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Box office preview: 'Rango' ready to corral moviegoers

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Image Credit: Paramount PicturesWith 2011’s box office trailing last year’s by 25 percent, Hollywood is turning yet again to Johnny Depp to save the day. Exactly one year ago, Depp’s Alice in Wonderland debuted to a fantastical $116.1 million. This year, the chameleon-like actor plays, well, a chameleon in the animated Western Rango. While the PG-rated toon won’t come close to being the box-office juggernaut that Alice was, it should hopefully put a little spring into 2011’s step as we wait for what’s expected to be a massive summer. Joining Rango this weekend are three other new wide releases: the sci-fi romantic thriller (how often are those three genres combined?) The Adjustment Bureau, the fantasy romance Beastly, and the retro comedy Take Me Home Tonight, the last of which was shot way back in 2007. Tonight, starring Topher Grace and Anna Faris, is playing at 2,003 locations and will be lucky to gross more than $6 million this weekend. Here are my predictions for the top five:

1. Rango: $44 million

It’s been a month now since Gnomeo & Juliet opened, so there’s likely a huge appetite out there for a movie to take the little ones to. Plus, the $135 million Paramount release may attract quite a large number of childless adults thanks to Depp’s overall appeal and the flick’s favorable reviews. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who and How to Train Your Dragon, two recent animated films that were both released in March, debuted to $45 million and $43.7 million, respectively. And while Rango will miss out on the latter’s 3-D price hike, I think it’ll nevertheless gallop away with around the same amount. However, don’t be too surprised if the movie winds up taking a shot at $50 million.

2. The Adjustment Bureau: $19 million

Delayed from last July, The Adjustment Bureau, which is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, intriguingly mixes a sci-fi scenario with romantic and thriller elements. Despite average reviews, the PG-13 film should provide a solid opening for Matt Damon, and that’s a relief after the disappointing performances of Hereafter, Green Zone, Invictus, and The Informant! Discerning moviegoers will be enticed by the prospect of an intelligent thriller, while couples looking for a date movie may be intrigued by the romantic pairing of Damon and Emily Blunt. And the cinephile in me wants to give the film a whirl simply to soak in the cinematography by John Toll (The Thin Red Line) and the score by Thomas Newman (Road to Perdition).

3. Gnomeo & Juliet: $8.2 million

Finally some competition for the Shakespearean lawn ornaments. Disney’s animated twist on Romeo and Juliet has displayed incredible stamina so far, but it hasn’t had to deal with the likes of Johnny Depp until now. Rango should steal a considerable chunk of Gnomeo‘s family audience. However, since Rango‘s PG rating may deter parents with very young children, Gnomeo will likely remain an attractive alternative. Furthermore, we’re talking about a movie that’s so far seen weekend drops of only 25 and 30 percent. So figure a 40-percent slide this week.

4. The King’s Speech: $8.1 million

After winning four Oscars (including Best Picture) on Sunday, this British historical drama rose to fourth place on Monday, and then to third place on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s difficult to predict exactly how much of a post-Oscar spike it’ll receive this weekend, but a bump of around 10 percent seems reasonable.

5. Beastly: $8 million

Like The Adjustment Bureau, this modern-day reinterpretation of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast was originally scheduled to be released last July. Reviews have been underwhelming, and stars Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) aren’t exactly the biggest of box-office draws. But distributor CBS Films has been aggressively targeting girls from 11 to 17 years old, and that demographic’s passion for this kind of teenage-girl-loves-cursed-guy material should be enough to give the $17 million film a decent debut from 1,952 theaters.

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