The Men in Black are invading theaters this weekend with a mission that others have failed to achieve: knock "The Avengers" off the No. 1 box-office perch.
Sony Pictures' big-budget 3-D sequel "Men in Black 3" is on track to gross around $250 million worldwide over the long Memorial Day weekend, most of which should come from overseas markets.
In the U.S. and Canada, the film is expected to generate about $80 million over the four-day holiday period from Friday through Monday, said people who have seen pre-release tracking surveys.
That would be about twice as much as "The Avengers" is likely to generate over the weekend, dropping it to the likely runner-up spot with roughly $40 million.
Disney and Marvel's heretofore unstoppable hit has so far racked up a stunning $1.2-billion worldwide gross since its debut three weeks ago.
A Sony spokesman said he expected "Men In Black 3" to have a worldwide opening of about $200 million.
The Culver City studio spent nearly $250 million to produce the sequel, along with partner Hemisphere Media Capital, making it one of the most expensive releases of the year. The production of "MIB3," which took place from fall 2009 to spring 2010, was marred by problems with script rewrites prompting a three-month delay in shooting.
In addition, the studios' marketing team faced the challenge of reviving interest in a series that hasn't been seen on the big screen since 2002, when the poorly received "Men in Black 2" was released. That movie grossed $442 million worldwide, considerably less than 1997's original "Men in Black," which collected $589 million.
But all indications are that the marketing campaign for the latest installment has clicked. Will Smith's promotional appearances on talk shows including "Good Morning America" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" over the last couple of weeks helped spur a detectable growth in audience interest, said one person who has seen survey data.
The movie's domestic opening looks to be healthy, though nowhere close to the Memorial Day weekend record of $140 million set by "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" in 2007.
Overseas, "MIB3" will be helped by the worldwide popularity of Smith and foreign audiences' interest in 3-D. Sony flew the movie's cast around the globe for premieres in Seoul, Moscow, Paris, London, Berlin and Madrid, as well as New York City.
The film opens this weekend in 102 foreign countries and is expected to be particularly popular in such fast-growing markets as Russia and China. In China it will premiere on approximately 6,000 3-D screens under a new and more advantageous financial formula that allows the Hollywood studios to keep up to 25% of box office revenue.
If "Men in Black 3" debuts as well as expected, it should ultimately gross more than $700 million globally and be the summer season's first blockbuster since "The Avengers," coming after the big-budget duds "Dark Shadows" and "Battleship."
Also opening this weekend is the low-budget horror movie "The Chernobyl Diaries," which Warner Bros. is releasing for partner Alcon Entertainment. Alcon acquired distribution rights earlier this year to the film, which is produced by "Paranormal Activity" director Oren Peli.
It's expected to have a soft opening of between $10 million and $15 million.