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‘Bridesmaids,’ ‘Priest’ face tentpoles at B.O.

Frosh pics go up against 'Thor,' 'Fast Five'

A pair of summer counterprogrammers, Universal’s “Bridesmaids” and Sony/Screen Gems’ “Priest,” enter the frame this weekend, looking to buck tentpoles “Thor” and “Fast Five.” But with modest tracking for both openers ranging from the low- to mid-teens, neither title is expected to rise to the top spot.

“Bridesmaids,” bowing today at 2,917 locations, is netting most of its pre-weekend buzz from femme auds over 17, while “Priest,” at 2,864 U.S. runs, including 2,006 in 3D, should play best with male moviegoers.

Both pics could perform above expectations, but it’s hard to tell since tracking has latelybeen somewhat unreliable. “Thor,” with $80.7 million domestically, and “Fast Five,” with a $147 million domestic cume, are still drawing plenty of people to the multiplexes. And rampant early interest for upcoming tentpoles “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “The Hangover Part II” are skewing tracking services.

In the case of “Bridesmaids,” U attributed uncertain expectations for the film to a lack of comparable titles in the past. “A comedy like this, without the ‘Sex and the City’ pedigree, has never been done before,” said U distribution topper Nikki Rocco. “As it relates to the results of this weekend’s box office, we’re in uncharted territory.”

“Bridesmaids” is nevertheless expected to bow ahead of “Priest.” Sony’s offering would best compare to Screen Gems’ “Legion,” as both starred Paul Bettany as a souped-up religious action hero with Scott Charles Stewart helming. Even with its early summer berth in 3D, “Priest” isn’t expected to reach the $17.5 million opening reached by the 2D “Legion” in January 2010.

It’ll be a crowded weekend at the specialty B.O., with Roadside Attractions’ Will Ferrell starrer “Everything Must Go” and Lionsgate’s Latino-targeted dance pic “Go For It,” via studio’s Pantelion label, both opening at 218 domestic locations.

Also bowing in limited release is Wrekin Hill’s “Hesher,” toplining Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman, at 40 engagements. Meanwhile, Summit expands Jodie Foster-helmed pic “The Beaver” to 105 playdates after the film struggled to open last weekend with a meek $4,890 per-screen average from 22 debut playdates.

After Universal’s boffo success with “Fast Five,” the studio hopes to continue its positive streak with “Bridesmaids.” The R-rated laffer — the first of many this summer — has several advantages, including an ensemble female cast led by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and the bankable clout of producer Judd Apatow. U also has screened the film aggressively, with nearly 350 word of mouth screenings to date.

Pic, budgeted at a reported $32.5 million, may do better than Universal’s projected low-teens opening and even exceed slightly higher expectations outside the studio. It all depends on how many men turn out alongside the pic’s core femme target.

Either way, U said the film should have a strong holdover presence, especially during weekdays, since adult femmes typically make up a significant portion of midweek business.

“Bridesmaids” could have a tougher time overseas as American laffers historically have been a difficult sell internationally. Universal may have to wait and see how the film performs Stateside before committing to a major overseas push, though several key markets already have been dated for later this summer.

Meanwhile, Sony positioned “Priest” for an expansive international rollout, bowing the pic day-and-date this weekend in more than 40 markets, including Brazil, France, Germany, India and Mexico. “Priest” opened last weekend in Russia, Spain and the U.K. and has already earned a collective $5.6 million. Most of that came from Russia, while the pic outgrossed “Legion” in all three early markets.

“Priest,” Screen Gem’s most expensive pic to date with a budget of about $60 million, could also wind up doing better than its modest expectations with help from higher 3D ticket prices. That, however, depends on the pic’s fanboy turnout and how many are willing to pay the 3D upcharge. Screen Gems has deliberately kept its P&A costs down on the pic, zeroing in on the target young male demo.

Last weekend, “Thor” opened to a lower per-screen average on 3D than on 2D — an unusual stat for most 3D fanboy films — which may not bode well for “Priest.” Still, “Thor” probably attracted more family auds than “Priest” will pull in. Family-skewing films are most susceptible to diverse 3D shares as families have proven fickle with the format.

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