion is divided as to how close the race will be and how much Prometheus will make.
Fox is putting its estimate at a conservative -- and soft -- $30 million, while other estimates range from $35 million to $55 million.
Scott and Fox have plenty riding on Prometheus, which headlines Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. They're hoping the film spawns a new franchise along the lines of Scott's iconic Alien series.
Males of all ages are keen to see Prometheus, but female interest has been lacking in prerelease tracking.
Prometheus -- whose earnings are automatically curtailed because of its R rating -- cost $130 million to make after tax incentives and is already off to a strong start overseas, where it has earned $54 million in its first week (the gross is through Wednesday).
The movie opened in 15 international markets last weekend and expands into additional territories this frame, including Spain, Australia, Hong Kong and India.
Madagascar 3 also is making a major push overseas, where it opens day-and-date in 28 markets, including Latin American countries, Russia, China and France. The pic -- the second-to-last DreamWorks Animation title that Paramount will distribute -- is off to a record start in Russia, where it scored the biggest opening day ever for an animated film ($3.7 million on Thursday).
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has been tireless in promoting Madagascar 3 and was on hand last month as the film made its worldwide premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The first two installments did far more business overseas, and the threequel is expected to follow the same trajectory.
Generally speaking, both Madagascar 3 and Prometheus are avoiding Europe as much as they can because of the European soccer championships, which get underway June 8 in Poland and run through July 1.
Among holdover summer tentpoles, Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman enters its second weekend, while Sony's Men in Black 3, entering its third frame, is poised to surpass the $441.8 million earned by Men in Black II at the worldwide box office.
A handful of indie films enter the U.S. marketplace, including the Robert Pattinson historical drama Bel Ami, which Magnolia Pictures opens in 15 cities. IFC Films debuts Jane Fonda starrer Peace, Love and Misunderstanding in 28 locations, while FilmDistrict opens time-travel entry Safety Not Guaranteed, headlining Mark Duplass and Parks & Recreation star Aubrey Plaza, in nine theaters.