Sony's 3D Memorial Day tentpole Men in Black 3 will top the Friday box office with a projected gross of $17 million to $20 million on its way to a four-day domestic debut of $75 million to $80 million.
MIB 3 is an important test for the marquee franchise after a decade-long hiatus, as well as Will Smith's star status, considering the actor hasn't been in theaters since 2008 (Seven Pounds, Hancock). Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones also star.
The threequel, returning Smith in the lead role and Barry Sonnenfeld in the director's chair, will have the bragging rights to being the film that beat The Avengers, but the superhero smash is still a formidable force and could earn as much as $50 million in its fourth weekend of play domestically.
Avengers, with a worldwide gross of $1.23 billion through Thursday, soon will eclipse the final Harry Potter pic ($1.33 billion) to become the third-biggest title of all time behind Avatar and Titanic.
Hollywood already is resigned to the fact that MiB 3 won't reach the levels of last year's The Hangover Part II, which opened nationwide on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and grossed a whopping $10.4 million in Wednesday midnight runs on its way to earning $135 million for the four days.
MiB 3 also is rolling out overseas, and Sony is hopeful that the event pic will clear $200 million in its worldwide debut, though warm weather in major European countries including the U.K. kept people away from the multiplex on Friday.
In North America, Sony is making a big play for kids who don't necessarily remember the franchise. If that happens, the pic could see a strong business on Saturday and Sunday, as well as Monday.
MiB 3 fared better in its midnight performance than last weekend's action tentpole Battleship, grossing $1.6 million compared with $650,000 for Battleship, which posted a dismal three-day opening gross of $25.5 million at the domestic box office.
Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros.' horror pic Chernobyl Diaries -- Memorial weekend's other nationwide release -- grossed $525,000 in Thursday midnight runs. Box-office observers are divided over the pic's weekend potential, with estimates ranging from $10 million to $15 million.
Battleship is expected to earn in the low- to midteen millions over the long holiday weekend.