Box Office Preview: Why 'Ride Along' & 'Lone Survivor' Will Vie for No. 1

Ride Along is set for a strong start at the weekend box office. Image source: Comcast Universal

Despite plenty of hard-hitting competition at this weekend's box office, the two biggest domestic winners should come from the same company.

Specifically, I think Comcast's  (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) Universal Studios will not only win the top spot with its PG-13 comedy Ride Along, but should also seal second place with the continued success of its R-rated action thriller Lone Survivor.

Even though Ride Along is "only" hitting 2,662 theaters, the buddy-adventure seems to have piqued movie-goers' interest through its combination of two well-liked actors in Ice Cube (who also served as the film's co-producer) and comedian Kevin Hart. And remember, the last time Kevin Hart and Director Tim Story teamed up was for 2012's Think Like a Man, which gathered a monstrous $33.6 million from just 2,052 theaters in its own debut. As a result, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Ride Along handily exceeds preliminary estimates calling for $30 million to $34 million in gross ticket sales.

If Ride Along underperforms even a little, however, there's a good chance Comcast's reigning champion in Lone Survivor could win the weekend. After all, Lone Survivor not only earned a surprising $37.8 million last weekend, but also should benefit from overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth thanks to receiving a rare "A+" CinemaScore from exiting audiences. And even though Lone Survivor got snubbed for a widely expected Best Picture Oscar nomination yesterday, it still collected two sound-related nods and should only experience a minor decline in sales this weekend.

Don't count the competition out

But don't get me wrong; This doesn't mean other box office competitors will just roll over. 

Viacom's (NASDAQ: VIAB  ) Paramount, for one, has high hopes for its $60 million revival of Tom Clancy's most famous character in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which hits 3,387 theaters this weekend. The last time Viacom tried its hand at a Jack Ryan film involved plunking down $68 million to produce The Sum of All Fears, which grabbed No. 1 in 2002 with a solid $31.2 million opening.

But while Viacom may enjoy a broader audience thanks to Shadow Recruit's PG-13 rating, any overlaps with movie-goers who instead opt to see Lone Survivor could mute its success.

Next, The Grey and End of Watch creator Open Road Films is also set to take its first stab at 3-D animation with The Nut Job, which cost roughly $42 million to produce and arrives in 3,427 theaters this weekend.

However, given the enduring success of Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) $150-million eighth-week animated holdover in Frozen, it's hard to imagine The Nut Job bringing in more than $15 million this weekend. In fact, considering Frozen also collected two Oscar nominations for Disney Thursday -- one for Best Animated Feature and the other for Best Original Song with "Let It Go" -- I wouldn't be surprised if Disney even enjoys a small increase in sales for Frozen over the next three days from last weekend's $14.7 million. 

Finally, News Corp's (NASDAQ: NWS  ) 20th Century Fox could win big with Devil's Due, which will largely have a captive audience as the only new wide release in the horror niche. I wouldn't expect Devil's Due to vie for the top over any of the aforementioned films, but it should easily prove a financial success for News Corp with its comparatively minuscule $7 million production budget. 

I'll be sure to touch base as we go to see how everybody's faring this weekend. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the show.

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