U already managing expectations for ‘Huntsman’

Estimates soft mid-$30 mil domestic returns for pricey fantasy

Just two weeks after suffering B.O. debacle “Battleship,” Universal is seeking swift salvation from “Snow White and the Huntsman” — though instead it appears the studio is bracing for another round of damage control as it projects a weekend gross in the low- to mid-$30 millions.

With tracking off lately, Universal’s seemingly lowball figure could wind up being right. That would prove highly unfortunate for U, given “Huntsman’s” production cost, which some sources peg even higher than the reported $170 million. International B.O. will help — pic launches day-and-date this weekend in 45 territories — but a soft Stateside bow will spell trouble for the pic, putting it in the company of this year’s growing string of misfires, including “Battleship,” Disney’s “John Carter” and, to a lesser degree, Sony’s “Men in Black 3.”

Although “Huntsman” carries a smaller pricetag than “Battleship,” neither was cheap to market. U began promoting “Huntsman” as early as last year’s Comic-Con, where the studio revealed first-look character designs of Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth.

“Huntsman,” which launches today at 3,772 domestic locations, is one of only a few 2D tentpoles released this summer. That could mean mixed outcomes for the film, since over-25 auds — its core demo — are still more open to 2D-only pics in the U.S. The stereo format plays better overseas.

“Huntsman” has been generating the most heat from women. And while the pic surged slightly with men this week, interest among males of all ages still isn’t that impressive. To overperform “Huntsman” will likely have to resonate with filmgoers under 25. Stewart could help, though her star power has yet to yield much box office success beyond the “Twilight” franchise.

Over-25 auds will likely account for the majority of grosses on Saturday and Sunday, but mostly mixed reviews could go either way for the pic throughout the weekend. Still, the U pic accounted for more than half of Fandango’s ticket sales on Thursday.

Overseas, Fox’s “Prometheus,” which has been struggling to generate much female support Stateside, launched more than a week before its U.S. bow in France, with a $1.5 million opening day — second this year only to “The Avengers” ($2.9 million). The Ridley Scott sci-fier bowed wide Thursday in Russia, followed by today’s launch in the U.K., where it’s been generating solid pre-sales.

Several Stateside holdovers, led by “Men in Black 3,” look to take advantage of increased summer playtime. “Black 3” grossed $69.3 million over the four-day Memorial Day frame and has cumed nearly $80 million going into the weekend. Disney-Marvel’s “The Avengers,” meanwhile, continues to see solid mid-week biz; at $529.7 million, “Avengers” is less than $4 million away from eclipsing “The Dark Knight” as the third highest grossing domestic release.

Latino-targeted Andy Garcia historical drama “For Greater Glory” bows at 757 locations, while the Weinstein Co. launches “Piranha 3DD” at 86, with a day-and-date release across multichannel VOD and digital platforms, including Facebook.

Focus Features adds 12 locations for specialty VIP “Moonrise Kingdom” in cities including Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Washington, D.C.

Also, Fox Searchlight’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which crossed the $100 million global mark on Thursday, expands to 1,294 locations after landing in the domestic top 10 for the past two weekends. Stateside cume reached $20 million after four complete weeks.

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