Box Office Preview: 'X-Men: First Class' Expected to Bump 'Hangover II' From Top Spot

X-Men: First Class Cast 2011
20th Century Fox

X-Men: First Class Cast

The superhero prequel stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones and Kevin Bacon, among others.

Twentieth Century Fox has begun rolling out Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class around the globe, hoping the origins pic ushers in a new era for the superhero franchise in the same way that Batman Begins did for its brand.

The Fox film is widely expected to top the worldwide box office in its debut, even with competition from Warner Bros.' The Hangover Part II domestically. First Class opened in a number of foreign markets on Wednesday and Thursday and launches in the U.S. in midnight runs at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Read THR's review here.

Interest is high in the 1960s period prequel, set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War, and introducing Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) just as they're discovering their mutant powers.

The fifth film in the X-Men universe has a decidedly different feel than its predecessors. Fox decided to reinvent its marquee Marvel franchise with a critically acclaimed director who had never made a big-budget superhero pic before (Vaughn's previous credits include Kick-Ass and Layer Cake).

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And instead of relying on A-list Hollywood stars, Fox instead turned to a cadre of up-and-coming actors to play the young mutants. Starring opposite McAvoy and Fassbender are Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult and Zoe Kravitz. Kevin Bacon plays the villain.

First Class is drawing strong notices from fanboys and critics alike, portending good word-of-mouth. It's difficult to predict how much the movie will gross in its opening weekend, both because of the competition and the volatile domestic marketplace.

"With the stellar reviews that we have been getting so far, this should be a good launching point for us to stick around for a long time as moviegoers discover just how good this film is," Fox senior vp domestic distribution Chris Aronson said.

Fox, looking to manage expectations, says First Class should open somewhere between Batman Begins and the first X-Men, meaning $48 million to $55 million.

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Others believe First Class could gross more, even $60 million, but they concede tracking has been off in recent months.

The move cost close to $140 million to produce.

It opens two years after spinoff X-Men Origins: Wolverine played in theaters, grossing $85 million in its debut, and buoyed by having Hugh Jackman in the lead.

Following its midnight runs, First Class movies into a total of 3,641 theaters at the domestic box office.

Overseas, First Class got off to a strong start in France, where it opened Wednesday, and in Australia, where it opened Thursday, although numbers weren't available yet. Major territories where First Class doesn't open this weekend include Germany and Japan.

In North America, Hangover Part II should enjoy a strong second weekend after a record-breaking opening over Memorial Day weekend and dazzling midweek business. The sequel grossed $7.6 million on Tuesday and $6.3 million on Wednesday for a domestic cume of $148.9 million. Read THR's review here.

Hangover could easily gross another $40 million this weekend, pushing it well over the $200 million mark in North America.

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DreamWorks Animation and Paramount's Kung Fu Panda 2 will dominate with family audiences, and hopes for a strong Friday as more and more kids are let out of school for the summer. The 3D toon's domestic gross through Wednesday was $73.1 million.

Kung Fu Panda and Hangover will continue to make a major play overseas as well.

Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will jump the $700 million mark at the worldwide box office Friday, fueled by its foreign run. On Stranger Tides has grossed $520.8 million overseas, and $169.5 million in North America.