Box-Office Preview: Steven Spielberg's 'Ready Player One' Eyes $45M-$50M Bow

Tyler Perry's 'Acrimony' and faith-based pic 'God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness' also open nationwide over Easter weekend.

The stakes are high for Steven Spielberg's big-budget Ready Player One, which unfurls in theaters everywhere Thursday in hopes of commanding a North American start of $45 million-$50 million by the time Easter Sunday wraps.

Spielberg's movie — which cost Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow an estimated $175 million to produce before marketing — also launches in numerous major foreign markets timed to its U.S. bow, including China. It graces the marquee only one week after another big-budget entry opened, Pacific Rim Uprising, and two weeks after Tomb Raider bowed. Both of those event films have disappointed, contributing to a tough March domestically. Spielberg's sci-fi adventure, which has been embraced by critics, hopes to reverse that trend.

Ready Player One, based on Ernest Cline's pop-culture-soaked novel about a teen's quest to win control over a virtual universe, will have no trouble topping the holiday box office, but it will need to do sizable business over the course of its run to land in the black.

Spielberg remains one of Hollywood's most respected directors. Ready Player One is the first film he has made for Warners since A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which was released in 2001.

At Ready Player One's Los Angeles premiere earlier this week, the filmmaker said it felt good to make a popcorn flick following the period dramas The Post, which opened in December, and 2015's Bridge of Spies. (He didn't mention the family film The BFG, a box-office disappointment released in summer 2016.) "It reminds me of the days when I did Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I had so much fun on this, it was like a vacation, even though it was incredibly hard work," Spielberg told The Hollywood Reporter at the L.A. screening, which followed the film's world premiere at SXSW.

Infused with references to the 1980s, Ready Player One stars Tye Sheridan as Wade Watts, a young man who gets caught up in the virtual-reality world known as the OASIS, which was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Watts and his friends are determined to find the Easter eggs that will give them control of OASIS.

Spielberg directed from an adapted script by Zak Penn and Cline. Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller and Simon Pegg also star.

Ready Player One begins rolling out Wednesday night in more than 3,500 North American theaters before expanding into a total of 4,200 cinemas Thursday, when 37 percent of school kids will be sprung for spring break (that number swells to 80 percent on Friday).

Two other films open nationwide over Easter weekend: Tyler Perry's psychological thriller Acrimony and the faith-based God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

Marking the 19th film that Perry has made for Lionsgate, Acrimony is tracking to open in the $10 million range. The movie features Taraji P. Henson playing a shocked wife who decides to take revenge on her cheating husband. Henson stars opposite Lyriq Bent, Jazmyn Simon and Crystle Stewart.

From Pure Flix Entertainment, A Light in Darkness is the third film in the God's Not Dead series and is tracking to debut in the $5 million range. The last film opened to $7.6 million and grossed $20 million for its whole run. God's Not Dead 3 faces tough competition from holdover I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ, from Sony's Affirm label.

A Light in Darkness was directed by Michael Mason and follows a Christian congregation that must rebuild after its old church burns down. David A. R. White, John Corbett, Tatum O'Neal, Ted McGinley, Jennifer Taylor, Shwayze and Cissy Houston star.