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Each week, I will highlight the movies that are opening wide in most markets over the weekend and take a stab at guessing who will come out on top of the box office.

Opening April 22nd, 2011:

Water for Elephants, starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz. Directed by Francis Lawrence.

Rating: PG-13.
Length: 2 hours and 2 minutes.
Synopsis: A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet (via
What are critics saying?: Reviews are coming in slowly (only 13 are in as of this writing), but what's been said so far isn't very good. Most of the complaints seem to stem from that fact that the charm of the book doesn't present itself in the film, and as consequence the movie's missing an essential spark. Speaking of spark, the chemistry between the romantic leads (Pattinson and Witherspoon) isn't lighting up the screen either. The number of metaphors for sleep employed in these reviews tell me that it's not the most thrilling movie, but the criticism I would lay the most stock in is the drop in quality from book to screen. It's often that novel adaptations don't match the quality of the source material, and this looks to be another example of that. I haven't read the book yet, but I've heard much better things about it than I have about this movie.
Box office prospects: Predictions have Water for Elephants coming in third at the box office this weekend, making $18 million. As the movie has a built-in audience and the cast features a heartthrob and two Oscar winners, one would think the film would draw a bit more, but given that its appeal skews older, this is probably a nice chunk of change. It's estimated that Reese Witherspoon's paycheck for the movie is a lot smaller than those from her most recent films, so maybe the budget is tiny enough that an $18 million opening could be considered a success.
Want to see it?: Find showtimes by clicking here.

Watch the trailer for Water for Elephants:

Madea's Big Happy Family, starring Tyler Perry, Loretta Devine and Bow Wow. Directed by Tyler Perry.

Rating: PG-13.
Length: 1 hour and 46 minutes.
Synopsis: Madea jumps into action when her niece, Shirley, receives distressing news about her health. All Shirley wants is to gather her three adult children around her and share the news as a family (via
What are critics saying?: Tyler Perry very rarely screens his movies in advance for critics, much less his audience-friendly Madea movies. Big Happy Family is no different, so there are no reviews floating around yet. In a way, it doesn't matter: these movies are virtually critic-proof, making plenty of money no matter what the critics may say.
Box office prospects: A $29 million opening is expected, placing it atop the box office for the weekend and narrowly beating out Rio. Like I said, these Madea movies are critic-proof: Tyler Perry has accumulated quite the built-in audience, and they'll see these movies no matter what. While I'm not convinced it'll beat Rio, I have no doubt that it'll rake in plenty of money.
Want to see it?: Find showtimes by clicking here.

Watch the trailer for Madea's Big Happy Family:

African Cats, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey.

Rating: G.
Length: 1 hour and 29 minutes.
Synopsis: A nature documentary centered on two cat families and how they teach their cubs the ways of the wild (via
What are critics saying?: As it's a documentary, reviews aren't as plentiful as they are for your average movie, but from the reviews that have surfaced, African Cats seems to be a rather light romp in the world of the African animals. Some call it story-driven, as the directors have crafted a makeshift story in following these two families. Whether that quality adds of takes away from the spectacle, critics are split. It seems that this is a documentary fit for a younger audience, making the animals relateable by telling a story rather than observing them. The reviews so far don't match up to the more favorable reviews of its Disneynature predecessors, Earth and Oceans.
Box office prospects: Predicted to make around $8 million this weekend, African Cats looks to somewhat take advantage of its Earth Day opening (when proceeds will go to benefit the animals the film showcases), but trail behind the openings of Earth and Oceans. That could be attributed to its more focused subject and lessened spectacle.
Want to see it?: Find showtimes by clicking here.

Watch the trailer for African Cats:

Which movie has the most buzz? Madea's Big Happy Family is positively owning Facebook, boasting fans in the millions. This is proof that the movies have an iron-clad fanbase and promise a nice gross for this one. On Twitter, Water for Elephants has the most buzz, probably due to excited Robert Pattinson/Twilight fans. With the power young people have demonstrated to hold on Twitter (see every Justin Bieber trending topic), it's no wonder that a movie starring their chief heartthrob is getting a ton of buzz. Whether that will translate into a bigger than expected box office take is uncertain, but the fact that Pattinson's non-Twlight movies, such as Remember Me, haven't exactly made bank either doesn't make me think those fangirls and boys will mob the theaters unless he's sparkling and sporting vampire fangs.

What am I going to see? I'm not too interested in any of the films: I'd prefer to read Water for Elephants before seeing it, I haven't seen any of the Tyler Perry movies, and I prefer to watch documentaries on the small screen. Maybe, though, I'll finally get to see Jane Eyre, as it's made its way to a close enough theater.

Who will come out on top? I have full faith in Tyler Perry's ability to sell tickets, but I think Rio's got another upset up its sleeve. The animated movie still have a lot of gas left in it, and I think it will end up topping the box office this weekend, Big Happy Family coming in a close second. Water for Elephants may outperform its expected haul, but I don't see it being much of a contender for the top two slots.

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