Updated Saturday 9 a.m. PT
"The Hunger Games" fended off two new challengers Friday at the box office, with "The Three Stooges" and "Cabin in the Woods" neck in neck for second place behind Lionsgate's smash hit.
"The Hunger Games," which has won the past three weekends and is expected to repeat for a fourth, brought in an estimated $6.45 million from nearly four thousand domestic locations on Friday.
Fox's "Three Stooges" had a stronger than expected opening day, bringing in $5.6 million at 3,477 locations to edge past Lionsgate's horror movie, which grossed an estimated $5.5 million from 2,811 locations.
Fox has revised its weekend projections upward to $17 million to $18 million at domestic locations. Heading into the weekend, the studio projected a more cautious tally of $10 million, uncertain whether the Farrelly brothers' adaptation of slapstick shorts would resonate with today's audiences. The movie is rated PG, and expected to do well at Saturday matinees.
“The Hunger Games” is expected to once again slay the box-office competition this weekend, with the big question whether well-reviewed horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” will elbow “The Three Stooges” out of the No. 2 spot.
Lionsgate's “Cabin in Woods” appears to have the edge in strong reviews and a devoted fan following for co-writer Joss Whedon. Fox is marketing the Farrelly brothers' adaptation of “The Three Stooges” to fathers and sons, hoping nostalgia and appreciation for slapstick humor will put both in the seats, but even it is tempering expectations for the movie in a quiet post-holiday weekend.
Open Road's “Lockout,” the third major release, is not expected to be a major factor.
“It's definitely going to feel like a slow weekend,” said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, who described it as a lull between a monster March and the summer movie season. “Anytime that a movie that's four weeks old is expected to win the box office, that's a slow weekend.”
His site projects that “The Hunger Games” will gross $19.5 million domestically, while Lionsgate puts it in the high teens.
The adaptation of Suzanne Collins' young adults novel has already grossed more $300 million at the domestic box office, and is closing in on a half billion dollars globally.
The movie has surpassed projections since its juggernaut March 23 release. It is poised for another victory, “no two ways about it,” a rival studio executive said.
Lionsgate picked up “The Cabin in the Woods” from financially-distressed MGM and is opening it in 2,811 locations. The movie, which stars Chris Hemsworth and Richard Jenkins, centers on five friends who go to a cabin in the woods, where requisite fright takes place.
The movie got strong buzz out of South by Southwest, and has generated strong reviews. Thursday afternoon, it was scoring 92 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a 74 percent rating on Metacritic and 78 percent positive Movie Review Intelligence.
The studio is projecting $10 million to $12.5 million for the weekend, with other box-office observers predicting mid-teens. Boxoffice.com is giving it the edge over “The Three Stooges” with a $14.5 million projection to $13.5 million for the latter.
The key for Lionsgate is broadening “The Cabin the Wood's” appeal beyond Whedon's devoted fan base. Director Drew Goddard, a veteran of “Lost” and “Alias,” co-wrote the movie with the “Buffy” creator.
The strong reviews and online activity surrounding the movie are promising signs.
“The Three Stooges” is more of a wild-card, given the age of the original material, dating back to the 1930s, and its decidedly male appeal. Fox is opening the PG-movie in 3,477 locations.
The Farrelly brothers have been trying to make the movie for years, and at one point Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro were attached to star. Instead, the studio ended up going with less well-known – and cheaper – talent to play Larry, Mo and Curly.
Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopoulos star in the movie, which has a budget around $30 million.
The studio is projecting a $10 million opening weekend at the domestic box office; less conservative box office watchers predict it will gross in “the mid-teens” or slightly higher. The movie's appeal overseas is also a big question mark, although its reliance on slapstick humor may help it overcome lack of familiarity with the film shorts, a staple on TV for decades.
The movie has gotten so-so reaction from critics, although TheWrap's Alonso Duralde praised it as "a genuinely funny, a no-holds-barred, smart-stupid comedy." “The Three Stooges” came in at 48 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and was rated 51 percent on Metacritic Thursday afternoon; it had 57 percent positive rating from Movie Review Intelligence.
The other major newcomer, “Lockout,” will debut in 2,308 locations. Guy Pearce stars in the sci-fi thriller from Open Road, expected to bring in significantly less than $10 million at the domestic box office. Pearce plays a U.S. operative that must travel into space to rescue the president's adult daughter (Maggie Grace); it is based on a story by Luc Besson.
Critics have not been enamored: its Rotten Tomatoes rating was 34 percent, while Metacritic had it at 50 percent and Movie Review Intelligence at 46 percent positive. And it could be further hurt by overlap with “The Cabin in the Woods.”
The box office is expected to perk back up next weekend, when Zac Efron's “Lucky One” and Steve Harvey's “Think Like a Man” hit theaters.