Box Office: 'Best Man Holiday' Surges Friday, Could Cross $33 Million

Universal Pictures

The African-American comedy could come much closer to "Thor: The Dark World" than expected.

Malcolm D. Lee's sequel The Best Man Holiday -- opening nearly 15 years after the first film -- could approach or cross $33 million in its North American debut, vastly exceeding expectations.

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The Universal comedy is pacing to gross $13 million or more on Friday, possibly eclipsing Thor: The Dark World for the day, although Thor 2 is still tipped to stay at No. 1 in its second weekend with a gross north of $37 million.

Thor 2 could approach $450 million in global ticket sales by the end of the weekend -- catching up with the entire gross of the first Thor ($449.3 million) in another major victory for Disney and Marvel Studios' Avengers universe.

From Universal, Best Man Holiday -- projected to top out at $20 million -- sees Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Monica Calhoun and Melissa De Sousa reprising their roles. The first film, opening to $9 million in 1999, is credited with helping to usher in the era of aspirational African-American comedies.

Black films have been making strong gains at the North American box office, with Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler and 12 Years a Slave all overperforming. Those movies -- all dramas -- are drawing a mixed audience, while Best Man Holiday is expected to play primarily to African-Americans, similar to Tyler Perry's pics.

Universal spent a modest $17 million to make the sequel, which Lee produced with Sean Daniel.

This weekend was supposed to have seen the debut of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, but Paramount pushed the film to Christmas Day in order for Scorsese to trim the running time.

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High-profile openings at the specialty box office include Alexander Payne's awards entry Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. Paramount is opening the critically acclaimed film festival darling in New York and Los Angeles.

Also debuting in select theaters is Charlie Countryman, starring Shia LaBeouf opposite Evan Rachel Wood. Millennium Films is distributing the movie domestically.

Fox 2000's The Book Thief, opening last weekend in New York and L.A., expands into an additional seven markets.

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Next weekend, the 2013 holiday season gets underway in earnest with the release of Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The sequel is poised to turn into an instant blockbuster, with bullish box-office observers saying it could open to a mammoth $170 million domestically (the first film debuted to $152.5 million in March 2012).

Catching Fire is rolling out early in Brazil, where it opens this weekend. It will open in most international markets next weekend, timed to its North American launch.