'Super 8,' 'Judy Moody' take on 'X-Men'

After months of secrecy, Paramount is finally lifting the veil on J.J. Abrams’ nostalgic sci-fier “Super 8,” which launches today at 3,379 domestic locations. Auds at Thursday’s screenings at some 325 locations, including all 239 Imax theaters, got an early look at the film, but this weekend will be the first test for “Super 8″ on a nationwide scale.

Par has been facing modest expectations: Pre-weekend trackingservices has the film opening to $25 million-$30 million.

But the pic was reportedly made for $50 million — inexpensive compared to the budgets of most other summer blockbusters. That takes considerable pressure off opening weekend.

But releases including “Super 8″ and the week’s other wide opener, kidpic “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer,” aren’t likely to beat the same weekend last year, possibly breaking the B.O.’s four-week winning streak over 2010. (Sony’s “The Karate Kid” won the same frame last year with a $55.7 million debut.)

“Judy Moody,” which Relativity Media is releasing at 2,524 locations, is expected to open with a tot-sized $6 million or so through Sunday.

That leaves the market’s top holdover players, led by 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men: First Class,” to help keep overall totals from falling too far behind last year. “First Class” is coming off a $55 million debut and cumed nearly $70 million through Wednesday. If “First Class” drops 50%-55% — a dip similar to that of the first “X-Men” pic in its second frame — Fox’s newest “X-Men” outing should take in another $25 million this weekend.

Overseas, “First Class” has collected $74.6 million as of June 7, with 17 territories yet to release the film, including Germany, Italy and Japan set for this weekend. (Pic is currently in 55 international markets.)

Paramount-DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which has grossed $127.3 million in two weeks, should have another solid outing this weekend as it expands to 17 additional markets including Brazil, Mexico and the U.K. Meanwhile, Par released “Super 8″ in Australia on Thursday in the pic’s only major day-and-date overseas market.

In the weeks leading up to its Stateside release, “Super 8″ wasn’t expected to generate huge biz opening weekend as indicated by muted pre-release audience awareness. Movie, which is being marketed based on the popularity of Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg, still falls behind some pics dated further out in audience awareness. Par does however, anticipate that the pic will gain steam throughout the weekend thanks to word of mouth.

Some B.O. pundits attribute the subdued interest, especially among those under 25, to Par’s decision to withhold key plot details from the film’s marketing campaign.

Studio tried to spark aud enthusiasm by partnering with Twitter for early screenings of “Super 8.” It’s uncertain how much the sneaks will benefit the film this weekend, though early word on Thursday was that the film had solid advanced ticket sales later in the day, particularly for Imax. (Thursday’s sneaks won’t figure into the weekend total.)

“Super 8″ is expected to play best to over-25 auds drawn to the film’s 1970s nostalgic setting.

Meanwhile, “Judy Moody,” which was fully financed by Smokewood Entertainment for a reported $20 million, will likely do best with girls 6-11. The kidpic should serve as effective counterprogramming to the PG-13-rated “Super 8,” though the latter could attract some families.

At the specialty B.O., Sony Pictures Classics’ “Midnight in Paris” expands wide to 944 locations. So far, the film has done exceptionally well in limited release with a cume of $6.8 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “The Tree of Life,” with its cume of $1.5 million, adds 26 locations today for a total 46, while Focus Features’ “Beginners” broadens to a total 19 U.S. engagements after last weekend’s solid limited opening. Brit coming-of-age comedy “Submarine,” from the Weinstein Co., expands to the top 10 U.S. markets.

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