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Box office preview: 'X-Men: First Class' intends to lead the way

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Xmen
Frank Masi

After last week’s record Memorial Day frame, the box office will simmer down a bit this weekend, as X-Men: First Class will be the only new major release. The last two X-Men movies, 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, performed well enough at the box office but earned lackluster notices from critics and audiences alike. First Class, a PG-13 prequel of the mutant series, is an attempt to earn back moviegoers’ trust, and reviews have been encouraging. Here are my box-office predictions for the top five:

1. X-Men: First Class: $60 million

Chronologically, the four prior X-Men movies have debuted to $54.5 million, $85.6 million, $102.8 million, and $85.1 million. Each film’s opening appears to reflect moviegoers’ response to the prior film, so the well-liked X-Men sent the beloved X2: X-Men United higher, which sent the mediocre X-Men: The Last Stand even higher, which sent X-Men Origins: Wolverine downward. Wolverine received the worst reviews of the bunch, as well as the lowest IMDb rating (6.7), so X-Men: First Class has a lot of negativity to overcome. Another obstacle for the $160 million action movie will be that, out of all five X-Men films, it contains the smallest amount of movie-star wattage.

Still, this is a X-Men movie we’re talking about, and that brand name holds a lot of weight, especially for kids who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s. The fact that First Class is a prequel — detailing the initial friendship between Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) — may also convince some moviegoers to give the series another try. Expect an opening somewhere between $50 million and $70 million. As I often do, I’ve split the difference.

2. The Hangover Part II: $40 million

This is tricky to call, as the R-rated sequel has got to be front-loaded after scoring the largest opening ever for a live-action comedy. But Hangover Part II earned a solid “A-” grade from CinemaScore moviegoers, indicating that word of mouth is most likely positive. And the original Hangover declined only 27 percent its second weekend. Part II obviously won’t hold up that well, but I don’t think it’ll plummet to the extent that some are predicting, either. I’m settling on a Wolf Pack drop that’s just a little over 50 percent (from the movie’s three-day opening of $85.9 million).

3. Kung Fu Panda 2: $26 million

While X-Men: First Class may steal away some of Panda‘s young male audience, this is still the go-to choice for families with kids. CinemaScore audiences handed the animated PG film an “A” rating, and reviews were mostly favorable, so a slip of about 45 percent may be Po’s fate.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: $18 million

Disney’s PG-13 adventure fell 56 percent last weekend, and there’s no reason to think it will perform any differently this weekend.

5. Bridesmaids: $13 million

One of the year’s big success stories, this R-rated comedy has dropped only 20 and 21 percent, respectively, during its first two weeks. There’s a chance its stellar box-office legs may tire a bit this weekend, but as I did with Pirates, I’m sticking with how the movie performed last week. So, another 20 percent slide.

Opening in a handful of theaters are the critically acclaimed drama Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, and the coming-of-age dramedy Submarine. Also, Woody Allen’s comedy Midnight in Paris expands to 147 theaters, while Terrence Malick’s epic spiritual drama The Tree of Life adds 16 locations.