Universal tentpole is tracking like 'John Carter'

After collecting a serviceable $220 million in its monthlong around-the-world tour, Universal’s “Battleship” finally docks Stateside this weekend — but it’ll be a cheerless homecoming party, thanks in part to Disney-Marvel’s boffo B.O. performer “The Avengers.”

“Battleship” is expected to land in the $35 million-$40 million range through Sunday, well below expectations for a summer tentpole that cost more than $200 million and one that Universal and Hasbro once hoped would be the centerpiece of their now-defunct partnership.

U’s overseas-first “Battleship” release started out promisingly, with studio bests in Russia and China. But it ran into a headwind with “Titanic 3D” and “Avengers,” and domestic prospects now look dicey: Tracking on “Battleship” is similar to that on “John Carter,” which opened to $30.2 million domestic and cumed $71 million, added to its $208 million international cume.

“Avengers” enters its third Stateside frame as the eighth-highest grossing film globally: a domestic cume of nearly $400 million added to $658.1 million overseas. Bizzers expect the blockbuster to win the weekend, ahead of Lionsgate’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and Paramount’s “The Dictator.”

“Dictator” bowed mid-week and grossed $4.2 million opening day, which should translate to a five-day take in the low- to mid-$20 millions. “Expecting” has its sights significantly lower in the mid- to high teens.

If “Avengers” drops 40%-50% (likely closer to the former), the film would gross $50 million-$60 million this weekend, based on its record-setting $103 million soph-sesh tally, down just 50% from its opening. For comparison, 2008′s “The Dark Knight” dropped 43% in its third frame after dropping 53% in its second.

Observers say “Avengers” is skewing weekend projections for the other pics in the field. Still, tracking has gained some clarity since “Avengers” bowed Stateside. “Battleship,” for instance, has seen slight consistent gains over the past three weeks. “Expecting” also spiked with its core female demo Thursday afternoon.

Par unspooled “Dictator” mid-week to build word of mouth and give it some breathing room in the battle against “Battleship.” It’s still unclear how Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest will register; the pic received a poor C CinemaScore rating, though Baron Cohen pics typically are divisive. The star usually displays better legs overseas, particularly in Western Europe.

“Dictator” debuts day-and-date with the U.S. in 29 overseas markets, including Wednesday bows in Australia, Germany and the U.K.

Theatrical box office isn’t the be-all, end-all for “Battleship,” but downstream revenues certainly are less rosy without it: The studio and Hasbro are unleashing a slew of branded consumer products — from apparel to cellphone covers, videogames and action figures — around the pic. Hasbro is using the film to relaunch the boardgame the way it reintroduced “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” with new action figures.

For “Battleship,” U mounted an aggressive promotional tie-in campaign, partnering with companies like Subway, Kraft, Nestle, Chevron and Coke Zero. The studio also partnered with Eventful to bring “Battleship” to U.S. military bases from May 15-17.

The remaining wide releases represent smaller risks financially. “Dictator” cost $65 million, while “Expecting” was budgeted in the high $30 millions.

Par, however, spent a considerable amount on marketing “Dictator” — its Super Bowl spot alone cost roughly $3.5 million for 30 seconds. Universal paid for a minute-long spot for “Battleship,” though the studio received a discount from parent company NBCUniversal, which aired the game.

Entries at the specialty box office have done well against “Avengers,” with shrewd counterprogramming bids like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and last weekend’s “Girl in Progress.” This weekend, Fox Searchlight expands “Hotel” to 358 playdates, up from 178, while Sony Pictures Classics bows Brit period film “Hysteria” at five locations in New York and L.A.

“Hotel” has grossed so far nearly $5 million; “Girl in Progress,” which stays at 322 Stateside engagements, enters its soph sesh with $1.6 million.

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