'Cars' looks for fast start at B.O.

“Cars” is poised to pass the box office finish line in first place this weekend, but will it race away with a record?

Tracking puts the toon, first from Pixar since Disney acquired the animation studio, on course to come close to — and potentially beat — the two biggest Pixar bows: “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo,” both of which grossed $70 million.

Those pics are tied for the No. 2 animated opening of all time, a spot “Cars” could steal. “Shrek 2′s” record of $108 million most likely will stand.

John Lasseter-helmed toon, which opens at 3,985 theaters, likely will play a little younger than “Incredibles,” but with its NASCAR tie-in and plenty of in-jokes for adults, it has a good shot at appealing to all auds just like previous Pixar releases.

“The history of Disney/Pixar films has always been that they (appeal to all audiences),” Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said. “The last two were extremely big, and we certainly want to be in that ballpark again.”

The most important mark for “Cars,” however, will be its playability. Previous Pixar pics have had very long legs, with “Incredibles” cuming $261 million and “Nemo” $340 million.

BVI opens “Cars” day-and-date Friday in half a dozen foreign markets, including Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan, with France and Russia bowing next weekend. However, it will hold off in many markets — including the U.K., Spain, Germany and Italy — until after the World Cup.

“Nemo” grossed $525 million internationally, while “The Incredibles” boasted a very healthy $370 million foreign gross.

The fight for No. 2 likely will be much more competitive in the U.S., as “The Omen” tries to stay ahead of “The Break-Up” following its boffo opening Tuesday.

After grossing a record-setting $12.6 million on its opening day — 6/6/06 — horror remake settled down to $4.6 million on Wednesday, while “The Break-Up” grossed $3.4 million.

That puts “The Omen,” which is at 2,723 playdates, on pace to be a solid No. 2 this weekend with a likely gross in the 20s. However, horror pics often fall fast at the box office, and it remains to be seen what impact the unusual gambit of drawing auds to theaters on a Tuesday will have on the weekend.

It’s also uncertain what kind of staying power “The Break-Up” will show; pic had the biggest summer romantic comedy bow of all time with $39 million.

In the only other release this frame, Picturehouse is hoping “A Prairie Home Companion” will prove effective counterprogramming as it bows at 760 locations.

Indie shingle decided not to platform the Robert Altman-helmed adaptation of the NPR radio show to take advantage of publicity by the high-profile cast.

With auds potentially including NPR fans, Altman fans and Lindsay Lohan fans, pic could draw an eclectic group that isn’t otherwise served in the current marketplace.

“This could really appeal to non-regular moviegoers who maybe don’t go to a lot of Hollywood films,” Picturehouse topper Bob Berney said. “They say they want a movie like this. Hopefully they really do.”

Given the relatively small number of screens, a gross in the mid-single digits is likely.

Paramount Classics expands “An Inconvenient Truth,” which has been red hot in its first two weeks of limited release, from 77 to 122 plays.

World Cup fever

Overseas, distribs are taking a cautious approach to launches amid what’s expected to be a decline in patronage in many markets thanks to today’s opening of the monthlong World Cup.

Fox Intl. hasn’t disclosed results from its day-and-date opening of “The Omen” at 4,500-plus playdates. But early numbers showed decent returns in the U.K. with about $1.8 million in its first two days, declining 53%, and in Mexico with about $1.3 million, holding even with its opening day.

A trio of holdover films also will be a factor internationally — Sony’s fourth frame of “The Da Vinci Code,” which has topped $425 million overseas and $600 million worldwide; Fox’s third weekend of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which has gone past $146 million overseas; and Warner’s “Poseidon,” which took in a respectable $23 million internationally last weekend.

“Ice Age: The Meltdown” is opening this weekend in China, its final foreign market. It has cumed a very healthy $439.4 million overseas.

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