Sony sequel expected to earn nearly $80 million holiday weekend

Many of Memorial Day weekend’s moviegoers will be back in black — though likely not enough to keep four-day holiday totals up to scratch with 2011.

Sony’s “Men in Black 3,” which bows today at 4,248 domestic locations — including more than 3,000 in 3D and 278 Imax runs — is projected to gross between $75 million and $80 million through Monday, with a potential $90 million upside. Weekend’s only other wide entry, Warner Bros.’ low-budget chiller “Chernobyl Diaries,” should land in the $12 million-$13 million range.

Even with a likely strong holdover perf from Disney-Marvel’s “The Avengers,” domestic weekend aren’t expected to match last year’s tally, when “The Hangover Part 2″ and “Kung Fu Panda 2″ goosed four-day grosses, with $103.4 million and $60.9 million, respectively.

Men in Black 3″ should lift overseas totals by a healthy sum, as the pic launches virtually everywhere around the world. Feasibly, the film could reach as high as $250 million worldwide this weekend.

Tracking for “Black” has been consistent across all quadrants domestically, though the pic’s strongest interest should come from men under 25. Kids out of school will boost Monday totals.

Aud support for the film has been quietly building over the past few weeks — ever since “Avengers” launched Stateside. That said, it’s difficult to gauge just how hungry auds will be for the “Black” three-quel, given the 10-year gap since “Men in Black 2″ hit plexes. It’s also been four years since Will Smith last appeared on the bigscreen in “Seven Pounds,” which could further boost auds’ appetite for “Men in Black 3.”

The “MIB” sequel bowed mid-week over Fourth of July weekend in 2002, earning $88 million in five days domestically. The original “Black,” meanwhile, also debuted that same holiday week (although on a Tuesday) in 1997, with $84 million in six days.

Pic’s 3D format — the first for the franchise — should boost its prospects in North America: 3D has been surging lately, with opening takes much higher than last year’s low-point in the 45%-50% range. It was around this time last year when “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” earned the lowest percentage of domestic grosses from 3D of any non-family film — at just 46%.

“Men in Black 3″ should do better than that percentage-wise, based on recent 3D comparisons: “Avengers,” for instance, made 52% of its opening from 3D; “Wrath of the Titans,” 65%.

Along with Smith’s return — in 3D, no less — to theaters, Sony is hoping to draw auds based on the three-quel’s time-travel storyline, which incorporates Josh Brolin as a young Tommy Lee Jones. Much of the pic’s marketing revolved around that plot point.

Beyond “Black,” R-rated “Chernobyl Diaries,” about a group of Americans who visit the ill-fated Russian city, opens at a total 2,433 Stateside locations. Pic was produced by Alcon Entertainment and FilmNation, with Warners handling domestic distribution duties.

The weekend’s holdovers should be led by “Avengers” in its fourth frame and soph-sesh player “Battleship.” The Disney-Marvel film crossed $1.2 billion globally as of May 23, making it the fourth-highest worldwide grosser ever, behind “Avatar” ($2.78 billion), “Titanic” ($2.19 billion, including its 3D re-release) and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ ($1.33 billion).

“Battleship,” meanwhile, enters salvage mode this weekend after a disastrous $25.5 million domestic opening. The $200 million-plus tentpole had tallied $261.3 million globally through Wednesday.

Paramount’s “The Dictator,” which also enters its second domestic outing, has cumed $68.2 million worldwide. Pic benefits from being the only comedy in the market, though it’ll still face competition from “Men in Black,” especially for male teens.

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