Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Pacific Rim

Legendary Pictures

For Pacific Rim, the moment of truth has arrived: Will the monsters-vs.-robots movie bomb, or will it surprise at the weekend box office?

The Guillermo Del Toro-directed smashup opens in preview screenings Thursday night. It arrives with a hefty price tag, reportedly as high as $200 million, the worst business buzz since, well, last weekend's The Lone Ranger—and just maybe a sliver of hope.

On Tuesday, Variety said Pacific Rim's box-office prospects were "looking grim," and reported that the movie, with more battles than A-list stars, was on track for a disastrous Friday-Sunday gross as low as $25 million.

A day later, said Hollywood was "brac[ing]" for Pacific Rim to be its third high-profile summer bomb in as many weeks, after Channing Tatum's White House Down and the aforementioned Lone Ranger.

The negative buzz led to document the agita of fanboys said to be acutely distressed that the Adam Sandler sequel, Grown Ups 2, also opening in previews Thursday night, was polling better than Pacific Rim.    

But the needle appeared to move in the monsters' favor on Thursday morning with advance ticket-seller Fandango noting that Pacific Rim was its users' No. 1 must-see movie of the weekend. (E! News and Fandango are both divisions of NBCUniversal.)

Even more encouraging, Fandango reported Pacific Rim was outselling World War Z at the same point in the two films' run-ups to opening night. The comparison is key in that the Brad Pitt zombie movie is the reigning patron saint of bad-box-office-buzz movies; World War Z was expected to disappoint in ticket sales until it came up with, one, pretty-good reviews, and, two, a $66 million opening weekend.

About the most bullish projection out there right now on Pacific Rim, which itself has generated strong critical support, is a three-day, $41 million debut as called by That-sized number helped G.I. Joe: Retaliation save face this past spring, and it would do the same for Pacific Rim, putting the film in a presumed dogfight for No. 1 in the weekend standings with Grown Ups 2 and the blockbuster holdover, Despicable Me 2.   

Overseas, Wendy Mitchell, editor of Screen International, said via email that the kaiju-referencing Pacific Rim should do well in Japan, the globe's third-biggest movie market, regardless of how well it does here. (Kaiju is more or less the Japanese word for giant movie monster, à la Godzilla.) But the rest of the world is another matter; the rest of the world could also be waiting on the answer to the Pacific Rim question.

"Typically this is exactly the kind of film that can perform better internationally than domestically—it's all action spectacle…," Mitchell said, "However, if the film flops in the U.S. that negative buzz goes global quickly in the age of the Internet."

So, no, no pressure, this moment-of-truth thing.

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