'Madea's,' 'Elephants' open this weekend

Tyler Perry likely will score his usual Easter hit at the domestic B.O. with Lionsgate’s “Madea’s Big Happy Family” opening at 2,288 U.S. locations, while 20th Century Fox is poised to follow in weekend standing with 3D soph toon “Rio” and period lit adaptation “Water for Elephants,” debuting at 2,817 engagements.

Easter weekend historically has been dominated by family films, which bodes well for “Rio,” though Perry has consistently been a boffo player during the holiday.

Last year, the helmer unspooled “Why Did I Get Married Too?” over Easter weekend, which debuted with $29.3 million and cumed $60.1 million domestically. B.O. pundits doubt “Happy Family” will hit those opening heights — more like a mid-$20 million debut — but Perry’s “Madea” pics are the helmer’s best performers.

Pre-weekend tracking suggests “Happy Family” may go head-to-head with “Rio,” which should drop less than 50%, putting the film in a similar mid-20s range.

Fox’s adult femme-skewing “Water for Elephants,” toplining Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, is expected to debut around $15 million, but since auds over 25 have been consistent moviegoers lately, pic could top that mark.

Overall, the weekend will start on a high note as Good Friday grosses historically are strong, boosted by 68% of students on spring break. Saturday’s take should start to taper off before an even slower Sunday box office. That day’s take won’t affect “Happy Family” as much, however, since ethnic-skewing films usually perform best on Easter Sunday.

Animal action

Also opening this weekend, Disneynature’s “African Cats” bows nationwide at 1,220 playdates, with an expected $6 million-$8 million range. That would put it in line with the Mouse House’s last nature docu, “Oceans,” which opened this same weekend last year with $6.1 million.

In addition to “Rio,” there could still be some life in holdovers “Scream 4″ and “Hop.”

The Weinstein Co.’s “Scream 4,” released via TWC’s Dimension banner, bowed last weekend with $18.7 million and has cumed $21.5 million through Tuesday, while Universal’s Easter-themed “Hop” has grossed a total $84.8 million after three weeks of release. Both pics performed well — but below “Rio” — during the mid-weeks.

Weekday grosses leading up to Easter are an important gauge for determining the holiday weekend take, with the majority of tykes on spring break.

Pre-weekend tracking for Perry’s “Happy Family” has the film set to perform well for the helmer, given the film’s modest budget. However, tracking is somewhat skewed with later releases “Fast Five” and “Thor” already seeing interest from ethnic auds. “Happy Family” should perform best in southern U.S. cities such as Atlanta, where the film could occupy as many as eight or nine screens in one multiplex.

Fox’s “Water for Elephants,” which opens day and date in Russia, looks to attract auds familiar with the best-selling book by Sara Gruen, which became a must-read among women.

“Rio,” with U.S. totals at $46.7 million, has been performing strongly with general auds and should benefit from positive word of mouth and strong mid-week earnings. Toon is currently the market’s best-performing family film, though U’s bunny starrer “Hop” could garner some interest based on its holiday tie-in.

Specialty scene

In limited release, Sony Pictures Classics bows two pics, Oscar foreign-lingo candidate “Incendies” and Morgan Spurlock’s Sundance docu “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” “Incendies” opens on Friday in limited release at three Stateside locations; “Greatest Movie” goes somewhat wider at 18 locations in most of the U.S.’ top 10 markets, including New York, L.A., Boston and Washington, D.C.

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