I hope you're ready, because this weekend's box office pits mankind's troubled past directly against a disturbing dystopian future.
Though Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) Paramount projects its $125 million depiction of Noah will win in its debut weekend by grossing roughly $30 million to $33 million, any outperformance from Lions Gate's (NYSE:LGF) reigning champion, Divergent, could make for a close race for first.
Even with its comparatively modest $85 million budget, Divergent easily led last weekend's box office by collecting a solid $54.6 million in the U.S., or more than triple the disappointing $17 million earned by Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Muppets Most Wanted. Lions Gate's futuristic film also earned an impressive "A" CinemaScore from polled audiences -- 50% of whom also said they hadn't read the best-selling novel on which Divergent was based -- stoking the hope positive word of mouth will help it maintain its momentum.
The end goal for Lions Gate, of course, is for Divergent to improve on the steep 60%+ second-week plunges experienced by both Twilight and The Hunger Games in 2008 and 2012, respectively. If Divergent follows in the footsteps of Lions Gate's previous franchises, it'll "only" add between $20 million and $23 million to its domestic tally over the next three days. Still, that'd be nothing to sneeze at and likely good for a solid second place.
Noah's not sinking
But what does that say of the prospects for Viacom's Noah, which not only cost 47% more to produce than Divergent, but is also expected to gross 42% less in its domestic opening weekend? Does this mean Noah is doomed to fail on the big screen?
Consider international audiences, which could be poised to buoy Noah in a big way. The biblical epic has already seen $22 million in sales from just four countries: Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and Russia. By tonight, Noah will have launched in at least two dozen more countries. If the first four prove indicative of a broader worldwide trend, Noah could be deemed a smashing success by the time it exits theaters a few months from now.
Then again, keep in mind Disney Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier is simultaneously rolling out in 32 international territories this weekend, and that initial list doesn't include Mexico, Australia, or Russia. If Winter Soldier ends up as disruptive a force overseas as Disney Marvel's Iron Man 3 last year, that means Noah could still have its work cut out for it attracting the attention of superhero fans around the world.
Sabotage will implode
Meanwhile, the only other wide release hitting theaters tonight is Open Road Films' Sabotage, which questionably brings back an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger for some good old fashioned R-rated action.
Unfortunately, what little buzz the film has received so far has been largely negative, with the film earning a dismal 19% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, with nearly every review on the site panning Sabotage for its nonsensical plot and excessive gore, I wouldn't be surprised if the film struggles to break $10 million this weekend.
To Sabotage's credit, however, it does come from director David Ayer, who managed to turn 2012's End of Watch into a relative success with a minuscule $7 million budget. We don't have an official budget number from Open Road Films for Sabotage just yet, but if it's anywhere in End of Watch's neighborhood, it won't take much to for the studio to turn a small profit.
Your turn to be an analyst
Now that you've heard what I think, I'd love for you to weigh in! Is Noah going to be a big-budget mistake for Viacom? Can Divergent hold up well for Lions Gate? What will these films mean for the financial future of their companies? Not sure how to answer? We have just the thing: The Motley Fool's free guide to getting started investing in top media names such as Disney and Warner. Click here to get your copy now -- it's 100% free.
Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.