By Grady Smith
Updated August 24, 2012 at 10:00 AM EDT
Credit: Frank Masi
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The dog days of the summer box office are upon us.

Late August is the time of the year when studios traditionally dump projects that have been shelved, moved, and deemed either misguided or unmarketable. You know, the perceived stinkers.

The same is true this year. This weekend brings three new films — bike thriller Premium Rush, comedy Hit and Run, and horror title The Apparition — none of which seem headed to impressive grosses. There’s also an indie film headed into a wide expansion, the political documentary 2016: Obama’s America, which has a pretty good shot at beating all of them.

Here’s how the box office may shake out:

1. The Expendables 2 – $12 million

The meager slate of newcomers should give The Expendables a clear shot at topping the chart for a second weekend in a row following its $28.6 million bow. The action film may fall hard by 55-60 percent, but without any serious competition, it should be able to retain the box office crown with about $12 million.

2. The Bourne Legacy – $9.2 million

The $125 million Jeremy Renner film may dip by another 45-50 percent, leading to a $9.2 million weekend and an $85.5 million total after three weekends.

3. ParaNorman – $8.6 million

While the creepy stop-motion film didn’t open quite as high as Coraline (it earned $14.1 million vs. Coraline‘s $16.8 million), it should enjoy a relatively slim decline due to the lack of family competition. That being said, with kids getting ready to head back to school, ParaNorman may have to settle for merely an average drop of about 35-40 percent. It may earn $8.6 million this weekend.

4. Premium Rush – $7.8 million

Sony’s $32 million bike messenger thriller will test the star power of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose stock increased after high-profile roles in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. Unfortunately, things aren’t looking up for Premium Rush, which was pedaled back and forth between various release dates before settling on this date, one of the worst of the year. With little buzz (but surprisingly strong reviews), the film, playing in 2,255 theaters, may have to settle for about $8 million.

5. 2016: Obama’s America – $7.2 million

This political documentary is a total wildcard. I’ve already written extensively about its box office trajectory, and if you want a crash course on its remarkable run so far, click here. The polemic is jumping from 169 to over 1,100 theaters this weekend, and considering the fact that its per theater average has substantially increased during its last two expansions, the same thing could occur this time around — though that will be a much harder feat given the scale of this expansion. I think the doc is guaranteed at least $5 million and a Top 10 finish, but I could also see it possibly topping the box office this weekend — after all, it is dominating Fandango’s ticket sales.It’s a tough call

Word-of-mouth is clearly driving the film’s success, and it will quickly make 2016 the most successful conservative documentary of all time — surpassing Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which earned $7.7 million in 2008. Consider this: On Wednesday, the Top 10 films at the box office all declined from their Tuesday grosses, falling by an average of 29 percent. 2016, meanwhile, increased by 7 percent. Will this apparent groundswell of support lift the film to shocking heights and make it the surprise No. 1? Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked. Still, I think it’s more likely that 2016‘s per theater average slightly drops from last week’s $7,365, and the film ends up with $7.2 million this weekend.

Way further down the chart, Hit & Run, which was made for $2 million, then acquired and marketed by Open Road, already looks to be D.O.A. at the box office. Despite a wide theater count in 2,870 locations, the Dax Shephard/Kristen Bell/Bradley Cooper comedy launched in eighth place with a paltry $625,000 on its first day Wednesday. That, and the film’s “C+” CinemaScore grade doesn’t bode well for the weekend. It may pick up a wretched $3 million.

Unfortunately, The Apparition won’t do much better, despite the presence of stars from the Harry Potter and Twilight series. Warner Bros. is only releasing the $17 million horror film, which stars Tom Felton and Ashley Greene, in 810 theaters, and it could earn about $2.5 million. Ouch.

Check back all weekend for full box office coverage. If you want up-to-the-minute updates, follow me on Twitter, where I post early box office results!

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