Box Office Preview: 'Despicable Me 2' Set to Upstage 'Lone Ranger'

Despicable Me 2 Dr. Nefario - H 2013
Universal Pictures

Despicable Me 2 Dr. Nefario - H 2013

The 3D animated tentpole opens Tuesday night opposite Disney's big-budget Western headlined by Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.

Universal's Despicable Me 2 and Disney's The Lone Ranger are each hoping to set off plenty of fireworks at the box office over the long Independence Day holiday stretch -- but most of the glory may go to Despicable 2's minions.

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According to prerelease tracking, Despicable 2 has the definite edge and could hit $110 million by Sunday. The two event pics begin rolling out in theaters Tuesday night before playing everywhere Wednesday morning.

Director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer's Lone Ranger -- starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer -- is a sizeable gamble for Disney, which spent as much as $250 million to produce the adaptation of the classic radio show in the hopes of creating a new live-action franchise for the studio that appeals to families as well as to teens and adults.

As of now, Lone Ranger is tracking to open in the $70 million range, meaning the film will need strong legs domestically and a stellar run internationally to come out ahead financially. Westerns can be a tough sell overseas, but Disney is counting on Depp's star status to make up for any concerns about the genre.

Disney is hoping to whip up the same magic that Bruckheimer, Verbinski and Depp created with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In this latest film, Depp applies his penchant for playing quirky characters to the role of Tonto (Depp says he is part Native American), while Hammer plays the Lone Ranger.

Hollywood will be be paying close attention to Lone Ranger's performance, considering its cost (at one point, it was almost scrapped entirely). This past weekend, Sony's big-budget action tentpole White House Down, which cost $150 million to produce, flopped in its North America debut, grossing just $24.9 million.

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Despicable 2 is something of a sure bet, considering it's a sequel to a family hit. The 3D animated tentpole -- costing a modest $76 million to produce -- opens three years after the first film took the box office by storm. The films are the brainchild of Chris Meledandri's Illumination Entertainment, the animation venture backed by Universal.

Overseas, Despicable 2 has already earned an outstanding $48 million from only seven territories, including six where it opened over the weekend after initially rolling out in Australia the prior weekend.

In the toon, Steve Carell returns to voice the role of Gru, master of the minions, while Kristen Wiig voices the role of Agent Lucy Wilde.

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Summit Entertainment enters the holiday fray with stand-up comedy film Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, which likewise begins rolling out Tuesday night, hoping to provide counter-programming for African-American audiences as well as comedy fans. The film, from Codeblack Films and HartBeat Productions, will open in more than 800 theaters nationwide.

Let Me Explain, a follow-up to Hart's hit comedy film Laugh at My Pain, was filmed live at New York's Madison Square Garden.

At the specialty box office, Fox Searchlight hopes to galvanize art house crowds with coming-of-age dramedy The Way, Way Back, starring Carell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell. The film opens Friday in select theaters.

There's also no shortage of holdover competition, including Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy comedy The Heat and animated tentpole Monsters University.