How many times can lightning strike for low-budget horror movies at the summer box office? With "You're Next" opening Friday, Lionsgate is hoping the answer is three.
It has a good shot at No. 1, say the analysts, who see it scaring up around $14 million for the three days. But it has some competition: The teen-skewing supernatural tale "Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," which opened with $3 million on Wednesday, and reigning champ "Lee Daniels' The Butler" should make it close.
This will also be a telling weekend for the Weinstein Company's Oprah Winfrey-Forest Whitaker civil rights epic, which again looks like it will be the first choice for mature moviegoers.
A solid hold – anything over half of its roughly $25 million opening – will be an indicator that it could be able to play for months, especially if the awards buzz around the film continues or gets stronger. "The Help," another mature-skewing take on race relations in America, did just that and rolled up nearly $170 million domestically in 2011.
The weekend's other wide opener, Focus Features' Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg comedy "The World's End," and the Jennifer Aniston-Jason Sudeikis holdover comedy "We're the Millers" are projected to finish just behind that group.
"The World's End" will be in roughly 1,400 theaters, considerably less than "Mortal Instruments" (2,835), "You're Next" (2,435) and "The Butler" (3,110).
It will be in a couple hundred more theaters than Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." Sony Pictures Classic is expanding the Cate Blanchett drama from 229 theaters to more than 1,200, the widest release ever for an Allen film.
While some analysts see "The Butler" as the favorite, "You're Next" rates a slight edge, according to Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock.
"Horror has been hot this summer and I don't see any reason why this one shouldn't click," he said, "particularly since it's launching on a date that's traditionally strong for these films."
Horror films "The Purge" and "The Conjuring" are among the summer's biggest financial wins.
Universal's "The Purge," produced for $3 million by Blumhouse Productions, has made nearly $84 million worldwide since debuting with $33 million in June. Warner Bros.' "The Conjuring" was made for $19.5 million and opened to an eye-popping $41 million. It's held strongly and now ranks among the highest-grossing horror movies ever, with worldwide grosses approaching $200 million.
Critics like the mix of horror and dark humor in "You're Next"; it has an excellent 91 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, better than either of those films.
But it hasn't established the pre-release footprint on social media that "The Conjuring" and especially "The Purge" did. The tweet count for "You're Next" took a healthy increase from Monday to Tuesday, but Facebook activity is weak, according to BoxOffice.com. And its home-invasion plot line may seem too close to "The Purge' to attract fans of that film.
Nonetheless, late August has been the launch pad for strong low-budget horror openings in the past two years for Lionsgate. "The Possession" opened at No. 1 with $17 million on the final weekend in August last year, and "The Last Exorcism" debuted to $20 million in 2010.
The tracking isn't as high as analysts' projections. "But I think horror fans, particularly Hispanics, will turn out in force," Bock said.
Sharni Vison, Nicholas Tucci and Al Bowen star in the tale of family under attack during their wedding anniversary getaway. Simon Barrett wrote the screenplay and Adam Wingard ("V/H/S") directs.
Lionsgate acquired U.S. rights after it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011. When Summit and Lionsgate merged there was a surfeit of movies, and this was the seen as the best release date for "You're Next."
The R-rated "The World's End" is the latest sci-fi comedy collaboration of Pegg, who co-wrote with director Wright, Nick Frost and Martin Freeman. The quartet's previous collaborations, "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) and "Hot Fuzz" (2007), were critical favorites and gained them a cult following.
"World End" follows a group of friends who discover an alien invasion during an epic pub crawl in their hometown and become mankind's only hope for survival.
The two earlier films were bigger hits in home video than they were in theaters, though "Hot Fuzz" did $24 million domestically and $80 million worldwide."World's End" opened last month in the U.K. and has taken in $13 million.
Relativity Media, Big Talk Productions, and Working Title Films produced for around $20 million.
The PG-13 rated, $60 million-budget "Mortal Instruments," which Sony is distributing after acquiring U.S. rights from Constantin Films in Cannes last year, is expected to land in the mid-teen millions for the five-day frame.
That would be better than "Beautiful Creatures" and "The Host" -- two similar teen-skewing fantasies that misfired at the box office earlier this year -- but nowhere near the "Twilight" films that inspired them all.