Box Office Preview: 'Cloudy 2' Eyeing Needed Win for Embattled Sony

'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2'
Sony Pictures Animation

Opens: Sept. 27

In this sequel to the 2009 Sony Pictures Animation movie, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) discovers that his food-storm-causing machine is still operational and creating menacing food-animal hybrids, meaning Flint and his friends must fight to save the world again. The movie's star-studded voice cast includes Neil Patrick Harris, Anna Faris and Andy Samberg.

VIDEO: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' Trailer

Three other movies open nationwide: Ron Howard's "Rush," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon" and David E. Talbert's African-American comedy "Baggage Claim."

After a brutal summer, Sony's fortunes should improve this weekend with the debut of 3D animated pic Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. The studio is projecting a $30 million to $35 million opening, although many box-office observers expect the family film to cross $40 million.

Cloudy 2 opens just days after Sony showed its global head of marketing Marc Weinstock the door. Digital marketing president Dwight Caines is replacing Weinstock, although Caines will only spearhead domestic campaigns.

The sequel opens four years after the first Cloudy turned into a surprise hit for Sony Pictures Animation, opening to $30.3 million in late September on its way to grossing $245.8 million worldwide.

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Sony spends more modestly on their animation titles than DreamWorks Animation and Pixar, with Cloudy 2 costing $78 million to produce. The pic opens in three international territories this weekend; Central America, Chile and Vietnam.

The weekend's three other new nationwide entries will see more modest results.

Ron Howard's Formula One drama Rush, starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, is expected to gross a muted $10 million to $12 million as it expands across the country after opening in New York and Los Angeles last weekend.

The well-reviewed film, independently financed by Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media, faces a tremendous challenge in the U.S., where Formula One has never caught on. Universal is distributing the film in the U.S., while Entertainment One is releasing Rush in Canada. Rush has already begun rolling out in Europe, where it has earned $14 million to date.

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From an original script by British writer Peter Morgan, Rush recounts the real-life battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda for the 1976 F1 championship. It is only the second independent film Howard has made after his first film, Grand Theft Auto (1977).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut directorial effort Don Jon also hits theaters Friday after making its world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where Relativity Media acquired U.S. rights or $4 million. Gordon-Levitt stars opposite Scarlett Johansson in the psycho-sexual dramedy, which had to be softened in order to get an R-rating.

Relativity is projecting an $8 million to $10 million opening for Don Jon, which was financed and produced by Voltage Pictures for $5 million to $6 million.

Fox Searchlight's Baggage Claim, targeted toward African-Americans, is expected to open in the $10 million range, but could easily overperform. Directed by David E. Talbert, the comedy stars Paula Patton as a woman who embarks on a 30,000-mile expedition to convince a suitor to marry her so that she isn't the only single person in her family. Taye Diggs and Derek Luke also star.

Opening exclusively in select Imax theaters is Metallica: Through the Never, a thriller-concert hybrid that heralds the return of Bob Berney's Picturehouse label. The movie stars Dane DeHaan as a roadie whose surreal mission to retrieve an item for the heavy metal band is set against concert footage from the band's August 2012 tour.