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Box office preview: 'Cars 2' to lap its competition

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Lightning Mcqueen And Mater
Disney/Pixar

It could be a somewhat bittersweet weekend for Pixar. While the animation studio is assured to score its 12th consecutive No. 1 opening with Cars 2, the automotive sequel may fail to match its 2006 predecessor. Perhaps more concerning for Pixar, though, is that Cars 2 seems poised to become the studio’s first critical misfire — more on that below. Also debuting this weekend is the Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher, which is aiming to duplicate the success of another actress-driven R-rated comedy: Bridesmaids. Here are my box-office predictions for the top five:

1. Cars 2: $59 million

The first Cars debuted to $60.1 million five years ago and finished its domestic run with $244.1 million. That’s a very solid result, but it was considered modest by Pixar standards. Additionally, while the film garnered positive reviews, it became the least well-reviewed Pixar movie to date. Nevertheless, what really propelled Cars — and made it an extremely lucrative franchise for Disney — was its merchandising prowess. Since 2006, Cars has brought in more than $8 billion in toys and other merchandise.

So here we are with Cars 2, the $200 million sequel to a movie that was neither Pixar’s biggest hit nor its most critically acclaimed. The bad news is that Cars 2 is earning worse reviews than the original. At the time of this writing, it’s scoring a 59 on Metacritic and has received only a 39 percent positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. If those figures hold, Cars 2 will unfortunately become the first Pixar movie to wind up with an overall negative critical reception.

The good news: The Disney-Pixar brand holds enormous weight for moviegoers, especially for parents looking for something the entire family will enjoy. While the underwhelming reviews may discourage some adults who weren’t fans of the original, every young boy in your neighborhood will likely want to see Cars 2 this weekend. And its 3-D showings at more than 2,500 theaters should boost its tally, too. Everything considered, look for a weekend total that’s around what the first Cars earned.

2. Bad Teacher: $24 million

The Sony comedy, starring Cameron Diaz as a misbehaving middle-school teacher, should join The Hangover Part II and Bridesmaids as the summer’s third R-rated comedy hit. Although the $20 million movie is receiving mediocre reviews, it should perform well as counter-programming to Cars 2. And Hangover II and Bridesmaids have both been in theaters long enough — four and six weeks, respectively — for adult audiences to be hungry for a new raunchy comedy.

3. Green Lantern: $20 million

The Warner Bros. superhero flick opened to a so-so $53.2 million last weekend. The $200 million movie received poor reviews, and the fact that it dropped 22 percent from Friday to Saturday doesn’t indicate strong word of mouth (nor does its 6.3 user rating on IMDb). Expect a mighty drop this weekend — say, more than 60 percent.

4. Super 8: $13 million

The well-reviewed sci-fi adventure, directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, slipped just 39 percent its second weekend. I’m thinking it’ll fall the same amount this weekend, as well.

5. Mr. Popper’s Penguins: $10 million

With Cars 2 speeding into multiplexes, Penguins could have trouble keeping the attention of young boys. But the PG-rated comedy, starring Jim Carrey, was handed a strong “A-” grade from CinemaScore audiences, and most family movies tend to hold up well. So a decline of about 45 percent seems reasonable.

In limited release, the documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, about the late-night host’s comedy tour after leaving The Tonight Show, opens in 25 theaters. And the immigrant drama A Better Life debuts at four locations in Los Angeles and New York.

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