B.O. pundits glowing about Memorial Day weekend

Early buzz has most B.O. pundits glowing about Memorial Day weekend this year as a pair of sequels, Warner Bros.’ “The Hangover Part II” and Paramount-DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 2,” look to bow big.

“Hangover II” is likely to see this year’s biggest opening, according to pre-weekend tracking services, with a potential five-day debut north of $100 million, while “Panda 2″ should hit $65 million-$70 million through Monday.

The weekend’s one-two counterprogramming punch will undoubtedly outstrip last year’s holiday sesh, when Warners’ “Sex and the City 2″ bowed to $51 million in its first five days. That frame also saw Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” collect $37.8 million from Friday to Monday.

“Hangover II,” which debuts at 3,615 locations, should have a stellar opening day; “Panda 2,” at 3,925, including 2,707 3D runs, will likely do best with families on Memorial Day.

Both will open day-and-date in a handful of key overseas territories. The former is set to go in France, Italy and the U.K., in addition to Australia and Mexico, while “Panda 2″ will launch primarily throughout Southeast Asia and in Russia.

Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight’s Palme d’Or winner “The Tree of Life” launches Stateside this weekend at four locations in New York and L.A. But given the film’s 138 minute runtime, “Tree” is unlikely to reach last week’s per-screen champ “Midnight in Paris,” which can have more showings per screen as it runs just 94 minutes.

Sony Pictures Classics expands “Paris” to 58 locations on Friday, up from four last weekend.

For weeks, “Hangover II,” budgeted at $78 million, has been hogging audience awareness, skewing tracking figures for more immediate titles (the “Bridesmaids” bow was stronger than anticipated because “Hangover II” had grabbed more aud heat in polls).

Warner/Legendary Pictures’ R-rated sequel is expected to surpass last weekend’s $90 million opening for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” — 2011’s highest debut so far — and the previous opening benchmark for an R-rated pic, “The Matrix Reloaded,” at $91.8 million in 2003.

“Hangover II” got an early jump at approximately 2,600 midnight locations on Wednesday, and with 70%-80% of college students already out of school, the comedy will likely pocket at least $35 million before Friday.

The first “Hangover” opened moderately on June 5, 2009, with nearly $45 million, but caught fire with moviegoers, cuming more than six times ($277.3 million) its opening weekend to become the highest-ever grossing R-rated comedy.

With younger kids in school today and Friday, “Panda 2,” budgeted at $130 million, will get off to a slower start, building over the three-day weekend.

As a comp Par is using Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which collected $66.7 million in its first five days during 2009’s Fourth of July frame.

“Panda 2″ should continue to play well through the next few weeks as kids finish school; Stateside cume on first pic was $215 million. Toon also will benefit from being the market’s only animated feature until Disney-Pixar’s “Cars 2″ launches June 24 — meaning a five-week stretch for “Panda 2.”

The weekend’s debut duo has sturdy competition, with “Pirates,” “Bridesmaids” and “Thor” still commanding good holdover performance.

“Pirates” has crossed the $400 million mark in worldwide B.O. receipts, including $104 million from domestic grosses, while “Thor’s” $148 million U.S. take contributes to the film’s $394 million global cume as of May 24. “Bridesmaids,” which hasn’t really bowed yet overseas, has grossed $64 million domestically.

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