'Hunger Games,' 'Reunion' to help healthy holiday at B.O.

With a basket of topnotch holdovers led by “The Hunger Games” and promising newcomers “Titanic” and “American Reunion,” Easter weekend at the domestic box office looks poised not only to beat 2011′s holiday frame but also inch the 2012 B.O. needle closer to a record-setting pace.

A three-way race for No. 1 could come down to adult auds, as the under-25 crowd will be split in several directions. “The Hunger Games” may have a slight edge as it continues to broaden demographically.

Bragging rights aside, the weekend’s heightened holiday traffic should keep year-to-date domestic totals chugging along toward a potential record. Year-to-date B.O. is $2.6 billion, trailing 2010 by 2%. (2010 was a high-water year, tied with 2009.)

Paramount’s 3D retrofit of James Cameron’s 1997 mega-grosser “Titanic” launched Wednesday, while Universal’s “American Reunion,” the fourth theatrical installment in the “American Pie” franchise, unspools Friday at 3,192 locations.

Overseas, “Titanic” 3D could see a high-tide weekend, bowing in 84 countries, while “Reunion”(titled “American Pie: Reunion” internationally) launches day-and-date in 28 territories, including Australia, Mexico and Russia.

Bizzers expect “Titanic” to hit around mid-$20 millions in three days, with a potential $30 million five-day take. “American Reunion,” meanwhile, could similarly nab a $25 million Friday-to-Saturday gross. “Hunger Games,” with a domestic cume approaching $260 million, again will vie for top Stateside placement: If “Games” drops 50%-55%, the pic would land in the mid-to-high $20 millions.

The vast majority of K-12 students will be out of school on Friday, while 33% of college students have that day off. Pics targeting a significant younger female demo like “Titanic” and “Hunger Games” should benefit most from school vacations. “American Reunion” is dominating young-male interest, but the film’s R rating will limit potential high-school moviegoers.

“Reunion,” which reunites cast members from the 1999 original “Pie,” cost a reported $50 million, with Relativity Media as an investor. The fourquel’s modest budget (not including marketing costs) leaves some breathing room profitability-wise. That’s good news, especially considering most American comedies have trouble overseas.

“American Pie 2″ had the series-best domestic opening, bowing to $45 million for a Stateside cume of $142 million. That pic totaled $287 million worldwide.

Par similarly has limited exposure on “Titanic,” since the 3D version cost $18 million to convert. The studio kept marketing costs low with a late-breaking, targeted campaign.

With an additional 79 Imax runs, “Titanic 3D” marks Par’s first all-digital release, at a total 2,674 locations. That’s significant, given the film’s three-hour-plus runtime; digital gives exhibitors more freedom in scheduling.

At the specialty B.O., Sony Pictures Classics launches writer-director Whit Stillman’s comedy “Damsels in Distress” at four total locations in New York and L.A. Magnolia Pictures, meanwhile, bows its Willem Dafoe actioner “The Hunter” at the same number of U.S. playdates.

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