Box Office Preview: 'Fast Five,' 'Thor' Battle Overseas

Fast Five: Universal; Thor: Paramount
"Fast Five," left, and "Thor"

The Reese Witherspoon-Robert Pattinson film "Water for Elephants," "Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family" and Morgan Spurlock's "Greatest Movie Ever Sold" are among the movies opening domestically.

Don't look now, but the summer box office is already underway overseas.

In Australia this weekend, Universal's franchise entry Fast Five is going head to head with Paramount and Marvel Studios' superhero tentpole Thor, providing the first glimpse of the public's reaction to Hollywood's summer lineup.

Fast Five doesn't open in the U.S. until April 29; Thor, May 6.

The two event pics opened in Australia early to take advantage of what's essentially a six-day weekend, between Easter and two other holidays.

Fast Five also debuts in the U.K., New Zealand and South Korea this weekend and should build up enough of an opening gross to stay on par, or eclipse, the two big films bowing in the U.S.: Lionsgate's Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family and Fox 2000's adult drama Water for Elephants, starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz.

Thor plays only in Australia this weekend before rolling out in most other international markets next weekend, which is the May Day holiday.

Historically, Hollywood studios insist on opening their films first in the U.S., so as to parlay publicity into awareness overseas, but that is rapidly changing. Like Fast Five and Thor, 20th Century Fox's 3D toon Rio launched at the foreign box office first.

So far in Australia, Fast Five is the biggest winner, grossing $4.3 million in its first two days (Wednesday and Thursday) and beating Thoras the latter opened Thursday.

Fast Five grossed $2 million, while Thortook in $1.5 million.

But Fast Five's strong performance -- marking Universal's best opening day in Australia -- didn't surprise box office observers. The film is tracking incredibly well, while the last film in the Fast & Furious franchise grossed north of $200 million internationally. Also, Thor is a new offering, without the backing of a franchise.

Paramount was pleased with the opening-day take for Thor, which was 35% higher than Paramount and Marvel's Iron Man.
This weekend in the U.S., Madea is expected to gross in the mid-$20 million range, continuing Perry's winning run for both himself and Lionsgate.

Fox expects Water for Elephants, costing $40 million to produce, to gross around $15 million. The period romantic drama is based on Sara Gruen's best-selling novel.

Ultimately, both Madea and Fast Five could have a hard time keeping up with Fox's 3D holdover toon Rio in their respective markets. Riohas a strong shot at staying No. 1 domestically and an even better chance overseas, where its footprint is far bigger than Fast Five's.

With a majority of kids out of school on Friday for spring break and Easter weekend, Friday and Saturday will be busy at the multiplex. Traffic will drop off Sunday, although Perry's films have historically done well on Easter afternoon.

Rio should jump the $200 million mark worldwide on Friday and could end the weekend as the top-grossing film of the year at the global box office (Paramount's Rango is the current crown bearer at roughly $235 million).

In more limited openings at the domestic box office, Disney opens documentary African Cats in more than 1,000 theaters.

Sony Pictures Classics opens Morgan Spurlock's new documentary POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold in 18 theaters in a handful of top markets and Incendies in three theaters.