This weekend's box office forecast is anything but murky: "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" is set to become a clear No. 1 hit.
The 3-D animated film will likely debut with around $45 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. That would be a robust start for the sequel, whose predecessor launched with $30.3 million in 2009. (Sony Pictures, which is distributing the film, is predicting a softer opening of around $33 million.)
Three other new films are also hitting theaters nationwide this weekend, though none will gross nearly as much as the second "Cloudy."
After getting off to a decent start in limited release last weekend, the race car flick "Rush" will expand to about 2,300 cinemas and is expected to collect a so-so $10 million.
"Don Jon," actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, and the romantic comedy "Baggage Claim" will probably open with $9 million apiece.
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" is the first animated film to be released in almost two months, after a summer packed with cartoons. With little family competition in the marketplace, the $78-million production is poised for a strong box office run that should rival the $243 million the original film took in worldwide.
Sony Pictures Animation, the studio behind the picture, is coming off somewhat of a disappointment with "The Smurfs 2." Since its release in July, the picture has collected about $307 million globally -- far less than the $563 million the original generated.
"Cloudy 2," which has received less positive reviews than the first film, features the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris and Andy Samberg. The film, loosely inspired by a children's book series, is about genetically modified leftovers that evolve into "foodimals."
Hoping to capitalize on strong reviews, U.S. distributor Universal Pictures decided to launch "Rush" in five theaters last weekend. The movie ended up with a per-theater average of $37,458 -- a good, but not great, result.
Directed by Ron Howard, the film is based on the rivalry between 1970s Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). To help sell the picture before production, Howard attended the American Film Market and met with international distributors in an effort to persuade them to invest in his movie. Eventually, the picture was co-financed for $38 million by Cross Creek Pictures and Exclusive Media.
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, "Don Jon" was quickly acquired by Relativity Media for $4 million -- one of the bigger deals to come out of the festival. The $6-million production was written and directed by Gordon-Levitt, who stars as a New Jersey playboy whose porn addiction gets in the way of his burgeoning relationship with a head-turner (Scarlett Johansson).
At 32, Gordon-Levitt has become one of Hollywood's brightest young stars. In recent years, the actor has appeared in a number of respected indie successes like "(500) Days of Summer" and "50/50" while also drawing the attention of top-tier directors like Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg.
"Baggage Claim" is only the second film from writer-director David Talbert, whose debut came in 2008 with the Katt Williams comedy "First Sunday." First known as a playwright, Talbert went on to write a 2005 novel upon which his latest movie is based.
The Fox Searchlight release, which is aimed at an African American audience, stars Paula Patton as a flight attendant so desperate to get married that she starts dating her ex-boyfriends again. The movie has earned the least-positive reviews of any of the weekend's debuts by far -- notching just a 6% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.