Ready Player One may have trouble reigniting that old Spielberg magic at the box office

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Sep 16, 2019, 7:51 PM EDT (Updated)

Even though it’s come with a deftly executed marketing campaign filled with callbacks to every movie trope Steven Spielberg helped make great in the first half of his career, Ready Player One may not open to the kind of event-movie box office that Spielberg’s biggest hits have mustered.

While the future-retro dystopian action film will enjoy a long opening weekend thanks to its Thursday release ahead of Easter, analysts are tracking it for a “sluggish” opening box office of $35 million plus, according to The Hollywood Reporter. If that happens, it'll come in significantly beneath the $50 million early take that Warner Bros. was eyeing.

There’s still almost a month’s worth of promotional opportunity ahead, though, and the movie is expected to get some buzz with millennials (and younger) with a last-minute promotional push, which includes a heavy presence at the SXSW festival for a rumored early screening ahead of its theatrical release.

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In terms of plot, Ready Player One takes Ohio teen Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) on a hunt for a coveted prize — Anorak's Easter Egg — that rewards whomever claims it with billions in prize money, in addition to full ownership of OASIS, the VR world that helps many of the world’s impoverished people forget about the real one. But Watts and his friends are up against corporate competition: Innovative Online Industries (IOI) and its leader, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

Even without any late marketing surge, Ready Player One at least seems tailor-made to draw in 30-and-up moviegoers, who lived through many of the pop culture touchstones the movie (and its ad campaign) are referencing in abundance. Trailers for the film have been loaded with nostalgic nods to everything from video games to music to horror movie and comic book icons from the 1980s and 1990s, signaling to fans that this movie aims to rekindle a very Spielberg type of moviegoing thrill.

Regardless of how it performs through its long opening weekend, Spielberg’s VR-themed thriller will be upon us before you know it: Ready Player One hits theaters on March 29.