In a perfect case of timing over sheer budgetary might, this weekend's box office promises two very different takes on life after death.
At first glance, it's easy to assume an easy win for Transcendence from Alcon Entertainment and Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. The special-effects-heavy sci-fi thriller not only boasts an estimated $100 million budget and Johnny Depp as the headliner, but also stands as the only film entering wide release in more than 3,400 theaters this weekend. But early tracking pegs Transcendence "only" grossing between $20 million and $25 million this weekend, which means it could face stiff competition for the top spot.
Perhaps the most unexpected of those competitors is Sony (NYSE:SNE) TriStar's $12 million effort in Heaven Is for Real, which opens in just 2,417 theaters this weekend and already gathered $3.7 million from its U.S. debut on Wednesday. The touching adaptation of Pastor Todd Burpo's book of the same name tells the story of his son's brush with death and -- most intriguingly -- his subsequent, inexplicable description of Heaven.
Considering its early numbers, an "A" CinemaScore from polled audiences, and that Sony purposefully lined up the launch of Heaven Is for Real leading up to Easter in the U.S., don't be surprised if the faith-based film manages to tack on another $20 million by Monday.
Don't count out the holdovers
But we also can't forget last week's champions in Disney (NYSE:DIS) Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Rio 2 from News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) subsidiary Blue Sky Studios.
Disney's comic book-based sequel is already on a roll. After setting a new April debut record two weekends ago at $95 million, Winter Soldier once again grabbed the top spot last weekend with $41.3 million. Assuming a similar third-weekend drop as both its 2011 predecessor and last year's Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier should arrive somewhere in the $20 million to $21 million range. As it stands, Winter Soldier has already grossed nearly $503 million worldwide, proving itself a massive hit for Disney even given its lofty $170 million budget.
Meanwhile, Rio 2 opened reasonably strong for News Corp last weekend at $39.3 million, and should benefit from its status as the newest family-centric movie on the big screen right now -- Disney's Muppets Most Wanted and DreamWorks' Mr. Peabody & Sherman are already approaching their fifth and seventh weekends, respectively.
Keeping in mind the first Rio fell just 32.9% in its own second weekend three years ago, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Rio 2 flies to the top this time with $25 million. That'd be great for News Corp, which shelled out $103 million for the animated movie and has already enjoyed nearly $171 million in global box office receipts.
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It's not too often you see a close four-way battle for first place at the weekend box office, so you can bet I'll touch base throughout the weekend to see how each movie is faring.
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Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DreamWorks Animation and 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.