Promo night for 'Avatar' on Friday

“Inglourious Basterds” is off to a good start in Europe, scoring the best opening day ever in France for a Quentin Tarantino pic with a Wednesday gross of $1.4 million from 499 playdates.

Universal Pictures Intl. also opened the film in Belgium and French-speaking Switzerland to best-ever numbers for Tarantino. Pic also finished No. 1 in Australia, where it opened Thursday, grossing $490,000 from 201.

“Basterds,” about a tough band of soldiers who slip into Germany to battle Nazis, kicks into high gear Friday, when it opens in 3,165 theaters domestically. The Weinstein Co., U’s partner on the film, is domestic distrib. Overseas, the pic rolls out into a total of 2,620 playdates in 22 territories, including the U.K. and Germany.

There’s a patchwork of other new releases at the domestic B.O. Family fantasy film “Shorts,” directed by Robert Rodriguez and released by Warner Bros., opens in 3,160 runs amid little buzz. Comedy “Post Grad,” another title left over from the Fox Atomic days, goes out in 1,958 runs. Disney opens “X-Games 3D: The Movie” in 1,399.

One corner of the box office generating heat will be 20th Century Fox’s so-called “Avatar Day,” promoting James Cameron’s upcoming 3-D pic “Avatar.” In an unprecedented promo stunt, Fox is screening 16 minutes from the film in 101 Imax theaters Friday night in the U.S. and another 238 theaters internationally, of which 28 are Imax screens. Free tickets to the screenings were dispensed through an online lottery; there will be two screenings per theater.

“Avatar” doesn’t open until Dec. 18, but Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau have been busy previewing clips of the film for distributors and, more recently, at Comic-Con.

Tarantino’s “Basterds” is a gamble for both U and the Weinstein Co. The WWII film is a change of pace for Tarantino, although the period film is punctuated with the filmmaker’s trademark violence — think a U.S. soldier practicing his batting skills on a Nazi.

Film’s international cast includes Brad Pitt, who is the linchpin of the domestic marketing campaign. The Weinstein Co. believes Pitt will expose Tarantino to a broader audience.

“Basterds” has a shot at scoring Tarantino his best opening, either meeting or surpassing the $25.1 million earned by “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” Film is tracking well among men of all ages, but the Weinstein Co. hopes to reach women as well.

“Basterds,” which premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival, cost $70 million to produce before tax credits.

The second half of August isn’t generally a landing spot for high-profile fare. Last year, Paramount’s “Tropic Thunder” won the comparable weekend in its second sesh. New releases included “The House Bunny,” which debuted to $14.5 million.

But some have experimented with the frame before. In 2005, Universal’s sleeper weekend “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” opened on the same weekend to $21.4 million.

“Basterds” may not have direct competition in terms of new films, but it will have to contend with holdover “District 9,” the Sony sci-fi thriller that opened last weekend to a sterling $34.7 million. That pic played heavily male.

On the specialty side, the weekend brings a batch of new entries, including Paramount Vantage’s “The Marc Pease Experiment,” about a high school production of “The Wiz.” Pic starring Ben Stiller, Jason Schwartzman and Anna Kendrick opens in 10 theaters. Freestyle releases Renee Zellweger-Kevin Bacon starrer “My One and Only” at a total of four theaters in New York and L.A.

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