Ride Along 2 Kevin Hart
Courtesy of Universal

Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a box office juggernaut with few equals, but the space opera is getting some stiff competition this weekend when Ice Cube and Kevin Hart re-team for “Ride Along 2.”

The buddy cop comedy is expected to bring in $40 million over the four-day Martin Luther King weekend, according to pre-release tracking. Universal, the studio behind the film, is being more conservative and pegging the opening closer to $30 million. It’s the same holiday period that hosted the first “Ride Along” in 2014; it was a hospitable reception as the film became the second-biggest Martin Luther King weekend opening in history with a $48.6 million haul. Most box office prognosticators believe that will be enough to dethrone “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The fantasy adventure has held first place at the box office for four consecutive weekends. It should do $20 million worth of business over the holiday.

Domestically, “The Force Awakens” is already the highest-grossing film in history with $819.6 million in receipts. Globally, it may not be able to overtake “Avatar” to become the top film ever. It has racked up $1.8 billion, but still has almost a billion dollars to go before it breaks records and no major foreign territories left to open.

“Ride Along 2” bows in approximately 3,175 theaters in North America on Friday. Universal spent $40 million making the movie, which finds the cops played by Cube and Hart trying to unravel a Miami drug ring.

Then there’s Paramount’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” a look at a team of ex-military operators who took on the terrorists who attacked a U.S. diplomatic compound on Sept. 11, 2012. The $50 million production is directed by “Transformers” ringmaster Michael Bay and should do well in “red states.” Though the film has nothing to do with Congress’ investigation into the Obama administration’s handling of security at the embassy, it’s not clear how it will play in Democratic enclaves where Benghazi is closely associated with Hillary Clinton’s epic grilling. A four-day opening of $20 million seems likely. The film will kick off across approximately 2,400 locations.

With “Ride Along 2” and “13 Hours” appealing to older crowds, Lionsgate will try to position the animated comedy “Norm of the North” as the family-friendly alternative. The film centers on a polar bear who flees to New York City after a developer threatens to build condos in his Arctic homeland. The look at the dangers of gentrification cost approximately $18 million to make and was financed by Splash Entertainment, the maker of “Chloe’s Closet” and “Dive Olly Dive.” It debuts across roughly 2,350 locations and should generate $5 million over the holiday weekend.

“The Force Awakens” won’t be the only holdover looking to do some healthy business. “The Revenant” nearly snatched away the crown last weekend when it made $39.8 million in its wide release debut. It should draw crowds through the holiday weekend, propelled by its best picture in a drama win at last weekend’s Golden Globes and the bevy of Oscar nominations it is expected to receive on Thursday morning. The adventure film, which finds Leonardo DiCaprio exacting bloody vengeance on Tom Hardy, could pass “The Force Awakens” and do more than $20 million, as well.

The movie business is off to a strong start thanks to the continued success of “The Force Awakens” and the popularity of “The Revenant.” Domestic ticket sales are up 27% year-over-year and a healthy reception for “Ride Along 2” could help keep that lead. That said, this year’s holiday won’t be able to match the box office bonanza that was “American Sniper.” The Clint Eastwood drama atomized records for a January debut when it opened in wide release to $107.2 million.

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