Box-Office Preview: Will 'Crazy Rich Asians' Out-Laugh 'Happytime Murders?'

The Happytime Murders Still 5 - Publicity - H 2018
Hopper Stone/STX

'Happytime Murders,' starring Melissa McCarthy, is a black comedy set in a world inhabited by humans and puppets; the military dog pic 'A.X.L.' also opens nationwide.

In a late-summer comedy showdown of sorts, The Happytime Murders is set to go up against the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians at the weekend box office.

The race could be close if the R-rated Happytime Murders, starring Melissa McCarthy as a detective in a world that's inhabited by both humans and puppets, outperforms its tracking, which shows the black comedy opening in the $13 million-$15 million for STXfilms.

Jon M. Chu and Warner Bros.' Crazy Rich Asians, which topped last weekend with $26.5 million, could earn as much as $16 million to $18 million in its sophomore outing. The film is groundbreaking for featuring an all-Westernized Asian cast, and posted one of the best debuts for a rom-com in years (opening midweek, its five-day debut was $35.3 million). A sequel is already moving forward.

Happytime Murders was directed by Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson, who created the Muppets. The story follows a private puppet detective (Bill Barretta) who reteams with his former human partner (McCarthy) to solve the murder of his brother by a serial killer who is now targeting the castmembers of a former TV show.

Most reviewers haven't warmed to the pic, which currently shows a 29 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film's budget was $40 million.

Meanwhile, the family adventure A.X.L. is tracking to open to a lowly $3 million to $5 million in another box-office blow for Global Road Entertainment, where lenders took control of the financially strapped film studio earlier this week.

The pic tells the story of a military robotic dog who, after an experiment gone wrong, is found hiding in the desert by a civilian (Alex Neutsaedter), who activates its owner-pairing technology and must protect the robot from the scientists who created him.

Becky G., Alex MacNicoll, Dominc Rains and Thomas Jane also star in A.X.L., which was directed by Oliver Daly.

As summer 2018 winds down, the major Hollywood studios are sitting out the weekend in terms of new releases. To date, the season is running ahead of summer 2017 by a healthy 12 percent, while revenue for the year is pacing ahead of 2017 by 9 percent.