‘Beauty,’ ‘Contraband’ chase demos at b.o.

Kudos contenders expand over Globes weekend

A three-way horse race among the weekend’s new entries, along with several expansions for Golden Globes-nominated fare, should help keep overall domestic B.O. totals solid over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Leading the pack in screen count is Universal’s Mark Wahlberg thriller “Contraband,” which bows today at 2,862 locations. Warner Bros.’ musical-comedy “Joyful Noise” follows at 2,735, while Disney goes wide with its 3D re-release of 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” at 2,625 Stateside engagements.

Amid the recent unpredictablity of the marketplace, most B.O. observers are split between either “Contraband” or “Beauty” winning the weekend.

But neither of those pics, nor “Joyful Noise,” are expected to reach last weekend’s record-setting $33.7 million debut for “The Devil Inside.” Instead, bizzers predict bows through Monday upwards of $20 million.

Among this weekend’s awards hopefuls, the Weinstein Co. aggressively expands “The Iron Lady” — nominated at the Globes for lead actress-drama — to 802 engagements, up from five, while Sony Pictures Classics’ twice-nommed “Carnage” (in the actress-comedy or musical category) broadens to nearly 500 playdates. “Iron Lady,” entering its third frame, has tallied almost $570,000 domestically; “Carnage” stands at approximately $530,000 after four weeks.

Also competing in the actress-drama category, Oscilloscope’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” starring Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, bows at just two engagements.

FilmDistrict’s Globes foreign-lingo contender “In the Land of Blood and Honey” expands today to 18 locations.

Meanwhile, Warner’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” should continue its reign atop the international B.O., expanding to Brazil. Last weekend, “Sherlock” displaced three-week overseas champ “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which has cumed $289.9 million internationally. “Sherlock” has grossed $180.6 million in total.

“Contraband” reps the only new studio release to open day-and-date overseas, debuting in seven territories, including Russia.

Domestically, the film is tracking similarly to Par’s “The Fighter,” which expanded wide during the equivalent frame in 2010, though U said “Contraband” is showing slightly stronger responses among young men. “The Fighter” earned $12.1 million in its first wide weekend.

“Contraband,” based on 2008’s “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” is helmed by the original pic’s Baltasar Kormakur in his first Hollywood title, and comes from Working Title and Relativity Media. Pic cost a reported $25 million.

While “Contraband” is expected to open strong with mostly male auds, Warner’s “Joyful Noise,” toplining Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, will earn the majority of its opening tally from women. The Alcon-produced and -financed pic is poised as counterprogramming to “Contraband,” though “Joyful Noise” might lose some of its femme aud, particularly moms, to Disney’s 3D “Beauty.”

The Mouse re-release will benefit most from kids out of school, with an estimated 15% out today and 91% out on Monday.

“Beauty” in 3D isn’t expected to hit the same opening heights as “The Lion King” did in its 3D rerelease in September ($30.2 million). But like “The Lion King,” Disney said it hopes “Beauty” will play to non-family auds based on nostalgia. “Lion King” in 3D cumed nearly $95 million domestically — a high bar for “Beauty.”

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