B.O. cram session

Quartet of rookies chasing 'Cars'

Welcome to summer’s most competitive weekend.

For the first time since “Mission: Impossible III” kicked off the season, there isn’t a single new film poised to dominate the frame. Instead, four midsized pics debut today, all looking to do battle with the second weekend of “Cars.”

Universal’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and Paramount’s “Nacho Libre” have the best tracking of the openers; they look likely to come in close to each other somewhere in the 20s.

Studios may end up wishing they hadn’t opened the pics competitively, though, as both are gunning for the same young male audience.

WB romancer “The Lake House” also is showing some strength, but with older women, while “Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties” probably will attract only families.

Amidst all the competition, biggest question of the weekend may be how “Cars” holds after its $60.1 million bow.

Pixar-produced toon has led on its first three weekdays, grossing $6.4 million Monday and $5.7 million Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing its cume to $78 million. Proportionate to its opening, that’s roughly on par with Pixar’s last summer opener, “Finding Nemo.”

Disney is hoping that means “Cars” will show the same holding power as “Nemo” or “The Incredibles,” which declined 34% and 29%, respectively, on their second weekends. A drop in that ballpark would put “Cars” in the high 30s or low 40s.

But if it has a bigger fall than past Pixar toons and “Nacho” or “Furious” has a very strong frame, the race for the top of the weekend chart could be tight.

BVI is expanding “Cars” into France, Russia, Hungary and the Ukraine in its first European openings. As of Wednesday, “Cars” had grossed $8 million from 508 screens in Australia and five midsize Asian markets.

“Nacho Libre” has the biggest bow this weekend, at 3,070 theaters. Jack Black starrer is a follow-up to “Napoleon Dynamite” for filmmaking team Jared and Jerusha Hess. Biggest opening for a Black comedy was “The School of Rock,” which took in $19.6 million. With the addition of “Dynamite” fans, Par is hoping to do at least a little better with “Nacho Libre.”

Pic had been scheduled for June 2, but Par moved it back to avoid competing with another comedy, “The Break-Up.”

Third “Fast and the Furious” pic has no major stars, leading Universal to significantly more modest expectations than the last entry, which bowed to $50.5 million. Studio likely will be pleased if the actioner, which opens at 3,026 playdates, does half that.

UIP is launching “Tokyo Drift” day-and-date in Australia, the U.K. and Thailand. The original “Fast” showed only moderate overseas traction with $67 million five years ago, while “2 Fast 2 Furious” grossed $109 million internationally in 2003.

Pic won’t open in Japan until mid-September and is being held back in the four key Euro markets until after the World Cup.

WB has a tradition of counterprogramming with romantic pics aimed at women, a trend it’s continuing with “The Lake House.” Last year’s entry, “Must Love Dogs,” opened to $12.9 million. With the star power of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, Warner undoubtedly hopes to do a little better with “Lake House,” which bows at 2,645.

The “Garfield” sequel, which is playing at 2,945 locations, isn’t tracking well with any audience segment and likely fall well short of the original “Garfield’s” $21.7 million debut in 2004.

Fox is bowing the pic in Brazil, the Philippines and Singapore.

Distribs continue to opt for caution overseas due to the massive distraction of the second weekend of soccer’s World Cup. New releases are limited to a few markets as counterprogrammers.

Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” likely will lead for the fifth straight weekend as it closes in on $500 million overseas. It has cumed $461.6 million overseas through Wednesday.

Fox’s “The Omen” is expected to decline after taking in $31.5 million in its first six days; its fourth weekend of “X-Men: The Last Stand” will be a factor, thanks to openings in South Korea and Taiwan.

Warner Bros. is expanding “Poseidon,” now with about $60 million overseas from 24 markets, into France, Argentina and South Africa in hopes of salvaging a disappointing domestic performance.

In limited release Stateside, Paramount Classics expands thus-far boffo docu “An Inconvenient Truth” from 122 to 404 theaters, testing its playing power outside major cities for the first time.

IFC unspools Sundance favorite documentary “Wordplay” at two theaters in Gotham.

ThinkFilm opens “Loverboy,” in which Kevin Bacon directs wife Kyra Sedgwick, at four plays in New York, L.A. and Philadelphia.

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