Newcomers 'Sanctum' and 'Roommate' hit theaters

After a soft January box office, this weekend’s B.O. roster, led by Universal’s “Sanctum” and Sony/Screen Gems’ “The Roommate,” is unlikely to gain much yardage as Super Bowl festivities Sunday are expected to limit overall weekend totals.

Last weekend, U.S. box office saw a slight reprieve from January’s downward spiral (though still off 16% year-to-year). A break in snowy weather today and Saturday could bode well for weekend totals, even if Sunday’s perf struggles to reach previous box office standards.

The pigskin-packed frame historically sees slower traffic at the multiplexes, though “Dear John,” which bowed to $30.5 million in the frame last year, set a high bar that B.O. observers say this year’s crop, including top holdovers “The Rite” and “No Strings Attached,” is unlikely to reach.

A handful of Oscar-nommed titles, namely, the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech” and Paramount’s “True Grit,” continue to overperform Stateside; both films saw nice upticks in repeat frames. “The King’s Speech,” which added 873 locations in its 10th week-end, grew 41% with $11.1 million, while “True Grit” was up 3% in its sixth frame with $7.5 million despite losing 344 engagements.

Roadside Attractions got off to a fine start last weekend with the nominated “Biutiful” posting a per-screen average of $8,016 from 57 runs. Distrib adds 120 playdates today.

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics, which struggled to boost totals for Oscar-nommed docu “Inside Job,” will try its luck with Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” expanding to 236 locations. Pic, nommed for an original screenplay Oscar, has cumed $1.1 million after launching in limited release in the U.S. on Dec. 29.

Among the new specialty titles, IFC Films’ “The Other Woman,” with recent B.O. darling Natalie Portman, and writer-director Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather” launch today, while Freestyle Releasing’s indie romancer “Waiting for Forever” rolls out in three U.S. engagements.

Both wide entries aren’t expected to break beyond the mid-teens, with U predicting a modest take for “Sanctum” of $6 million-$8 million. Screen Gems’ “The Roommate” should do better — but not by much — given its female-targeted demo. “Sanctum,” which is tracking best with male audiences, will have a tougher time on Sunday.

The Super Bowl should also take a toll on New Line’s soph sesh holdover “The Rite,” which had cumed $17.4 million through Wednesday. Pic is expected to drop significantly this weekend, especially since the film opened less like a horror pic than a thriller with a lighter femme turnout.

CBS Films’ “The Mechanic,” also entering its second frame, played better to men during its opening weekend and thus may similarly sink. To date, “The Mechanic” has cumed just shy of $14 million domestically.

Universal’s “Sanctum,” from exec producer James Cameron and directed by Alister Grierson, bows at 2,789 locations, of which more than 2,000 will be 3D-equipped, including 178 Imax 3D runs. Pic was purchased for a reported $12 million by U and Relativity Media. U launches the film day and date this weekend in the U.K. and Australia.

Cameron has been fairly active on the pic’s marketing front, with U also tubthumping the film’s 3D technologies as the same used on “Avatar.”

After Screen Gems’ prior two releases, “Burlesque” and “Country Strong,” “The Roommate,” which bows at 2,534 locations, marks a return to more traditional scarefare for the genre label. Budgeted at $16 million, the college-set thriller toplines Leighton Meester, who also starred in “Country Strong,” as a deranged student who terrorizes her roommate.

Paramount’s second-place entry “No Strings Attached” saw a decent hold last weekend, down 31%. Pic, which has cumed $42.4 million domestically, could see one of the better repeat perfs this weekend given its mostly female demo.

Overseas auds will be less distracted by the Super Bowl, which bodes well for studio holdovers like “The Green Hornet” and “Hereafter.” Last weekend, Sony’s “Green Hornet” earned top coin with $15.7 million for an international cume of $61 million, while Warner’s “Hereafter” took in $10.2 million after having recently expanded to most major markets. “Hereafter” has cumed $42.3 million.

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