'Disturbia' appears likely leader

Six new wide releases will careen into multiplexes this weekend, making for an uncharacteristically crowded mid-April frame as companies try to avoid competing with the blockbuster summer sequels ahead.

Four R-rated pics vying for similar demos make the movie race even tighter.

Of the new crop, Paramount’s “Disturbia,” starring Shia LaBeouf in a sort of “Rear Window” twist for teens, could come out on top.

Thriller is tracking well with both male and female demos, and its PG-13 rating should help draw young folks to the 2,925 theaters in which pic will play.

Among other new openers, Sony’s “Perfect Stranger,” a racy, R-rated thriller starring Halle Berry and Bruce Willis, should also make a run for the top of the charts. It rolls into 2,661 theaters over the weekend.

Fox is taking “Pathfinder,” a fantasy battle pic pitting Vikings vs. Native Americans, into under 1,800 runs. Movie could conceivably pick up biz on the heels of another battle epic that’s wooed auds, Warner Bros.’ “300,” which remains a player over the weekend as a holdover.

Away from the major studio pics, Lionsgate will roll out its acquisition “Slow Burn,” with an ensemble featuring Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Taye Diggs and Mekhi Phifer.

Gunning for a similar crowd will be actioner “Redline,” which is aimed at urban gearheads. Upstart indie banner Chicago Pictures will open the movie in about 1,600 theaters. Release is the first for the company, headed by real estate investor Daniel Sadek, who produced and, in a novel twist, cast his personal collection of luxury cars in the pic.

One wild card in the mix will be the animated “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” movie based on the Cartoon Network skein, from beleaguered indie distrib First Look.

Pic, booked in 877 theaters, is the first to roll out from the banner since it recently announced its acquisition last month by Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millennium Films.

Millennium’s “Lonely Hearts,” starring Salma Hayek, John Travolta and James Gandolfini will hit 23 screens this weekend through Samuel Goldwyn Films.

And making the market even more crowded, Miramax moves its Richard Gere vehicle “The Hoax” to more than 400 screens from its roughly 200-screen launch.

Paramount Vantage platforms its Mike White-directed comedy “Year of the Dog,” starring Molly Shannon.

Concentration of pics playing could spell bad news for any holdovers that haven’t popped yet, including the Weinstein Co.’s “Grindhouse.”

Par’s “Blades of Glory,” a No. 1 for two frames straight, should continue to move ducats.

O’seas business

On the foreign front, moviegoing should stay lively following back-to-back frames in which both “300” and “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” have grossed more than $30 million. Warners’ “300” should clear the $200 million mark in overseas grosses this weekend while U’s “Bean” sequel had cumed $106 million as of Wednesday, including $31 million in the U.K. and $16 million in Germany.

The biggest competition to that duo should come from Sony’s day-and-date release of Revolution’s “Perfect Stranger” in 75% of the world’s territories, with launches in more than three dozen markets including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.

Though neither Bruce Willis nor Halle Berry have scored a big hit recently, Sony believes the combo of stars, genre and storyline carry enough clout outside the U.S. to merit a worldwide launch. “Perfect Stranger” came in first in France on its opening day on Wednesday, topping the launch of Danny Boyle’s sci-fier “Sunshine.”

“There’s not a lot competition in the market for adult thrillers right now,” said Jay Sands, senior VP of Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. “We think it’s a good idea to get this out before the tentpoles start opening.”

Sony’s going first in that regard, prepping for a massive launch of “Spider-Man 3″ during the first week of May.

Paramount’s also going day-and-date this weekend with “Disturbia” in Australia and New Zealand. Studios have been opting for more day-and-date bows on semi-tentpole pictures such as “Eragon” and even on non-event releases, particularly for English-speaking markets and so-called fast-burn territories in Asia that have piracy problems. Day-and-dating is tricky, however, since it precludes any significant adjustment of a marketing campaign once the film opens.

Day-and-dating worked well for Sony’s 2006 tentpoles as “The Da Vinci Code” and “Casino Royale” combined for more than $1.3 billion worldwide — 70% of that from outside the U.S.

BVI also will supply competition during the weekend via a major expansion of the foreign run of “Wild Hogs” into Benelux, Scandinavia, Spain and the U.K. The laffer’s taken in about $20 million in 10 overseas markets, lifting the worldwide cume past $165 million.

Other notable launches include “Curse of the Golden Flower” in New Zealand and the U.K., “Ghost Rider” in South Korea, “Shooter” in Holland, Spain and the U.K. and “Stomp the Yard” in Australia.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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