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‘Awakening’ should top B.O.’s wide quartet

'Extremely Loud' tries for mass aud with big expansion

Overall domestic box office should continue its 6% lead over this time last year, as Sony-Screen Gems’ fourth “Underworld” installment, “Awakening,” is expected to score with a bow in the mid-$20 million range this weekend.

An additional troupe of wide players — Warner Bros.’ “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” 20th Century Fox’s “Red Tails” and Relativity Media’s “Haywire” — should help January’s solid totals.

According to some B.O. observers, “Extremely Loud,” expanding to 2,630 locations in its fifth frame, and “Red Tails” could be close at just north of $10 million each through Sunday. Fox, however, expects a more modest bow for “Red Tails” in the high single-digits — similar to the total expected for “Haywire.”

Warners has held “Extremely Loud” at six locations since bowing the film on Christmas Day. Pic’s domestic cume stands at $681,000 for a per-screen average of $113,500.

Also competing for the weekend’s top-five placement: repeat players “Contraband” and “Beauty and the Beast” in 3D.

Both films received favorable exit poll ratings last weekend, which point to potentially strong soph-sesh perfs. “Contraband” has cumed $32.3 million Stateside through Wednesday while “Beauty” has raked in $24 million domestically.

Other titles expanding include the Weinstein Co.’s Golden Globe-winning pair “The Iron Lady” and “The Artist.” The former, with $8.4 million after three weeks, adds almost 275 U.S. locations for a total 1,076, while “The Artist,” with nearly $10 million domestically, broadens in its ninth frame to 662 engagements.

Overseas, Warner Bros.’ two-week champ “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” could fall to “Awakening,” which bows day-and-date in 35 territories. (Sony has all international rights, except in the U.K. and France.)

“Underworld: Awakening,” which marks the return of star Kate Beckinsale to the vampire franchise, is also the series’ first 3D installment. “Awakening” bows at 3,078 total playdates, of which 2,545 are 3D, including 254 Imax locations.

The series’ fourth installment cost a reported $70 million, but Sony said it hopes “Awakening,” with Beckinsale back and an added boost from 3D, can grow stronger legs than its three predecessors. The three prior installments all cumed domestically only about two and a half times their opening — a typical multiple for similar genre pics.

The second “Underworld” film, “Evolution,” scored the franchise’s best debut at $26.9 million in 2006, the 2003 original posted an opening of $21.8 million, and “Rise of the Lycans” bagged $20.8 million. “Awakening” is expected to play best to young men.

Fox’s “Red Tails,” meanwhile, will open to a largely African-American male audience, according to the studio, though that could expand.

Fully financed by Lucasfilm for around $58 million, “Red Tails” tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American pilots to fly combat missions during WWII. Ensembler features Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Phillips and Terrence Howard. Fox said the film’s PG-13 rating should allow for some interest by family audiences.

According to online ticketing site Fandango, “Red Tails” was leading Thursday’s ticket sales, with 27%, outpacing both “Underworld” (24%) and “Haywire” (3%).

“Haywire,” a Relativity project from helmer Steven Soderbergh, cost the studio a reported $23 million. But thanks to tax rebates from Ireland and foreign pre-sales, Relativity was able to reduce its risk to just $1.5 million, not including marketing costs.

The film launches day-and-date this weekend via Lionsgate Intl. in seven offshore markets, including the U.K., Russia, Taiwan and India. International cast is led by Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Michael Fassbender.

Bowing this weekend at the Stateside specialty B.O., the Weinsteins’ “Coriolanus” opens at nine locations. Fox’s Mexican pic “Miss Bala” bows at four.

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