After a couple of weeks of super weak titles, Contagion is the first A-lister vehicle in quite some time. You’d think summer would be loaded with them, but you can’t really call The Help or Rise of the Planet of the Apes star vehicles. Then again, look at the business Larry Crowne did. That is to say – very little. Forty years ago, a film like this would be a huge event picture ala The Towering Inferno. Now it’s a borderline art film. So let’s talk box office, shall we?

Contagion is a weird film because it’s of a genre that doesn’t really happen much any more. It’s a disaster film, but one of a different scale and tenor than – say – The Swarm (I mentioned The Swarm to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and dared Jeremy Smith to when he talked to Steven Soderbergh for AICN. His interview is excellent, but The Swarm is one of the most fascinatingly terrible films ever made.I can’t recommend it per se, and it’s obnoxiously long but if you’ve got a spare two hours and thirty five minutes, it’s on Netflix Instant). Matt Damon is a good name to have, but he’s not a guaranteed opener – The Informant did $33 domestic. Warner Brothers is going with an off-schedule release date hoping for a good no competition weekend, and a word of mouth hit. Both are likely with this strong film, which I liked.

Same goes for Warrior. Off season, but the word of mouth on it is striking . It’s got a fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes (for the moment) that is higher than that of Contagion. But it also stars two up and comers, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, and neither have a great following of yet (though Hardy’s stock has been on the rise since Bronson). And though the fan community has embraced Hardy for his work in Christopher Nolan‘s Inception (and his upcoming role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises), that’s probably not enough for more than a good but not great opening. Perhaps for this one there will be a word of mouth build, and when sports films click (think Remember the Titans or The Blind Side) they can play long. But Mixed Marial Arts is not that popular a sport, and there are some questions if it translates well to the big screen. We shall see.

There’s also two other films opening wide this weekend: Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star and Creature. With both likely to do less than five million this weekend, it’s probably best to pretend they don’t exist.

So let’s do a weekend prediction thingy, shall we?

  1. Contagion - $22.5 Million
  2. Warrior – $11.7 Million
  3. The Help – $9.5 Million
  4. The Debt – $5.9 Million
  5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - $5.5 Million

What do you want to see this weekend?