'The Rite,' 'Mechanic' among new box office entries

Despite two new entries bowing at this weekend’s domestic box office, New Line’s “The Rite” and CBS Films’ “The Mechanic,” most bizzers will be keeping a watchful eye on the crop of Oscar-nommed pics, led by “The King’s Speech” and “127 Hours,” as they enter their first post-noms frame.

Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech” goes wide today at 2,553 locations, an aggressive push for the boffo historical drama that’s already cumed $60 million, while Fox Searchlight expands “127 Hours,” with $11 million, to 916 engagements.

Awards boosts for those pics, along with other Oscar best film nominees “Black Swan,” “The Fighter” and “True Grit,” will depend on “the size of the pie,” as one distrib exec said, referring to the recent soft box office.

Comparisons between this month and a year earlier have been rough, with the first three weekends down significantly vs. 2010. Factors affecting the comparison include blizzard conditions throughout the East Coast and Midwest and last year’s high standard set by “Avatar.”

But bizzers expect box office conditions to improve, and this weekend could draw moviegoers with a mix of standout holdovers and new titles.

Anthony Hopkins starrer “The Rite,” with Warner Bros. distribbing, bows at 2,985 locations, while “The Mechanic” goes in 2,703. The two should avoid cannibalizing each other since “The Rite” is tracking best with women under 25 — typical of the horror genre — while the R-rated “The Mechanic,” the latest vehicle for action star Jason Statham, should appeal to a mostly adult male aud.

Sources suggest that New Line made a few last-minute edits to “The Rite” with the intention of securing the pic’s eventual PG-13 rating. That less-restrictive rating means teenage auds — a B.O. boon for horror pics — can attend more easily.

Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s “From Prada to Nada” opens at 256 locations. Pic marks the inaugural launch of Pantelion, a Televisa/Lionsgate co-venture targeting Hispanic auds.

Last weekend’s top titles, “No Strings Attached” and “The Green Hornet,” are again expected to rank high this weekend. Paramount’s “No Strings Attached” debuted with $19.7 million and a cume of $24.5 million, while Sony’s “Green Hornet” has tallied $66.2 million entering its third frame.

The weekend’s Oscar-nommed holdovers should continue to play strongly, with four of last week’s top 10 titles nabbing Oscar pic noms: “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan,” “True Grit” and “The Fighter.”

Harvey Weinstein hasn’t been shy about his desire to see “The King’s Speech” cross over to a wider aud. He even wants to submit a re-edited version of the film to the MPAA with hopes of receiving a PG-13 rating, though that version wouldn’t hit theaters until after the Oscars.

Still, “Speech” is expected to do well this weekend with more than 900 additional U.S. playdates.

Searchlight bumped up “127 Hours” from 69 locations last weekend to 916, timed for post-Oscar noms. However, the film did reach 433 engagements in early December, its widest run until now.

The distrib’s other awards hopeful, “Black Swan,” has cumed just shy of $85 million, becoming the highest-grossing 2010 specialty title, while Paramount-Relativity Media’s “The Fighter” enters the weekend with $74 million.

Par’s “True Grit,” with nearly $140 million so far, stands as one of the biggest beneficiaries of last year’s holiday sesh.

Roadside Attractions’ twice Oscar-nomned pic “Biutiful,” which received noms in the foreign-lingo and leading actor (Javier Bardem) categories, opens this weekend at 50 Stateside engagements. Sony Pictures Classics’ Oscar-nommed docu “Inside Job,” which launched Oct. 8 and has cumed $2.5 million, expands to 250 locations from 23 last weekend. Docu first played at 250 the weekend of Nov. 12.

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