Disney tentpole goes out same weekend everywhere but Japan and China

After two years of scrutiny from bizzers, fanboys and the media, Disney’s “John Carter” hits plexes worldwide Friday, and it’s clear to most B.O. observers — and even to the folks in Burbank — that the uphill journey to profitability for this film in particular will be measured over the long haul and not the short term.

Pic launches this weekend in every major overseas market except Japan and China. That ambitious push is added to a Stateside bow totaling 3,749 locations, of which 2,614 are 3D and 289 Imax.

And while box office is just one piece of the profitability pie, it’s a key piece. It’s also an important element in setting up the merchandising, sequels and spinoffs that are a part of the studio’s mantra, as well as ancillaries such as TV rights.

Obviously, Disney has a lot riding on “Carter” becoming a theatrical hit. A few weeks ago, tracking for the big-budget tentpole suggested a $25 million-$30 million domestic bow, and though Disney engaged in a bit of final-stretch redirection in its marketing (it ramped up the emphasis on the film’s action elements) those predictions haven’t changed much, even if some tracking services are predicting a slightly higher upside for “Carter.”

Bizzers around town continue to question “Carter’s” potential to be an “event” — a crucial hurdle given what Disney spent to produce and market the film. The studio says the film’s production costs were $250 million, with an additional nine-figure worldwide marketing spend.

Even if the film does deliver on projections of a high-end $30 million opening, Universal’s holdover “The Lorax,” which surprised last weekend with a $70 million bow, stands a fighting chance of beating “Carter” for Stateside bragging rights at the box office.

Takings for “Lorax” could drop some 40% through Sunday vs. its opening frame, putting the toon at between $35 million and $40 million in its second weekend. Pic had cumed just shy of $80 million domestically as of Wednesday.

There are other openers on the scene: Open Road’s 2011 Sundance chiller “Silent House,” starring Elizabeth Olsen, and Eddie Murphy comedy “A Thousand Words,” the last DreamWorks film to go through Paramount, are tracking in the high-single digits.

The specialty B.O., meanwhile, has a lot to offer, including Roadside Attractions’ dramedy “Friends With Kids,” which bows today at 374 locations, and CBS Films’ “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” at 18.

While “Carter” has struggled to become a four-quadrant draw, the pic has maintained a tight grip on its male core. “Carter,” which was first introduced in 1912 by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, boasts a strong male fanbase both above and below the age of 25. Most teenagers, however, may not be familiar with the original property, though Disney hopes to draw them in with tentpole-sized action and 3D.

“Carter” marks the live-action feature debut for “Wall-E” helmer Andrew Stanton and toplines Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins, neither of whom have previously shouldered a major tentpole.

Pic’s 3D count has roughly 600 more locations than what 3D “Alice in Wonderland” bowed with this time in 2010. But since then, the format has seen considerable deflation. “Carter” would beat the norm with a 3D take north of 50%.

The weekend’s demo derby should be evenly split.

“Lorax,” which last weekend scored 52% of its opening from 3D, should continue to hold sway with families, while “A Thousand Words” is likely to do best with adults and African American auds. Expect R-rated “Silent House” to skew mostly toward females — typical of most scare pics — and over-25 filmgoers.

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