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Johnny Depp's 'Transcendence' poised for subdued U.S. launch

Johnny Depp's new artificial-intelligence thriller probably lacks the processing power to top the U.S. box office charts this weekend. 

The $100-million "Transcendence," in which Depp plays a brilliant researcher, is expected to gross $20 million to $22 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys.

That could clear the way for a third-straight victory by "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" or a come-from-behind win for the animated tropical birds comedy "Rio 2." Those films could each add $20 million to $25 million to their respective, already strong box-office hauls.

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Financed by Alcon Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros., "Transcendence" will mark Depp's first film since the ill-fated 2013 Disney epic "Lone Ranger."

Other recent Depp misfires outside the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise include "Dark Shadows" and "The Rum Diary." "Transcendence" could suffer from poor reviews, indicated by a rating of 13% "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday.

Warner Bros. is hoping the film will have strong international appeal similar to that of Guillermo del Toro's $190-million monster and robot movie "Pacific Rim," which performed tepidly in the U.S. but pulled in more than $300 million from overseas. "Transcendence" lands in China, where it is likely to have a significant draw, on the same day of its U.S. release.

China is also getting an exclusive 3-D version of "Transcendence," the directing debut of Christopher Nolan's longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister that also stars Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Rebecca Hall.

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The wild card is the latest faith-based drama "Heaven Is for Real," which opened Wednesday to an estimated $3.7 million and could generate a five-day total of $20 million or more through Sunday.

TriStar Pictures' "Heaven Is For Real," which cost $12 million to make, arrives Easter weekend on the heels of this year's successful Christian movies "Son of God" and "God's Not Dead." 

Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Todd Burpo, "Heaven is For Real" follows a father who tries to share his son's experience of the hereafter during a near-death incident. Whereas "Son of God" and "God's Not Dead" were aimed mainly at the faithful, distributor Sony's TriStar label is hoping "Heaven Is For Real" will appeal to mainstream audiences as well.  

"Heaven Is For Real" stars Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly and was directed and co-written by Randall Wallace.

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Disney's G-rated nature documentary "Bears" will likely saunter forward with around $7 million this weekend, while "A Haunted House 2," the low budget horror-comedy from Open Road Films, is expected to debut to about $10 million. The original "A Haunted House" launched with $18 million in ticket sales on its way to a $40-million domestic total.

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier," Marvel Studios' sequel to 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger," has already crossed the $500-million mark worldwide including $167 million from in the U.S. and Canada. 

"Rio 2," from 20th Century Fox's animation company Blue Sky Studios, opened with $39 million last weekend for a second-place finish and has generated more than $45 million in ticket sales so far at home, with an additional $170 million from overseas.

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ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

Twitter: @rfaughnder

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