Gives wide berth to 'Battleship,' 'Expecting' by opening Wednesday

When Paramount moved Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest laffer “The Dictator” back a week, the studio hoped a Wednesday would give it room enough to grow before Friday’s nationwide debuts of “Battleship” and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

But what Par couldn’t predict was the extent to which “The Avengers” would still be dominating mid-week box office.

The Disney-Marvel juggernaut surpassed $380 million domestically Monday — the same day the pic grossed $7.9 million, down 58% from the same day in the previous week. The film’s mid-week drop compares with “The Dark Knight” in 2008, which dropped 57% during its second Monday.

“The Avengers” is beginning to settle in holdover mode, but it’s still by far the market’s most talked-about film.

Par hoped to combat “Avengers” chatter by playing “Dictator” at a handful of promotional screenings Tuesday night in New York and L.A. The studio expands the film today to 3,003 Stateside locations, with concurrent overseas bows in Australia and the U.K. “Dictator” launches at a total 29-territory spread this weekend.

Originally, Par had slotted “The Dictator” to bow last weekend, but moved the pic after Warner Bros. began marketing “Dark Shadows” as a comedy. “Dictator,” which is budgeted at $65 million, centers on a fictional Middle Eastern ruler who visits the United States.

Domestic tracking for “Dictator” suggests the film will gross through Wednesday from $4 million-$5 million. Pic’s three-day tracking ranges between $14 million and $18 million, while five-day grosses are expected to land in the low-to-mid $20 millions.

Tracking for the film is better in overseas markets, according to Par, especially places like Australia and the U.K. Those territories traditionally have performed well for Baron Cohen pics, as well as key Western European markets — most of which won’t go until mid-summer.

The good news for “Dictator,” domestically, is that few comedies bow over the next few weeks. What’s more, the pic’s received mostly positive reviews so far, which should help it attract over-30 auds.

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