Box Office Preview: 'Hangover 2,' 'Kung Fu Panda 2' Eye Big Holiday Weekend Bows

Warner Bros.; Dreamworks
"The Hangover Part II," left, and "Kung Fu Panda 2"

The comedy sequel, starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis, and the animated film, with Angelina Jolie and Jack Black, both open Thursday.

Will Warner Bros.' R-rated Memorial Day weekend comedy The Hangover Part II be the elixir that brings younger moviegoers back to the multiplex?

For months, teenagers and adults under age 25 have been noticeably absent from the domestic box office, contributing to one of the worst slumps in years. But they're expected to return in droves for Todd Phillips' raunchy sequel, although teens under age 17 will be restricted because of the R rating.

Box Office Shocker: 'Hangover II' on Track to Open North of $100 Million at U.S. Box Office

"There is enormous pent-up demand to see this film, and the 18-to-35 demo is going to come charging through the door," Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said. "Thursday and Friday will be extremely strong."

Or, as another executive quipped: "If they don't come, God save the movie business."

Hangover, opening in midnight runs at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, should be the first film of 2011 to hit $100 million in its (five-day) debut, a lofty accomplishment considering that no R-rated comedy has opened that high.

Set in Thailand, Hangover II returns Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong and Justin Bartha in the lead roles.

Read THR's review of The Hangover Part II

Following its midnight play, Hangover moves into a total of 3,615 theaters on Thursday morning, the largest release ever for an R-rated title.

Rival studios say Hangover could gross as much as $110 million to $125 million over the five days, but Warners, trying to manage expectations, cautions that those numbers may too aggressive considering that the first Hangover opened to $45 million in June 2009 (the pic went on to become the most successful R-rated comedy of all time, grossing $467.5 million worldwide).

Hangover also is making a major push overseas, opening day and date in 40 territories around the globe.

Judge Denies Tattoo Artist's Request to Halt Release of 'Hangover Part II'

Domestically, the sequel is expected to do big business in roughly 2,600 midnight runs and could rival the $6 million earned by Paranormal Activity 2, although theater traffic isn't as strong midweek (Paranormal opened on a Friday).

Box office observers don't expect the R rating to take a big bite out of Hangover's business, saying there are plenty of parents who are liberal enough to take their kids to see the comedy.

Hangover isn't the only franchise title looking to capitalize on the Memorial Day weekend. Also bowing Thursday is 3D event toon Kung Fu Panda 2 from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount.

Read THR's review of Kung Fu Panda 2

Panda 2, opening in 3,925 theaters, is expected to do sizable business in its five-day debut, grossing in the $65 million to $70 million range. It's the first toon to open since Fox's Rio, so it's poised to be a strong lure for families (in terms of general audience moviegoers, Panda expects to lose out to Hangover, at least this weekend).

Kung Fu Panda also opens in 10 territories overseas. Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu return to lead the voice cast.

The first Kung Fu Panda debuted to $60.2 million in early June 2008 at the domestic box office on its way to cuming $215.4 million. Overseas, Kung Fu Panda grossed $416.3 million for a worldwide total of $631.7 million.

Panda 2 opens just as many kids in the U.S. start their summer break. On Thursday, about 10% of elementary and high school students will be out of school, followed by roughly 20% on Friday. By the end of next week, nearly half of all kids will be on break, meaning big weekday business for family films in particular.

Combined, Hangover II and Kung Fu Panda 2 should prove a fortuitous start to the June and July box office, a corridor packed with big studio pics.

Memorial Day box office revenue should be up considerably from last year, when Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Sex and the City 2 disappointed, grossing $37.8 million and $36.8 million, respectively, for the Friday-to-Monday stretch (Sex and the City opened on a Thursday and grossed $51 million for the five days).

On the specialty side, Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life, from Fox Searchlight, opens in New York and Los Angeles. Sony Pictures Classics expands Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris into a total of 58 theaters in top markets after opening the film in New York and Los Angeles last weekend.