Sony launches its first 3D title of the year 'Afterlife'

After a sunny summer at the domestic B.O., Sony looks to parlay its winning streak into fall, launching today the studio’s first 3D title this year: “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”

As the only wide release this weekend, “Afterlife” could attract a wide swath of moviegoers ready for fresh fare. Pic opens nationwide at 2,904 U.S. locations, of which 2,203 are 3D-equipped, including 141 Imax digital runs. Alliance handles Canadian distribution, adding 250 to the pic’s North American count.

Fewer new titles could also mean good news for holdover pics, led by Labor Day weekend’s No. 1 title, “The American,” which grossed $19.8 million during its first six days of release. Fellow soph sesh entries “Going the Distance” and “Machete” may be impacted most by “Afterlife,” which likely will draw a healthy mix of moviegoers 17-25. “American” attracted primarily adult auds.

A diverse crop of specialty pics launch this weekend, including “The Romantics” in limited release, starring Katie Holmes, Anna Paquinand Josh Duhamel from Four of a Kind Productions. Samuel Goldwyn’s sports-themed drama “Legendary” debuts at an aggressive 178 Stateside locations.

Other limited releases include Magnolia’s Casey Affleck-helmed Joaquin Phoenix portrait “I’m Still Here” at 19 U.S. locations. Docu just screened at the Venice Film Festival.

French-lingo comedy “Heartbreaker” hits Stateside theaters through IFC after earning boffo results overseas. Pic has a hearty $33 million in foreign B.O. receipts, of which $29.7 million came from Gaul.

Overseas, Sony will debut “Afterlife” day and date with the U.S. in several major markets, including Japan, Russia and the U.K. Pic’s launch marks one of the more expansive overseas rollouts since earlier this summer, as studios decided to hold key releases until after the World Cup.

“Afterlife’s” Stateside bow also marks the first weekend with only one new wide release since Par’s “Iron Man 2″ debuted by itself on May 7. Summit’s “Eclipse” gets a re-release this weekend at 1,187 locations in celebration of character Bella’s birthday.

Budgeted at $52 million, “Afterlife” reunites thesps Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter, who last paired in “Resident Evil: Extinction,” which opened to $23.7 million in 2007. Director Paul W.S. Anderson, who co-wrote the franchise’s three previous installments, takes the helm for the first time on “Afterlife.”

Sony said it expects the film’s bad-ass leading ladies to attract an even split between men and women. Rated PG-13, “Afterlife” follows Jovovich on her quest to conquer the undead. Fourth installment in the “Resident Evil” franchise is the first 3D offering.

Thanks to added 3D screens in the U.S., the format has seen a recent resurgence in opening weekend shares. The most recent 3D release, Dimension’s “Piranha 3D,” earned 95% of its $10.1 million opening from 2,202 3D-equipped screens. According to the National Assn. of Theater Owners, the U.S. 3D count as of Sept. 1 stands at 5,778 screens, up from about 4,300 at the beginning of summer.

The added 3D screens, as well as higher 3D ticket prices, could help “Afterlife” post totals higher than its predecessors over the long haul. “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” stands as the series’ highest domestic grosser, with $50.7 million in 2004, followed closely by “Extinction” with $50.6 million.

Among top holdovers, Sony’s heist pic “Takers” continues to hold well in repeat frames. Last weekend, the film claimed the No. 3 spot, slipping 47% for a take of $13.5 million over the long weekend. “Takers” cumed $41.4 million through Wednesday.

A pair of Lionsgate pics, “The Last Exorcism” and “The Expendables,” also have shown sturdy legs. “Exorcism,” entering its third frame, has totaled $34.4 million, while domestic totals for “The Expendables” stand at an impressive $94.8 million.

On the international front, holdover titles like “Inception” and “The Last Airbender” play tops in most territories, but the weekend’s newest entry, “Afterlife,” could earn sizable coin worldwide. Last weekend, “Inception” added an outstanding $24.4 million from 60 markets, while “Airbender” posted an additional $9.4 million from 42. Overseas totals for “Inception” reached $418.9 million; “Airbender” has cumed a resilient $139.6 million.

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