By Joey Nolfi
July 21, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Blue Sky Studios; Kimberley French

Star Trek Beyond, the highly-anticipated sequel in Paramount’s rebooted franchise series, is shooting for the stars amid perhaps the most crowded weekend of the summer movie season thus far, likely fending off two new wide releases and strong holdovers like The Secret Life of Pets and Ghostbusters

New titles joining Star Trek in the hunt for the No. 1 domestic spot are Fox’s Ice Age: Collision Course, the fifth Ice Age title released in just over a decade, and the Warner Bros./New Line horror pic Lights Out, which has received some of the best reviews of any new release this week. 

So, which film will emerge as the victor? Here’s how the weekend box office showdown might play out: 

1. Star Trek Beyond – $55 million 

Blasting off from 3,800 theaters (including 391 IMAX locations) this weekend, the Paramount/Skydance/Bad Robot threequel is expected to pull in softer-than-usual numbers for the franchise, following the $70 million+ grosses of both 2009’s Star Trek reboot and its sequel, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

Paramount is expecting roughly $50 million across the three-day weekend for the $185 million production. The film boasts returning cast members like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, and John Chu, while experienced action director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6) makes his first mark on the series with Star Trek Beyond. It could climb higher than studio estimates with an added boost from its Comic-Con premiere coupled with strong critical reviews

The film also hits 46 percent of its planned international footprint this weekend as it opens in 37 countries around the world, including Russia, Australia, Germany, and the U.K. The 2009 Star Trek film grossed a lukewarm $127 million from foreign countries, though 2013’s Into Darkness fared better, pulling in $238 million worldwide. 

2. Ice Age: Collision Course – $30 million 

From Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets to The Angry Birds Movie, animated titles are having a box office ball as 2016 carries on. In fact, an animated film has ruled the domestic box office every weekend since the release of Finding Dory on June 17. Ice Age: Collision Course is an interesting case. It’s neither original enough (it’s the fifth film in a 14-year-old series) nor good enough (13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) to justify much interest on a large scale, but it does come on the heels of a successful franchise that has yet to see an individual film gross less than $161 million domestically. For that reason, Collision Course, which hits 3,991 theaters on Friday with a $105 million budget, could push a bit past the studio’s mid-$20 million projection. Its long-term success will largely depend on foreign grosses, $126.6 million of which has already been earned in approximately 50 territories. 

3. The Secret Life of Pets – $26 million 

Holding strong as it heads into its third weekend in wide release, the Illuminations/Universal family flick The Secret Life of Pets is getting closer to joining 2016’s $300 million club. Top animated grossers like Finding Dory and Zootopia crossed that line for Disney earlier this year, and now Pets could give Universal its first $300 million-grosser of 2016 within the next few weeks. 

While Ice Age: Collision Course is gunning for the same audience, Pets arguably had the higher profile ahead of its opening. Collision Course is another installment in an aging franchise, while Pets tapped into a wider audience seeking original stories, opening to the highest gross for an original animated title in history. 

With decent word-of-mouth and a proven track record of defying expectations against healthy competition (it made its record opening relatively soon after Dory‘s June 17 bow), Pets should add another $23-26 million to its total by Sunday. 

4. Ghostbusters – $23 million 

After peaking at the high end of modest expectations with its $46 million opening weekend, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot faces a steep challenge as it attempts to recoup its lofty $144 million production budget. Foregoing a release in the traditionally-lucrative Chinese market, Ghostbusters’ global totals will likely be bolstered by the film’s performance in the U.S. and Canada, where it could end up with more than $130 million by the end of its run — if its legs are as long as prior Feig films, that is. 

As a team, Feig and Ghostbusters star Melissa McCarthy typically drop very little from opening week to sophomore frame, as their previous collaboration, Spy, slipped 46 percent from week one to week two last year. Before that, The Heat, which also starred Sandra Bullock, landed only 36 percent lighter in its second weekend after opening to $39.1 million in 2013. The common thread? Both were released during the summer. While unwarranted internet controversy continues to swarm around the film and its stars, at its core, Ghostbusters is still a big-budget, studio-backed summer event people actively want to see.

The only problem for Ghostbusters, however, is those who’ve seen the film seem far less enthused than the critics; on CinemaScore, audiences awarded the film a B+ grade which, while not terrible, isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement. Similarly, only 57 percent of audiences gave the film a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating less-than-stellar word-of-mouth could play a part in Ghostbusters potentially falling up to 50 percent across its second weekend. 

5. Lights Out – $15 million 

James Wan looks to continue genre dominance as a producer on the new horror film Lights Out. Warner Bros. is distributing the New Line picture, which was reportedly made for under $5 million, to 2,000 theaters this weekend. Wan, who recently directed the $300 million worldwide-earner The Conjuring 2, has a longstanding history of producing small-budget horror titles that go on to gross exponentially more than they cost to make. His name alone has become synonymous with quality horror that audiences want to see

The studio is hoping for a $13-15 million opening for the film, which opens Friday following Thursday night previews, though Wan’s name alone could easily push the film closer to $20 million by the end of its opening frame. 

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