Will terror take toll on ‘Trade’?

Recent events could affect Par pic's B.O.

As if opening a movie about 9/11 just a month before its fifth anniversary isn’t tricky enough, Paramount, which bowed “World Trade Center” on Wednesday, now faces the dicey dilemma of a real terrorist situation.

Of course, no one knows whether public concern about the foiled plot to blow up airplanes flying between the U.K. and U.S. will affect auds’ willingness to see the Oliver Stone-helmed film, which Par has been marketing with an extremely sensitive touch.

In an unprecedented move for a serious drama, Par opened “WTC” on Wednesday and did $4.4 million. While that’s low for a Wednesday bow, there really aren’t any comparable films, since virtually all other Wednesday openers have been tentpoles or came before a holiday frame.

But based on solid tracking and the Wednesday perf, most expect the pic, which is playing 2,957 theaters, to cume high 20s or low 30s by Sunday. It will likely come in No. 2 for the weekend behind the second frame of “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

“This movie’s performance is about the long haul and how many people will tell their friends they have to go see it,” Rob Moore, Par prexy of distribution, marketing and operations, said of the decision to open the pic on a Wednesday. “That’s why we wanted to get people talking about it early, even if it means we took some money out of the weekend.”

He noted that, per tracking, 80% of opening-night auds said they would “definitely recommend” the pic, which Paramount is hoping will translate into a long run at the B.O.

Surprisingly, 60% were female and 40% were under 25. Moore noted that teenage girls turned out particularly well, nearly matching the number of men over 25.

By contrast, Universal’s 9/11 pic “United 93” drew an overwhelmingly adult aud that was almost evenly split between genders. “World Trade Center” is generating about twice as much interest in pre-release tracking as “United 93,” which bowed to $11.5 million.

Among other openers, Disney’s dance drama “Step Up” is tracking best, almost entirely on the strength of teen girls. Pic opens at 2,467 playdates and should gross low or mid-teens.

Sony and Revolution’s family superhero comedy “Zoom,” which bows at 2,501, is tracking poorly and looks unlikely to even break into the teens.

The Weinstein Co. is hoping that horror pic “Pulse,” which is going out under the Dimension label, will break out beyond the core young male aud showing up in tracking. Pic opens at 2,323 and will likely do high single digits or low teens.

“Talladega Nights” barely beat “World Trade Center” on Wednesday, grossing $4.5 million, and should drop about 50% this weekend, putting it around $24 million. That makes the comedy the presumptive No. 1 unless “World Trade Center” does particularly well.

Overseas, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” will likely come in first for the sixth consecutive week as it expands to Spain.

Rival distribs continue to opt for targeted openings against “Pirates” rather than wide launches.

In limited release in the U.S., Fox Searchlight expands its strong-performing Sundance pickup “Little Miss Sunshine” from 59 theaters to 153.

Sony Pictures Classics opens Brazilian import “The House of Sand” at five in Gotham and L.A.

ThinkFilm starts the rollout of “Half Nelson,” its well-received Sundance pickup about a drug-addicted junior high school teacher, at two plays in New York.

(Dave McNary and Ian Mohr contributed to this report.)

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