"How to Train Your Dragon 2" will battle it out with another blockbuster sequel, "22 Jump Street," at the US box office this weekend, as the summer film season gets into full swing.
"Dragon" reunites the main characters from 2010's first film but adds a host of new colorful flame-breathing beasts in a 3D spectacular that DreamWorks Animation hopes will enthrall family filmgoers.
"Jump Street" meanwhile has Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum back together as an unlikely pair of undercover drug agents, two years after "21 Jump Street" brought the original TV series to the big screen.
While teens and older audiences could swarm to see the R-rated comedy from Friday night, it will be children and their parents flocking to watch the PG-rated "Dragon" over the weekend.
"'Jump Street' may win Friday, but 'Dragon 2' should carry the weekend, as it's the most anticipated animated film of the summer," said Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The first "Dragon" instalment earned $495 million and two Oscar nominations, and the 3D sequel was enthusiastically received at this year's Cannes Film Festival last month.
Variety said the new movie "breathes fresh fire into the franchise," adding: "And a good thing, too, since DWA desperately needs another toon to cross the half-billion-dollar threshold."
The movie tells the story of Hiccup and Toothless, the young hero and his dragon sidekick from the first movie, after they discover an ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and a mysterious Dragon Rider.
There are some surprises, not least because, unusually for a family movie, the hero lives in a one-parent family.
"I haven't seen many animated films where they deal with something that so many kids in our world deal with .. having parents that have split up," "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harrington, who voices Eret, said at a Beverly Hills press conference ahead of the film's release.
One character, seasoned Viking warrior Gobber, even flirts with coming out as gay at one point.
This was due to an ad lib by Scottish actor and talk show host Craig Ferguson, who added an extra line in the recording studio, when Gobber sees a married couple having a fight.
"The line I had was 'So this is why I never married.' And I ad-libbed the line, 'And there's one other reason'," he told reporters. "I said 'That's a Gobber's coming out."
Whatever the meaning, the line stayed in the final cut.
Bock estimated that the movie, which has an impressive 96 percent critics' approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website, will make about $68 million for the weekend in the US.
"Exciting, emotionally resonant, and beautifully animated, 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' builds on its predecessor's successes just the way a sequel should," was Rotten Tomatoes' assessment on the eve of its release.
"22 Jump Street," which scored 92 percent on the "Tomatometer," meanwhile, should make an estimated $56 million, the Exhibitor Relations analyst said.
Hill -- who had to take emergency PR action barely a week before its release, apologizing for using a homophobic slur -- returns with Tatum as undercover officers Schmidt and Jenko.
"Boasting even more of the bromantic chemistry between its stars -- and even more of the goofy, good-natured humor that made its predecessor so much fun -- 22 Jump Street is the rare sequel that improves upon the original," according to Rotten Tomatoes.