By John Young
Updated March 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Clay Enos

Compared to last year, 2011’s box office is down 21 percent so far, and this weekend isn’t going to help matters. The frame features two new releases that couldn’t be more dissimilar: the fantasy action flick Sucker Punch and the middle-school comedy sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. It’s a tough weekend to call, too. I’m thinking Sucker Punch will win by a hair, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Wimpy Kid emerge victoriously. Regardless of the outcome, one thing looks certain: The box office will lag behind the same weekend from last year, when How to Train Your Dragon premiered to $43.7 million. Here are my predictions:

1. Sucker Punch: $23 million

I simultaneously envision Warner Bros.’ $75 million action pic catching fire and debuting to $30 million, as well as crashing and burning with an opening in the mid-teens. Thus, as I often do in such situations, I’m splitting the difference here. Director Zack Snyder’s last two March releases, Watchmen and 300, started out with $55.2 million and $70.9 million, respectively. But Sucker Punch, about a group of (very imaginative) young women attempting to escape from a 1950s insane asylum, seems to lack the polish and coolness-factor of those two films. Many fanboys will turn out opening night, but they can’t make a movie a big hit all on their own (see: Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). And so we’re left with a PG-13 movie that will start off strong on Friday, and likely begin losing steam as early as Saturday. The ghastly reviews, though, shouldn’t make much of an impact for this kind of movie.

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules: $22 million

The first Wimpy Kid, based on the popular Jeff Kinney book of the same name, debuted last March to a surprisingly potent $22.1 million. Fox quickly cranked out this PG sequel, and with its only family-film competition being the one-month-old Rango and the box-office disaster Mars Needs Moms, I see no reason why Rodrick Rules won’t duplicate its predecessor’s performance.

3. Limitless: $11.5 million

Last weekend’s champ drew an older crowd, with 60 percent of its audience at least 25 years old, and I don’t imagine that demographic being swayed much by Sucker Punch or Wimpy Kid. So figure a modest drop of just under 40 percent for the Bradley Cooper thriller.

4. The Lincoln Lawyer: $9.5 million

With an “A-” CinemaScore and strong reviews, this R-rated crime drama starring Matthew McConaughey should hold up particularly well, sliding only 30 percent or so. Furthermore, 190,000 Groupon users bought $6 discounted tickets for the movie through a special promotion, and only 50,000 of those tickets were redeemed last weekend. So most of the remaining 140,000 tickets are going to have to be used at some point, right? (Note: Theaters are counting the redeemed tickets at their full adult-ticket value.)

5. Rango: $9 million

A 2011 movie will finally cross $100 million, as this animated Western should hit that milestone by Saturday. (The Adam Sandler comedy Just Go With It also has a shot at reaching $100 million this weekend.) Rango, which dropped only 33 percent last weekend, finally has to deal with a formidable family-film opponent in Wimpy Kid. As a result, expect a slightly steeper decline of about 40 percent.