Box-Office Preview: Neill Blomkamp's 'Chappie' to Lead Soft Weekend

Chappie Still - H 2014

Chappie Still - H 2014

Things are looking bleak for Vince Vaughn comedy 'Unfinished Business,' while 'The Second Best Marigold Hotel' could be a bright spot.

South African director Neill Blomkamp's Chappie is expected to lead a soft weekend at the North American box office despite no shortage of star power spread between the sci-fi robot movie, Vince Vaughn comedy Unfinished Business and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The Sony film — starring Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver — could open anywhere between $14 million and $20 million, although a berth in Imax theaters could push it higher (it will be a busy weekend for Patel, who also stars in Marigold Hotel). That's well below the $29 million debut of Blomkamp's Elysium in August 2013, or the $37.4 million opening of District 9 in August 2009.

Part of the issue could be Chappie's R-rating, since robots inherently appeal to boys. Also, there's a glut of R-rated product in the marketplace, between Will Smith's Focus, Fifty Shades of Grey and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Bad reviews could also hurt Chappie.

Set in the near future where robots serve as cops, Chappie stars Patel as a Johannesburg engineer who announces that one of his robots has become a thinking and feeling being. Jackman, who usually plays the good guy, is the villain in this instance and tries to destroy Chappie, voiced by Sharlto Copley.

Chappie also features South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord.

The forecast is grim for New Regency's Unfinished Business, which may not even match the $7.9 million debut of Vaughn's last film, Delivery Man, which bombed. Fox is releasing the movie on behalf of Regency.

New Regency spent $35 million to make Unfinished Business, directed by Ken Scott and starring Vaughn as a small business owner who travels to Europe with his two associates (Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco) to seal the biggest deal of their careers, but nothing goes as planned. Sienna Miller, Nick Frost and James Marsden also star.

Chappie will play in more than 3,000 theaters, while Unfinished Business, also rated R, goes out in 2,777 locations.

Making a far smaller play is Fox Searchlight's sequel Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which will screen in roughly 1,400 locations and should open to $8 million or more, a pleasing number for a specialty title.

Once again directed by John Madden, the dramedy returns original castmembers Patel, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy. New names include Richard Gere and David Strathairn.

The first film, released in 2012, was a sleeper hit, earning $136.8 million worldwide.

Even if one or more of the new films overperform, box-office revenue is sure to be down from last year, when 300: Rise of an Empire debuted to $45 million and Mr. Peabody & Sherman took in $32.2 million.