Questions remain about hurricane's effect on next weekend

East Coast cinemas have been steadily reopening since Monday, which helped spur an industrywide uptick Tuesday — but bizzers still worry about the residual effects of Hurricane Sandy at this weekend’s domestic box office.

Disney’s 3D toon “Wreck-It Ralph” should easily land on top, with a projected three-day bow of $40 million-$50 million. Paramount’s Denzel Washington drama “Flight” is tracking in the mid-teens, while “The Man With the Iron Fists,” from Universal, should earn $7 million-$10 million.

Regardless of the weekend’s East Coast contribution, those are early estimates subject to change before Friday.

“It’s still incredibly fresh,” said Disney distribution exec Dave Hollis. “Maybe tomorrow will provide more clarity, but we want to remain appropriately respectful.”

The areas affected most by the storm include southern New Jersey, as well as parts of West Virginia, Virginia and New York.

“Business is down in those areas, there’s no question, but not everywhere is down,” said one distribution exec.

Regal, the nation’s largest theater chain, reported that the vast majority of its storm-affected locations were open Wednesday — only 13 theaters stayed closed because of power outages. AMC, meanwhile, reported approximately 60 theater closings earlier this week, and by mid-afternoon Wednesday, that number had shrunk by more than half, including the most notable reopenings — New York’s Empire and Lincoln Square theaters.

Box office leader on Tuesday, “Argo,” was up 49% that day in New York and improved a whopping 250% throughout the entire Washington, D.C., market, which includes areas in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Theater reopenings helped contribute to Tuesday’s healthy resurgence — as did some auds looking for a distraction.

Other B.O. pundits are less optimistic, suggesting that the storm may have bruised the moviegoing mindset. Still, it’s difficult to quantify how much a dip on the East Coast would effect the overall box office.

Crunching the numbers, Disney reported that roughly 24% of its most recent openings came from 10 major markets hit by the storm, including New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto and Washington, D.C. That means those regions would, under normal circumstances, contribute $9.6 million of a $40 million opening for “Wreck-It Ralph.”

What percentage can bizzers expect to see from those cities this weekend? Depends on the source.

Here’s one viewpoint: “No way is it going to be business as usual in two days.”

And another: “People have been captive since Monday night. The weather has improved, and people are starting to get out of the house, which hopefully translates through the weekend.”

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