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‘Hunger Games’ likely to continue B.O. killing

Lionsgate phenom has light competition for the forseeable future

For all the talk of box office becoming a 52-week game, studios are still playing it safe by dating their most high-profile tentpoles during the summer. And it’s that thought process that left “The Hunger Games” a nearly clear playing field for the next month, with only a few potential four-quadrant titles.

Numerous date shifts of higher-profile titles mean that Lionsgate’s $152 million box office phenomenon “The Hunger Games” should continue to dominate the domestic market for five weekends, until “The Avengers” appears on the scene May 4.

Studios took several titles out of the way months ago when they saw “Hunger” on the horizon, and some quirks of the calendar also made April light on tentpoles.

Nipping at the heels of “Hunger Games” is Warner Bros.’ “Wrath of the Titans,” which bows Friday nationwide. The sequel to 2010’s “Clash of the Titans” looks the closest to being an all-audience pic of the wide openers launching between now and May.

For a short time last year, Warners planned for the “Titans” sequel to go head-to-head with “Hunger Games.” When buzz for the Lionsgate pic grew, Warner ultimately moved “Wrath” back a week.

“Wrath” wasn’t the only film to dodge “Hunger Games,” however.

Relativity Media moved “Mirror Mirror,” originally slated to bow in June, to March 16, after Universal dated its Snow White pic for that same month. But when “Hunger Games” came on distribs’ radar in early 2011, “Mirror” moved again – this time to its current Friday release. Relativity is positioning the PG film as an alternative for families.

David Spitz, exec VP of distribution for Lionsgate, said the studio stayed confident in launching the film outside summer due to such past spring successes as “Clash” and “Alice in Wonderland.” “We wanted to launch the film in the best possible light,” Spitz said, “but then it just became this perfect storm as everything else moved away.”

“Wrath” is expected to open in the $50 millions, according to some tracking services, “Mirror Mirror” in the low-to-mid 20s.

But aud interest has been skewed greatly over the past month by “Hunger Games,” which gobbled up the majority of first-choice polling votes. Even on Monday, “Games” received 30% of first-choice votes – characteristic of a film with huge B.O. scope.

“Hunger Games” should retain a sizable adult aud this weekend and that could affect the PG-13-rated “Wrath.” Its tween appeal could cut into the aud for “Mirror,” though the Relativity pic will lure parents with kids not quite old enough for the violence in “Hunger.”

Universal’s R-rated “American Reunion” and Paramount’s “Titanic” 3D revamp bow Easter weekend, which this year lacks a Tyler Perry pic or a kidpic like “Hop” to goose holiday B.O. “Titanic” is one of April’s biggest B.O. question marks; early tracking for “Titanic 3D” points to a potential $40 million opening.

The weekend of April 13 has four wide releases, including Fox’s “Three Stooges” remake and Lionsgate chiller “The Cabin in the Woods,” while three pics launch on April 20: Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee” doc, Sony romancer “Think Like a Man” and Warners comedy “The Lucky One.”

Rounding out April are Sony’s 3D toon “Pirates! Band of Misfits,” Universal’s comedy “The Five-Year Engagement,” Relativity’s Edgar Allan Poe thriller “The Raven” and Lionsgate’s Jason Statham actioner “Safe.”

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