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'Straight Outta Compton' expected to be another win for Universal Pictures

'Straight Outta Compton' expected to be another win for Universal Pictures
A still from Universal Pictures' "Straight Outta Compton." From left to right: Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. as Ice Cube. (Jaimie Trueblood / Universal Studios)

Universal Pictures is expected to score another hit at the box office this week with the release of its critically acclaimed musical biopic "Straight Outta Compton."

The film, co-financed by Legendary Pictures, could debut with $33 million to $43 million, according to people familiar with pre-release audience surveys. Universal has a more modest forecast in the mid-to-high $20-million range.

Still, analysts believe the movie could help lift the box office out of its late summer doldrums.

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The summer box office cooled in August after a slew of films, including superhero reboot "Fantastic Four," failed to lure many moviegoers. However, year-to-date, the industry is still up about 7% but down 27% from the same period last year, according to research firm Rentrak.

"I think it's definitely going to turn August around a bit," said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "It's coming at a time where it's absolutely needed."

"Straight Outta Compton," which cost $28 million to make, follows the iconic rap group N.W.A from its scrappy beginnings in the mid-'80s to its unlikely success and death of member Eazy-E. N.W.A members Dr. Dre (Andre Young) and Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson) co-produced the film.

"There are so many important elements in the story: rags to riches, the American dream ... I couldn't think of a better story to tell," director F. Gary Gray told The Times at the film's L.A. premiere on Monday. "We already succeeded with this film. The box office isn't going to matter 100 years from now."

Most of the cast is relatively unknown: Cube's son O'Shea Jackson Jr. plays his father, Corey Hawkins plays Dre, Jason Mitchell plays Eazy-E, Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge plays MC Ren.

Still, it's generated a lot of buzz, thanks in large part to a successful marketing campaign that began in February at the Grammy Awards with a promotional spot featuring Dre and Cube revisiting their hometown of Compton.

There was also a strong social media push on Facebook, where users could take their photos and replicate the infamous logo from "Straight Outta Compton" but could replace Compton with the location they are from.

"Word of mouth is really going to propel this," Contrino added. "I think it will hang on for a couple of weeks and become something of a must-see, even for people who aren't huge fans of the music."

Music biopics tend to be successful at the box office, but recently "Jersey Boys," which collected $47 million domestically last year, failed to deliver at the mainstream box office.

But "Love and Mercy," a biopic about the Beach Boys released in June, has ranked as the highest grossing specialty release since Memorial Day. It is the second highest grossing independent release of the summer. To date, it has made $12.3 million in the U.S. and Canada.

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FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 12, 10:38 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that "Love and Mercy" has "failed to deliver." It has actually been doing well as a specialty release since its June debut.
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"Straight Outta Compton" tracking is strong, especially among African American and white male audiences. The film has already racked up a solid 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Universal has already had a record year filled with hits including "Jurassic World," "Fifty Shades of Grey," "Furious 7," "Pitch Perfect 2" and "Minions." Last week, the studio announced that it grossed $5.53 billion at the worldwide box office, marking the highest-grossing year ever for a studio in industry history.

Meanwhile, fellow new box-office offering "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." could debut with up to $16 million. Warner Bros.' action-adventure film, based on the 1960s espionate TV series, is expected to make up to $16 million.

For more news on the entertainment industry, follow me @saba_h on Twitter.

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