'Arthur,' 'Your Highness' among box office contenders

A quartet of wide entries are pitted against Universal’s family-friendly holdover “Hop” at the domestic box office, with the live action-toon hybrid poised to be a strong contender to win the weekend, according to B.O. pundits.

Leading the pack of new titles should be Warner Bros.’ comedy retread “Arthur,” launching at 3,276 locations, while “Your Highness,” U’s second release in that many weeks, is expected to follow in standing based on pre-weekend tracking. “Your Highness,” the weekend’s only R-rated release appealing to an over-25 crowd, opens today at 2,769 playdates.

A pair of teenage girl starrers, Sony’s inspirational true story “Soul Surfer,” toplining AnnaSophia Robb, and Focus Features’ Saoirse Ronan kid-assasain thriller “Hanna,” round out the weekend’s foursome. “Soul Surfer” opens wide at 2,214 locations; “Hanna,” at 2,535.

“Hop,” which bowed better than expected to $37.5 million, feasibly could have a strong hold since family pics usually maintain positive word of mouth in repeat frames.

Overseas, however, “Hop” is waiting to expand as 20th Century Fox mounts this weekend an aggressive early international bow of 3D toon “Rio,” launching in a total 45 territories, including Brazil, where it should benefit from toon’s title tie-in.

“Hop” grossed last weekend a soft $6.7 million from 26 debut territories and broadens to just Australia in its second overseas outing.

If “Hop” falls domestically between 45%-50% — a likely soph sesh drop considering past comparable films — that would put it around $20 million for the weekend. The film also should yield fine resusts as the market’s top performing family film. Warners’ “Arthur,” rated PG-13, is expected to debut in the $15-$17 million range.

Pre-release tracking has been fairly inconsistent of late, meaning frame’s top contenders, “Hop” and “Arthur,” could wind up close through the weekend.

“Arthur,” toplining Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, has seen strong response from general auds, though the film may skew best among adult moviegoers. Popularity for Brand could drive attendance with younger auds, while those over 30 are more likely to turn out based on nostalgia for the original.

Warners’ laffer remake cost just under $40 million, sources say, though studio has been aggressive in marketing the film.

The weekend’s other comedy, “Your Highness,” should land somewhere between $10-$12 million for the weekend, according to Universal. Pic, budgeted for a reported $50 million, is the only R-rated film this weekend, which may help separate it from the pack with targeted males aged 17-25. U put out a red-band trailer online, hoping to market the raunchy pic to that demo.

“Your Highness” stars Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman, her third film so far this year after Paramount’s “No Strings Attached” and indie drama “The Ohter Woman.” Directed by David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”), U’s laffer is a medeival spoof, featuring McBride as the bumbling brother of Franco. Portman rounds out the pic’s motley crew.

The remaining wide releases are likely to follow in weekend standing, though “Hanna” has some B.O. pundits buzzing with strenghtened pre-release tracking. Focus has high hopes for the film, with a wider-than-usual release for the label. “Hanna” is expected to play best with male audiences, while “Soul Surfer” will tap into a young femme ddemo.

Focus pre-sold most foriegn rights to Sony Intl. to help cover costs for “Hanna;” U retained international rights to the film in Australia and the U.K. Meanwhile, “Soul Surfer,” an acquisition title from Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, will go through Sony label Tri-Star, with FilmDistrict handling all marketing costs.

Described as a “family film with a faith-based message,” “Soul Surfer” is expected to play best in Middle America, as well as throughout the South and surfing communities on the West Coast. Pic, which co-stars Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, tells the real-life story of a teenage surfer girl who looses an arm after a shark attack. The film cost around $18 million, with Sony paying around $3 million to acquire the film, sources say.

In limited release, Warners is distribbing Imax docu “Born to Be Wild” at 206 locations, while Lionsgate’s Latino-targeted division, Pantelion, is bowing Mexican pic, “No Eres Tu So Yo,” at 226 theaters.

A pair of well performing specialty titles, “Jane Eyre” and “Win Win,” continue to expand this weekend at Stateside wickets. “Jane Eyre,” which has grossed $3.9 million after four weeks, will go out in 247 locations, up from 180, while “Win Win” broadens to 224 engagements. The later has cumed $2.2 million domestically; last weekend it played at 149 locations in its third frame.

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