Meanwhile, 'Avatar' looks to add to domestic crown

Lionsgate’s shoot-em-up action film “From Paris With Love,” starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, will face off at the domestic B.O. over Super Bowl weekend at 2,722 screens with Sony’s lit adaptation “Dear John” at 2,724.

Most recent Sparks adaptations have opened in the mid-teens, with Warner’s “Nights in Rodanthe,” bowing to $13.4 million in 2008, and New Line’s 2004 “The Notebook” grossing $13.5 million in its opening weekend.

Both films enter a crowded frame of solid holdovers, led by 20th Century Fox’s sci-fi opus “Avatar” and a barrage of Oscar-nommed films, including Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” and Lionsgate’s “Precious” hoping to benefit from expansions this weekend.

Studios expect to see a steep Superbowl-induced drop on Sunday, with most filmgoers opting to stay home for the game. Better B.O. should result from Friday and Saturday performances.

Films hit hardest by the event could be R-rated “Paris” and Warner Bros.’ Mel Gibson holdover “Edge of Darkness,” entering its soph sesh after a $17.2 million launch. Tracking is strongest among older males for both films.

Femmes could spark to counterprogramming with the frame’s other wide opener, Sony/Screen Gem’s “Dear John,” starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried.

Lionsgate hopes auds who liked “Taken,” also helmed by Pierre Morel, turn out for “Paris.” “Taken,” which launched last January to an impressive $24.7 million domestically, became a worldwide sleeper hit, grossing $225 million.

Warner has taken a similar marketing approach with its father-daughter action thriller, “Darkness,” about a Boston police officer, who after the death of his activist daughter, discovers a corporate cover-up.

In “Paris,” Travolta plays a trigger-happy special agent sent to Gaul to stop a terrorist attack. Lionsgate said it hopes to benefit from Travolta’s edgier performance. Travolta actioner “The Taking of Pelham 123″ opened last year to $23.4 million.

Based on the Nicholas Sparks romance novel, “Dear John” tells the story of a soldier who falls in love with a college student while home on leave. Pic, produced by Relativity Media, should dominate among femmes under 25.

Fox’s “Avatar” continues to loom in holdover frames, slipping only 14% in its seventh frame. “Avatar” surpassed “Titanic’s” $600.8 million benchmark this week, becoming the all-time highest grossing film with a domestic cume of $603.8 million through Wednesday.

Pic tied with Summit’s “The Hurt Locker” for the most Oscar nominations, both earning nine, including picture and director.

Summit plans to re-release “Locker,” which was released on DVD on Jan. 12, on approximately 110 screens. Pic previously cumed $12.7 million domestically.

Other specialty distribs expanding their Oscar hopefuls Friday include Fox Searchlight with “Crazy Heart,” starring nominees Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Lionsgate’s “Precious.”

“Crazy Heart” expands to some 800 theaters after grossing $7.3 million in limited release as of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, “Precious” expands to 669 screens after seeing a 68% uptick at 222 locations the day after nominations. “Precious” launched on Nov. 6 in limited release before expanding to 907 locations at its widest, grossing a total $45.5 million.

Sony Pictures Classics will widen pic nominee “An Education” to 760 locations, while Paramount Oscar hopeful “Up in the Air” continues its steady rollout overseas in markets including Austria and Germany, with an international cume of $35 million. Domestically, the film has grossed $74 million since its launch Dec. 23.

Specialty distrib IFC will launch “Red Riding Trilogy” at one screen in N.Y. Directed by Anand Tucker, Julian Jarrold and James Marsh, pic about the Yorkshire Ripper investigations bowed at the Telluride Film Fest last year.

On the international front, Disney continues its steady rollout of hand-drawn toon “The Princess and the Frog” after a successful launch in France where it earned $7.5 million at 667 theaters. In the U.K., toon screened at one location for an impressive take of $41,000 and will expand wide this weekend. “Princess” launches in Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

“Avatar” performed at the top of the international B.O. last weekend, earning $95.4 million for an overseas total of $1.47 billion. Pic dropped only 12% in its seventh weekend and should continue to top most key territories in subsequent frames.

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