By Todd Cunningham
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Universal rolls out Tom Cruise's "Oblivion" on Friday, and the question isn't whether it will win the weekend box office race, but rather, with how much?
It's a safe bet that the sci-fi epic, which co-stars Morgan Freeman and is written and directed by Joseph Kosinski ("Tron Legacy") is not going to match last weekend's $61 million overseas debut. Around $35 million over the three days is what analysts are projecting, but they acknowledge it's tough to gauge the prospects for an original sci-fi project, and Universal sees $30 million as more likely.
"Oblivion" will be in 3,782 theaters, more than 300 of which will be Imax. It's the week's only new wide release. Focus Features is, however, expanding its Ryan Gosling-Bradley Cooper drama "Place Beyond the Pines" from 514 to 1,542 theaters. It cracked the top ten last weekend, with $3.8 million, in its third week.
"Oblivion will be a box-office heat-check for Cruise, whose last film "Jack Reacher" brought in a so-so $80 million domestically and $136 million overseas for Paramount.
"Tom Cruise may not mean what he used to at the box office, but the combination of him and the director of 'Tron Legacy' should be very enticing to fans of the genre," Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analysts Jeff Bock told TheWrap, "and sci-fi adventure is a pretty big genre."
Cruise remains No. 6 on the list of highest-grossing actors on the all-time global box office list, with $3.2 billion. That's pretty impressive, but cast-mate Freeman's films have done even better, having taken in $3.4 billion. Freeman stays busier; he's hit that number with 48 films, while Cruise has made 33.
The studio is hoping the lure of Cruise and Freeman, coupled Kosinski's following, will resonate with older males, who are the target demo. The marketing campaign has focused on TV spots, with a number slotted during the last month's NCAA basketball tournament.
The ads haven't tipped much about the post-apocalyptic plot, which concerns a veteran (Cruise) assigned to extract Earth's remaining resources, who begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself. Olga Kurylenko and Melissa Leo co-star.
The reviews have been good but not great. It has a 58 percent postive rating on both Rotten Tomatoes and Movie Review Intelligence.
The budget on "Oblivion" is around $120 million and it was produced by Kosinski and Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark, the duo behind 2010's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Kosinski's last film, "Tron Legacy," made $172 million domestically for Disney in 2010, and $400 million worldwide.
As with that film and so many others these days, overseas appears to be the path to profitability for "Oblivion." It will open in seven more foreign territories including France this week, after debuting No. 1 in 48 of the 52 markets in which Universal rolled it out last week.