New pics hope to dethrone Summit's 'Eclipse'

Universal’s mini minions are aimed at taking over the domestic B.O. this weekend as 3D toon “Despicable Me” enters the frame at 3,476 locations. But darker forces could foil the toon’s attack, with 20th Century Fox’s “Predators” launching at 2,669 and Summit’s holdover “Eclipse” looming in the shadows.

Last weekend, “Eclipse” saw record-setting midweek takes, going into the weekend with $92.8 million. Thanks to its front-loaded debut, pic could see a considerably lower drop in its soph sesh, given that week-to-week comparisons are drawn from weekend figures. Movie earned a boffo six-day total of $176.4 million, cuming $195.7 million through Wednesday.

The “Twilight” installment opened day and date overseas with equal bloodlust, claiming $104.2 million in 42 territories, and expands to the U.K. and France this weekend. Meanwhile, Fox plans to go head to head with the World Cup finals, debuting “Predators” day and date this weekend in 22 markets, including Australia, Germany and Japan.

Focus kicks off its rollout of Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, at seven locations. The summer’s other high-profile specialty release, Fox Searchlight’s “Cyrus,” expands today to an aggressive 200 locations after cuming $2 million.

The frame’s specialty fare could whet some adult auds’ appetites, while “Despicable Me” could also lure older moviegoers, along with family auds.

Toon reps the inaugural offering from Chris Meledandri’s animation brand Illumination Entertainment. “Despicable,” featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Russell Brand, centers on not-so-bad-guy Gru (Carell) and his flock of yellow, goggle-wearing followers as they try to steal the moon.

U has mounted an aggressive marketing and licensing campaign focused on the film’s minion characters, striking deals with companies like IHOP, Best Buy, American Express and Kodak. Studio also benefited from cross-network promotions via parent company NBC Universal. U ran spots for the toon during this year’s Winter Olympics.

With strong tracking among broad demos, rival studios expect “Despicable” to reach similar heights as Paramount/DreamWorks Animations’ “How to Train Your Dragon,” which bowed with $43.7 million March 26. Both are nonfranchise toon titles released in 3D.

When “Dragon” opened, Warner Bros.’ late 3D entry “Clash of the Titans” followed a week later, further crowding an already squeezed 3D front; Disney’s 3D “Alice in Wonderland” repped the frame’s other 3D title. A similar logjam occurred this summer, with “Despicable” added to a pair of pre-existing 3D titles in the market: “Toy Story 3″ and “The Last Airbender.”

Still, “Despicable” managed to squeeze through the crowd, securing 1,551 3D runs. The question this weekend, however, will be whether parents are willing to spring for higher-priced 3D tickets for the whole family.

Last weekend, Paramount’s “The Last Airbender” earned 54% of its topnotch $69.3 million five-day opening from 1,606 3D-equipped screens. “Airbender” could lose some of its family aud this weekend to “Despicable.”

Fox’s “Predators” should appeal most to younger males, but auds older than 25 could also turn out given the property’s origins dating to 1987. “Predator” launched wide that year with $12 million, while “Alien vs. Predator” opened to $38.3 million in 2004. Fox expects the opening of its most recent offering to fall between the bows of those titles.

R-rated “Predators,” starring Adrien Brody and Topher Grace, relocates a group of elite warriors to a planet where it is hunted by the title killers. Robert Rodriguez-produced pic is directed by Nimrod Antal.

Music Box launches “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” the second offering in author Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, at 85 U.S. locations today. First pic, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” became one of the year’s highest-grossing indie films, totaling $11.7 million since debuting on March 19. Swedish-lingo sequel stars “Dragon Tattoo” thesps Noomi Rapace and Michael Nykvist.

Paramount launched its sing-a-long reissue of “Grease” in 12 U.S. cities Thursday. Studio reported sellout screenings in locations including New York, L.A., San Diego and John Travolta’s hometown of Ocala, Fla. Pic will to expand to five more cities next week.

On the international front, auds will have to wait for “Despicable Me” as U plans to hold the toon from key territories until the end of July and early August.

Instead, “Shrek Forever After” and “Toy Story 3″ should continue to hold up the toon front, expanding to more territories as the World Cup winds down and tykes take a break from school. “Shrek” launched in the U.K. and France last weekend, earning $13.1 million and $11.7 million, respectively. It added $41 million to its overseas cume of $135.5 million.

“Toy 3″ has totaled $165.8 million since its launch on June 18, with last weekend’s tally of $25.5 million. “Shrek” adds Spain to its roster; “Toy 3″ rolls out in Italy and Japan.

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