'Number Four,' 'Unknown,' 'Big Mommas' enter holiday frame

Coming off a strong showing last weekend, B.O. observers question whether a trio of new entries — DreamWorks’ “I Am Number Four,” 20th Century Fox’s “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son” and Warner Bros.’ “Unknown” — can keep that momentum up through the traditionally strong Presidents Day frame.

The feeling among biz insiders is that four-day totals should hit respectable levels but fall short of last year’s record-setting holiday tally.

A strict week-to-week comparison will bode well for this weekend, since Presidents Day came a week early in 2010. Warners Bros.'”Valentine’s Day,” which benefited from its namesake holiday on Sunday during the Presidents Day sesh, set a $63 million four-day benchmark that likely will be too high for this year’s crop.

The perfs of this weekend’s soph titles, including Disney’s “Gnomeo and Juliet” and Sony’s “Just Go With It,” are question marks going into the long weekend but could figure near the top of overall standings.

Paramount’s “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” should drop given its opening weekend tween craze. “Never Say Never” exceeded expectations with $29.5 million, as did “Gnomeo” and “Just Go With It,” bowing to $25.4 million and $30.5 million, respectively.

Studios positioned those pics as a lead-up to the holiday, hoping to develop positive word-of-mouth before the holiday. “Gnomeo” could hold best, since it’s the only family-oriented film in the market; families typically drive grosses on President’s Day with filmgoers out of work and school.

Leading the charge of new entries, “I Am Number Four,” distribbed by Disney, opens at 3,154 locations, including 230 in Imax theaters. Pic also opens day and date in Italy through the Mouse House’s overseas distribution arm.

Domestically, “I Am Number Four” may pose the best chance to play to a broad demo, ages 13-30, after enjoying a spike in pre-weekend tracking among men. Female audiences, however, should have a slight edge being drawn to star Alex Pettyfer, who plays an alien with supernatural powers disguised as a high-school student.

Based on the sci-fi tome series by James Frey and Jobie Hughes (under the pen-name Pittacus Lore), “Four” is directed by D.J. Caruso (“Eagle Eye”) and produced by Michael Bay. DreamWorks bought rights to the book in June 2009, with Bay coming on board shortly after. The studio has hopes of turning the series into a potential franchise; “Four” sequel “The Power of Six” hits bookshelves on Aug. 23.

With four-day totals for “Four” potentially reaching near $30 million, according to bizzers, Fox’s “Big Mommas” installment, bowing at 2,821 engagements, is expected to launch somewhere below that, between $18-$20 million, Fox said.

“Big Mommas” marks the third offering in the Martin Lawrence series, with Brandon T. Jackson co-starring as the stepson of the titular “Momma.” The duo portrays undercover cops dressed as women, who try to infiltrate an all-girls performing arts school.

Pic, which bows this weekend in Australia and the U.K., is rated PG-13 and should appeal to African-Americans as well as a teenage audience.

Meanwhile, Warners’ Liam Neeson starrer “Unknown,” from producer Joel Silver’s Dark Castle banner, should draw a mostly over-25 crowd, with solid interest among femmes but skewing mostly male.

Warners hopes to capitalize on success of Fox’s 2009 sleeper hit “Taken,” which grossed $215 million worldwide. That film also starred Neeson in a similar action role, and depending on word of mouth, “Unknown” also could see a leggy perf. “Unknown” goes in Argentina, Australia and Russia this weekend.

The film, budgeted at $31 million, could potentially bow higher than its expected mid- to high-teens, especially given its less-restrictive PG-13 rating.

The Weinstein Co.’s Oscar-nommed player “The King’s Speech,” entering its 13th frame, is on track to eclipse Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan” as the top 2010 specialty release; last weekend, “The King’s Speech” fell just 6% vs. a 37% drop for “Black Swan.” As of Wednesday, “The King’s Speech” has cumed $96.1 million, while “Black Swan” just crossed the $100 million mark in domestic grosses.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight’s “Cedar Rapids,” which got off to a solid start last weekend with $302,968 for a per-screen average of $20,198, expands to 102 locations this weekend, up from its initial 15.

Sony Pictures Classics’ Paul Giamatti starrer “Barney’s Version” also broadens today, expanding to 282 Stateside locations. Pic was at 110 last weekend (but 122 the week before), with a domestic cume of $3.5 million.

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