‘Evan’ hopes to flood box office

Sequel seeking almighty dollar

Universal and director Tom Shadyac’s “Evan Almighty” is the latest sequel to hit the multiplexes this weekend, amid high expectations.

“Bruce Almighty” — the first “Almighty” pic, which starred Jim Carrey as a regular guy who inherits divine powers — opened to $67.9 million in May 2003.

But “Evan” is tracking to bow well below that number, even while the U pic stands as a likely No. 1 candidate over the frame.

Then again, tracking data has been shaky lately: Last weekend, Fox’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” looked like it wouldn’t beat the pervious pic in that franchise, according to pre-weekend data, but the pic came out ahead of the game with a healthy $58 million.

Also hitting screens this weekend will be MGM’s release of the Weinstein Co.’s supernatural thriller “1408,” in 2,678 theaters.

Pic, starring John Cusack as a paranormal investigator, is based on a Stephen King short story.

Paramount Vantage’s politically charged Michael Winterbottom drama “A Mighty Heart” makes a play, meantime, for more serious filmgoers.

Pic comes at a time when some specialty films have been playing buoyantly at the B.O. among the blockbuster popcorn pics.

“Heart,” starring Angelina Jolie, beats in a wide 1,355 locations.

Weinstein Co. also is making a play for the specialty crowd by deciding to release its Michael Moore docu “Sicko” early in Gotham.

TWC is sneaking the pic on Saturday in major markets, too.

Fox’s “Fantastic” pic will try to hang tough against “Evan” and the rest of the competish. Last pic in the Marvel superhero series dropped almost 60% in its second frame after its own No. 1 bow back in 2005.

A raft of sequels this summer were expected to cannibalize each other, but the B.O. has still been on a torrid pace without any of the big budget, high expectation pics winding up as true misfires … yet.

“Evan” hits 3,602 theaters.

On the foreign front, U is taking a cautious approach with “Evan,” with day and date launches only in Russia and the Ukraine.

Studio is waiting for rival tentpoles to play out in most key offshore markets and will start with key openings in the U.K., Brazil and Mexico on Aug. 3 and Germany a week later.

“Evan” has solid foreign potential, given that predecessor “Bruce Almighty” took in $227 million overseas.

Paramount’s “Shrek the Third” is likely to lead the foreign box office for the second straight weekend with expansions into Germany, Spain and Benelux. As of Wednesday, the toon had already taken in $123.6 million offshore from 29 markets, led by Russia with $22.7 million, Australia with $17.7 million and France and South Korea with $15.5 million each.

BVI’s fifth frame of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” should remain an impressive draw. Even after a month, the buccaneers still managed to find enough coin on Wednesday to add $5 million to the foreign cume, which has hit $561.5 million — eighth highest on the list with “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” next at $584 million.

Foreign markets have contributed two out of every three dollars for “Pirates 3,” which has now hit $840 million worldwide. It’s taken in its biggest numbers in the U.K. with $73.2 million, Japan with $63.2 million and Germany with $50.7 million; China has been a solid performer with $8.6 million in its first nine days.

With “Pirates 3” and “Spider-Man 3” combining for more than $1.1 billion outside the United States since the start of May, action fans have been primed for Fox’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” as it expands into Australia and Mexico. It launched more than respectably last weekend with more than $25 million from day and date bows in 32 markets.

Warner continues to position “Ocean’s Thirteen,” with foreign cume decent so far with $70 million from 38 markets, as a counter-programmer as the star-laden caper comedy expands into France and Brazil.

Par’s taking “Blades of Glory” into Australia and New Zealand. The Will Ferrell comedy’s grossed $17 million outside the U.S. with two-thirds of that from the U.K.

Carell’s last starring vehicle, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” opened to a No. 1 bow domestically with just $21.4 million in August of 2005. But “Virgin” wound up with a total tally of $109.4 million.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)