By John Young
Updated April 21, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Quantrell Colbert

Three widely dissimilar films hit theaters this Easter weekend: director-writer-producer-actor Tyler Perry’s comedy Madea’s Big Happy Family, the adaptation of the bestselling romance book Water for Elephants, and Disneynature’s feline documentary African Cats. Also continuing to make an impact will be last weekend’s champion Rio, plus holdovers Scream 4 and Hop. With most schools closed on Friday, the three-day weekend should start off strongly and then decline from there. (Easter Sunday is typically a slow day at the movies.) Here are my predictions:

1. Madea’s Big Happy Family: $32 million

Tyler Perry’s tenth directing effort in six years will be embraced by the multihyphenate’s comedy fans after a detour last year with the drama For Colored Girls. His past nine films have averaged an opening weekend of $23.7 million, but those featuring the name of the grandmotherly Madea character in the title have fared even better: 2006’s Madea’s Family Reunion debuted to $30 million, while 2009’s Madea Goes to Jail raked in $41 million its first weekend. However, those two February releases faced hardly any competition when they were released. Big Happy Family, on the other hand, is entering a more crowded marketplace, and therefore may fail to match the success of Madea Goes to Jail. Nevertheless, with a modest $25 million budget, the PG-13 Lionsgate film will almost certainly become yet another hit for Perry.

2. Rio: $26 million

The animated tropical-birds adventure snatched the year’s best opening last week with $39.2 million. With many kids out of school on Friday, Fox’s G-rated film should hold up well, dropping a little more than 30 percent and pushing its two-week tally to $80 million.

3. Water for Elephants: $16 million

Will Robert Pattinson’s Twihards show up for this $40 million adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel? The answer will play a significant role in how well the traveling-circus romance, co-starring Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz, performs this weekend. Fox’s PG-13 film should appeal to adults — particularly women — who are familiar with the book, but those aren’t the moviegoers who typically rush out on opening day. Furthermore, reviews have been mediocre, and that could deter those who haven’t read the source material. So it all comes down to Pattinson’s teenage minions. If they buy tickets in large quantities, then Elephants could easily collect more than $20 million this weekend. But if they treat Elephants like they treated Pattinson’s last non-Twilight effort, the 2010 dud Remember Me, then an opening gross in the mid-teens seems more likely.

4. Scream 4: $8.5 million

The R-rated horror film fell short of expectations last weekend, earning only $18.7 million. Horror movies typically take a nosedive their second weekend, and Scream 4 will follow suit with a 55 percent decline.

5. Hop: $8 million

The Easter Bunny comedy fell 50 percent last week. But with this being Easter weekend and all, the PG movie’s box-office legs should become rejuvenated. Prediction: a meager 25 percent slip.

6. African Cats: $7 million

As the third consecutive Earth Day movie from Disney’s Disneynature label, African Cats should land somewhere in between the debuts of 2009’s Earth ($8.8 million) and 2010’s Oceans ($6.1 million). Playing at 1,220 theaters, the Samuel L. Jackson-narrated documentary follows two families of lions and cheetahs on the African savanna.

Also opening in limited release are Morgan Spurlock’s product-placement documentary POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and the Canadian drama Incendies, which received an Oscar nomination earlier this year for Best Foreign Language Film.

Scream 4

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