Box-Office Preview: Female Action Pic 'Lucy' Looks to Slay 'Hercules'

UPDATED: Rob Reiner's dramedy "And So It Goes" also debuts, while Woody Allen's "Magic in the Moonlight" and "A Most Wanted Man," starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, launch at the specialty box office.

Dwayne Johnson's buff Hercules may be no match for Scarlett Johansson's Lucy, making for one of the most interesting action showdowns at the summer box office, since action movies don't traditionally feature a female star. Hercules marks Brett Ratner's first directorial outing since the ill-fated Tower Heist in 2011.

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The weekend's other new nationwide offering is Rob Reiner's independent dramedy And So It Goes, starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. Clarius Entertainment opens the movie in roughly 1,800 locations, compared to more than 3,000 for Hercules and Lucy.

Pre-release tracking suggests Lucy will race past $30 million in its debut — many think it will cross $35 million — while Hercules is expected to earn in the mid-$20 million range, a disappointing start.

Lucy director Luc Besson is certainly no stranger to using female protagonists, having directed Zoe Saldana in Colombiana and Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita. There were also strong female characters in The Professional and The Fifth Element.

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Besson's EuropaCorp made Lucy for a reported $40 million. In promoting the action film, Universal is touting Johansson's turn as Black Widow in Marvel's superhero films, including The Avengers and, more recently, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In Lucy, the actress plays a woman caught up in a deal gone bad who gains superhuman brain capacity. Johansson stars opposite Morgan Freeman in this, one of the few R-rated action films of the summer.

Paramount and MGM partnered in making Hercules, which cost $100 million to produce, and hope to accomplish the Herculean task of finally launching a franchise centered around the Greek hero. Earlier this year, The Legend of Hercules failed at this task, opening to an anemic $8.9 million.

Adapted from Radical Comics' Hercules, Ratner's grittier take on the mythical hero sees Hercules and a band of mercenaries help end a civil war in the land of Thrace. A tormented soul from birth, Hercules has the strength of a god, but feels the suffering of a human as he's tested by unimaginable villains.

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Johnson stars opposite Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan and John Hurt in the action epic.

Hercules could be a big player in some international markets, and rolls out in its first 19 territories this weekend, including Russia, the U.K. and Australia.

The specialty box office sees the debut of several high-profile titles, including Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, from Sony Pictures Classics. With a cast led by Colin Firth and Emma Stone, Magic debuts in 17 theaters in select cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. 

Espionage thriller A Most Wanted Man, starring Rachel McAdams and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, makes a far more aggressive push, opening in 360 locations in 75 markets. Roadside Attractions is releasing the movie, directed by Anton Corbijn and based on the book by John le Carre.