By Todd Cunningham
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - DreamWorks Animation's 3D family film "The Croods" looks ready to knock "Oz the Great and Powerful" out of the top slot on what's shaping up as a busy box-office weekend.
Schools and colleges will have shut down for spring break, and the studios are doing their best to capitalize on it. Also opening wide are the Anton Fuqua thriller "Olympus Has Fallen" and the Tina Fey-Paul Rudd romantic comedy "Admission," while the raunchy teen comedy "Spring Breakers" expands nationwide.
"The Croods" opens on a whopping 4,046 screens - 76 percent of which will be 3D - and analysts say it will wind up with north of $40 million for the three days. Two-time box-office champ "Oz" and thriller "Olympus Has Fallen" will battle for second with around $20 million, they predict. "Admission" and "Spring Breakers," which will be in far fewer theaters than those three, are projected to come in around $8 million and $6 million respectively.
"The Croods" is co-written and co-directed by Kirk DeMicco ("Space Chimps") and Chris Sanders, a co-writer-director on 2010's "How to Train Your Dragon," which took in $495 million globally for DreamWorks. Nicholas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman give the characters their voices.
"The Croods" will be DWA's first release under its new distribution deal with Fox and comes on the heels of "Rise of the Guardians," its final release via Paramount. That one made more than $300 million worldwide but was a disappointment domestically with $103 million.
"Guardians" had a $145 million production budget and a sizable marketing spend, so the fallout resulted in an $87 million fourth-quarter write-down for DWA, which subsequently laid off 350 employees in February.
The studio's chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg, said last month that he was intent on lowering costs going forward - DWA's last 13 movies all have cost at least $130 million, and "The Croods" ran a reported $145 million. But as much as belt-tightening, what the studio could use is a franchise-launching hit.
And that, DWA and Fox hope, is where "The Croods" comes in.
The critics have been impressed (80 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), particularly with the look of the film. With school out and families looking for fun, topping the $23 million opening posted by "Guardians" in December will be no problem, but coming anywhere near the $60 million debut of last June's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" would be a major win.
A lot will hinge on the degree to which "Oz," which is in its third week of release and will cross $300 million globally this weekend, cuts into "The Croods" family crowds.
Analysts are projecting a domestic total of $150 million for "The Croods," which will make its performance at the foreign box office critical. Fox is front-loading the international rollout and will open it in every major market except France and China this weekend.
Film District's "Olympus Has Fallen" features an ensemble cast that includes Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo and Morgan Freeman. Fuqua ("Training Day") directs from a script by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt.
In the film, a disgraced former guard (Butler) tries to rescue the kidnapped President (Eckhart) after terrorists attack the White House.
Butler could use a hit. His past three outings, "Mavericks," "Playing for Keeps" and "Movie 43" - in which he had a cameo - all bombed. But this role takes him back to his action roots, and both tracking and social media signs have been trending up over the past week.
Film District acquired the distribution rights from Millennium Entertainment on "Olympus," which has a production budget estimated at $70 million. It's beating another President-in-peril movie, Sony's "White House Down," to market. That one, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, comes out on June 28.
"Olympus" will be in 3,098 theaters, and Film District sees an opening in the high-teen millions.
Focus Features' "Admission" stars Fey as a Princeton admissions officer who meets a college-bound alternative school kid, who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.
Paul Weiss ("Little Fockers") directs and co-wrote the script with Karen Croner. Michael Sheen, Lily Tomlin and Wallace Shawn co-star along with Rudd.
Fey, a "Saturday Night Live' alum and a staple for years on TV's recently departed "30 Rock," hasn't done a lot of movies but has scored several times. "Date Night" brought in $98 million domestically in 2010, "Baby Mama" grossed $60 million in 2008 and "Mean Girls," which she wrote and appeared in, managed $86 million in 2004.
Teenagers on spring break won't flock to a movie about college admissions, but that's OK - women over 25 are the target demographic Focus is debuting "Admission," produced for about $13 million, in 2,160 theaters and would be happy with an $8 million opening. With a decent debut, it could show some legs over the next few weeks, since there won't be a lot of comedy competition.
Teenagers are, however, likely to head for "Spring Breakers." Distributor A24 is taking a big leap with the R-rated raunchfest, expanding into roughly 1,000 theaters after it averaged more than $90,000 on three screens in its debut last week.
It stars Disney Channel alums Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson of "Pretty Little Liars" and the director's wife, Rachel Korine, as bored college girls who hold up a restaurant to bankroll their spring break trip. James Franco - already on screen in Disney's "Great and Powerful Oz" - plays a dreadlocked white gangsta with a garish grill who bails the girls out of jail.
Written and directed by Harmony Korine ("Kids"), it prominently features an original music score from Cliff Martinez and Skrillex.
A24 has marketed the film, made for an estimated $2 million, almost exclusively on social media and it appears to be connecting. The film has more than 45,000 followers on Twitter.