Box Office Preview: 'Elysium' Aims for $35 Million-Plus Debut

It's another over-crowded weekend at the North American box office as "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" and R-rated comedy "We're the Millers" open Wednesday, followed by "Elysium" and "Planes" on Friday.

To say there is something for everyone at the multiplex this weekend is an understatement.

There are four new nationwide releases, beginning with 20th Century Fox sequel Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and New Line's R-rated comedy We're the Millers, both of which open everywhere on Wednesday. Friday brings Neill Blomkamp's highly anticipated Elysium and Disney's Cars spin-off Planes.

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The ultimate winner will depend upon which film expands beyond its core audience. Sea of Monsters is appealing heavily to teens, according to prerelease tracking, but also needs to lure families away from Planes. Millers is tracking best among females but hopes to steal males away from Elysium.

Sony and Media Rights Capital are betting on Elysium -- with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster headlining -- to win the crowded race with a three-day gross in the $35 million to $40 million range. The studio, under fire from shareholder activist Daniel Loeb, needs a hit and is counting on the dystopian sci-fi epic to do the trick.

However, some box office observers believe Elysium may have trouble reaching $30 million.

Blomkamp became an overnight sensation when his District 9 opened to $37.4 million in mid-August 2009 on its way to earning $210.8 million worldwide. That film, however, cost only $30 million to produce. Sony paid $115 million for worldwide rights to Elysium, which was packaged, financed and produced by MRC. (It's not clear what the exact budget was.)


One wild card is We're the Millers, starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter as a fake family who smuggle marijuana out of Mexico. The film is tracking better than fellow New Line comedy Horrible Bosses, which posted a three-day opening weekend gross of $28.3 million. Ed Helms also stars in the comedy, which cost $37 million to produce and was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.

Warner Bros. and New Line insiders believe We're the Millers has a shot of hitting $40 million in its five-day debut, despite blistering reviews from some critics.

Another wild card is Planes. Originally intended to be a direct-to-DVD release, the pic could do solid business if families -- who largely shied away from Turbo and The Smurfs 2 -- are ready to turn out in force again for an animated film. Disney is projecting a three-day opening in the $25 million range; others put it closer to $30 million.

Although Planes is a spin-off of the Cars franchise, Pixar didn't produce the film. Rather, it is from direct-to-DVD unit DisneyToon Studios.

Fox's sequel Sea of Monsters is anticipating a five-day debut in the $20 million to $25 million range, meaning it won't quite match the $31.2 million opening of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. That film, opening in February 2010, faced far less competition.

Sea of Monsters, based on Rick Riordan's best-selling YA series, cost $90 million to produce and returns Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario in the title roles. Thor Freudenthal directed this time out.