By John Young
Updated March 26, 2011 at 06:53 PM EDT
Credit: Clay Enos

We have ourselves a race, albeit one with an outcome that’ll probably surprise a lot of folks. According to early estimates, the fantasy action film Sucker Punch led the box office on Friday with $8.1 million, but is on pace to lose the weekend to the middle-school comedy Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. The $75 million Sucker Punch, about five young women who use their vivid imagination as a means to escape an insane asylum, was most likely front-loaded this weekend. The PG-13 film was directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300), who has a fanboy following that prefers to see things as quickly as possible. (Sucker Punch grossed $825,000 from midnight screenings). But is the rest of the general public interested in the movie? Its Saturday jump (or potential lack thereof) will be a key indicator, but right now Sucker Punch seems headed for a $21 million opening weekend.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, on the other hand, should benefit from a decent bump on Saturday, as family films typically start soft on Friday while kids are still in school. The PG sequel collected $7.3 million on Friday, virtually matching its predecessor’s $7.4 million opening day. And like the first Wimpy Kid movie, Rodrick Rules should finish its debut weekend with about $22 million. First place could be a photo finish, but I believe Sucker Punch needed to outgross Rodrick Rules by at least $1 million on Friday to secure victory, and that didn’t happen.

The rest of the top five consisted of prior releases that held up particularly well. In third, the Bradley Cooper “smart pill” thriller Limitless dropped just 29 percent for $4.7 million. The crime drama The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey, snagged fourth place with $2.9 million — also a decline of 29 percent. And in fifth, Rango drew $2.4 million. The Johnny Depp animated Western will cross $100 million today, becoming the first 2011 movie to do so. Check back here on Sunday for the complete box office report.

1. Sucker Punch — $8.1 mil

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules — $7.3 mil

3. Limitless — $4.7 mil

4. The Lincoln Lawyer — $2.9 mil

5. Rango — $2.4 mil