Weekend Box Office Preview: Jack Ryan and Ride Along Lead Rush of New Releases

After a relatively quiet few days at the box office last week, four films will unspool this weekend. From Paramount's hope for a rebooted Jack Ryan franchise to Universal's buddy cop comedy Ride Along, the studios are looking to get 2014 started on the right financial foot. However there's no guarantee it will all be smooth sailing.

"Ride Along" stars Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. (Credit: Universal)

Ride Along 

Overview:

While Jack Ryan will be playing to action fans, Universal (a subsidiary of Comcast  (NASDAQ: CMCSK  ) ) will be targeting those looking for a laugh. The comedy features Kevin Hart as a high school security guard who, in an attempt to impress his future police office brother-in-law (Ice Cube), agrees to go with him on a ride along ... with, of course, disastrous results.

Impact on studio:

Universal has already started 2014 with a bang courtesy of last week's monster opening of Lone Survivor. The true story of a doomed team of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines expanded into over 2,500 theaters last week and took in $37.8 million at the box office. Despite being shut out of this week's Oscar nominations, the film beat all financial expectations and earned some serious money for its studio. It would be an amazing start for Universal's financial year to once again have the top film.

Prediction:

This will also be an interesting experiment as it will be the first time Kevin Hart is really opening a (non-standup-comedy-based) movie partially on his name alone, and it's been a while since Ice Cube headlined a film as well. Both will be looking to prove something. Yet, combined they could draw a strong crowd willing to overlook the scathing reviews. Ride Along will battle Jack Ryan for the top spot but looks to have the advantage and will probably net around $30 million before the long weekend is over.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Overview:

The most high-profile release of the group is arguably Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The thriller hands the baton off to Chris Pine as Tom Clancy's iconic literary spy and hopes he'll be able to give the series a spark. The movie marks the first Jack Ryan-centric film NOT to be based on a book by the popular author, who sadly passed away late last year. Pine plays a younger version of Ryan who is drafted into the CIA by a veteran agent played by Kevin Costner. Once on the inside, Ryan finds himself on the trail of a Russian millionaire (Kenneth Brangh) bent on taking down the U.S. economy, while also coming to the disturbing realization that he may not have been looped in on the whole truth. (You can learn more about the movie by clicking here.)

Impact on studio:

From a business perspective, this is an important property for Paramount (a subsidiary of Viacom  (NASDAQ: VIA  ) ). The Jack Ryan series has been dormant since 2002, but had previously been a franchise player for the studio. If this is a success, Paramount has all the pieces in place to make it into their next major tentpole player. But that's a big if as franchises aren't usually born in January. The movie was actually shifted to this month after Paramount was forced to delay The Wolf of Wall Street to Christmas Day and had to move Shadow Recruit off of its original Dec. 18 release date so as not to pit the two against each other.

The other thing making this film so important to Paramount is the under-performance of Paranormal Activity's spinoff The Marked Ones. Marketed to the growing Latino audience, the film opened on Jan. 3 to the lowest opening weekend in the Paranormal series history with $18 million. While made for just $5 million, the movie isn't actually a flop, but considering the other films earned between $29 million and $40 million on their opening weekends, executives were understandably freaked out by the numbers. Having two back-to-back misses in such a short period of time would be harmful to the studio and potentially Viacom's stock.

Prediction:

Because of the pressure put on it by Paranormal's performance, this is now a higher risk, but higher reward venture. A $25 million haul over four days is likely for the four-day holiday, but at one point estimates topped $30 million. That should tell you everything you need to know.

Devil's Due 

Overview:

A newlywed couple quickly realizes their unplanned pregnancy may be the work of darker forces after the husband begins to notice a violent change in his wife's personality.

Impact on studio:

Horror films utilizing the "found" footage film technique used to be a guaranteed way to drive audiences to the theater but Fox (a subsidiary of News Corp (NASDAQ: NWS  )  is probably revising its estimates a little after The Marked Ones collapsed two weeks ago. Luckily Fox's 2014 slate is not top-heavy and its big hits are staggered throughout the year, so they aren't banking a ton on this release. It shouldn't cause too much of a impact should it not put up big numbers.

Prediction:

If Devil's Due falters (as many expect), it will be a sign to the industry that horror films' hold on audiences may be waning. After all, this time last year Universal's hit Mama opened to $28.1 million. Due will like make half of that ... at best. Although a clever viral video campaign by the studio involving a fake "demonic" baby has definitely help to up the movie's visibility.

The Nut Job

Overview:

Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Nesson, and Katherine Heigl are among the actors that lend their voice to this animated adventure that follows a squirrel and a rat who scheme to rob a nut store ahead of the long winter.

Impact on studio:

Nut Job is the first animated film from distributor Open Road, which to this point has relied mostly on adult thrillers. A joint venture of AMC (NYSE: AMC  )  and Regal Cinemas (NYSE: RGC  ) , its most successful picture so far is 2012's The Grey (also starring Nesson), which drew just over $50 million. The bar isn't set extraordinarily high for this one.

Prediction:

Open Road ended 2013 on a down note thanks to the massive misfire that was Justin Bieber's Believe, so they could really use a hit here to help get them back on track. Given the three-day weekend and the 3D surcharge, a four-day haul of $15 million is possible.

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