Sony sequel looks to lead 4-day frame

The Presidents’ Day weekend box office, which Sony’s 3D sequel “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” will likely lead, isn’t expected to topple the holiday high-water mark set in 2010 — but the overall frame should be strong enough to keep the 2012 B.O. clicking at an impressive pace, thanks in part to a moviegoing rebound among younger auds.

Nicolas Cage starrer “Ghost Rider,” which opens at 3,174 locations including 2,352 in 3D, could reach as high as $30 million in four days, according to some bizzers. Other tracking services have the film pegged at a more modest launch in the low- to mid-$20 millions.

The remaining two openers, Fox’s romantic actioner “This Means War” and Disney’s Studio Ghibli toon “The Secret World of Arrietty,” are expected to trail with projected four-day bows at around $16 million and $12 million, respectively. Solid holdover perfs from “Safe House” and “The Vow” will also help boost totals vs. past Presidents’ Day frames. Totals should be plenty high enough to overtake the $173.9 million tally for the 2011 four-day Presidents’ Day weekend, during which “Unknown” and “Gnomeo and Juliet” vied for No. 1 at just north of $25 million each. But it won’t best 2010, when Warner Bros.’ “Valentine’s Day” scored the holiday’s best-ever $63 million opening, leading a record-setting $239.8 million tally for the four-day frame.

Domestic B.O. has been difficult to predict in the past few weeks — but in a good way, as most titles have overperformed.

The return of teenagers (as evidenced by the strong reception of younger-skewing “Chronicle” and “The Vow”) bodes well for this weekend’s “Ghost Rider,” which is resonating best with under-25 males. Filmgoing among under-25 auds stalled last fall, in part because of higher ticket prices, alternative movie-watching devices and flagging interest in 3D and nonfranchise pics (a trend that “Chronicle” bucked).

“This Means War,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine, should work as effective femme counterprogramming to “Ghost Rider.” Fox originally dated “War,” which bows day-and-date in Australia and Russia, for a Stateside launch on Valentine’s Day, but the studio ultimately decided to distance the film from the similarly targeted “The Vow.”

Instead, Fox held sneaks of “War” on Valentine’s Day, earning a reported $1.7 million.

With a mid-$70 million budget, “Ghost Rider” is tracking much softer than its predecessor, which opened with $52 million over the same four-day weekend in 2007. That pic went on to cume nearly $230 million worldwide. Sony bows the sequel this weekend in markets including Brazil, France, Mexico, South Korea and the U.K.

Anime pic “The Secret World of Arrietty” has done boffo business in Japan, grossing $110 million last year. Disney distributes Ghibli fare domestically, and with a location count of 1,522, “Arrietty” marks the widest Stateside release for the Japanese toon shop. In 2009, the Mouse opened “Ponyo” to $3.6 million for a domestic cume of $15 million.

“Arrietty,” based on kids classic “The Borrowers,” features a voice cast that includes Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett and Bridgit Mendler.

Holdovers “Safe House” and “The Vow” likely will fall around 45%. “The Vow” cumed $61.9 million through Thursday; “Safe House,” $51 million. Warner Bros.-New Line’s “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” should continue to dominate among family auds, impacting “Arrietty.” Domestic cume on “Journey 2″ is almost $32 million.

At the specialty B.O., Drafthouse Films launches Oscar-nommed Belgian film “Bullhead” at nine Stateside locations. The Weinstein Co.’s “Undefeated” (nominated for feature docu) bows at five.

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