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Box Office: ‘Prisoners’ Aims to Lock Up $20 Million Weekend

Warner Bros. drama tracking to win with $18 mil-$20 mil; Uni pic bows at just five locations

The maelstrom of buzz generated by the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Fests gets its first real-world test this weekend as Warner Bros. launches “Prisoners,” which is tracking in the high-teens with a potential $20 million-plus upside.

The intense kidnapping drama, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, premiered at Telluride, followed by a Toronto screening, earning strong reviews at both festivals.

A pair of limited releases this weekend also screened at Toronto: Universal’s “Rush” and Fox Searchlight’s “Enough Said.”

Universal hopes to build buzz for “Rush,” about Formula One racing; Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl star. Fox Searchlight, meanwhile, bowed Nicole Holofcener-directed “Enough Said” — one of the last bigscreen performances for James Gandolfini — on Wednesday at four engagements.

Targeting teens, Sony launches Screen Gems’ dance pic “Battle of the Year” at 2,008 locations. Tracking has the film at $5 million-$7 million.

The noise generated by the three film festivals around Labor Day weekend tends to center on a film’s awards potential, an interest of film enthusiasts and industry professionals. But studios have parlayed that buzz into box office success in the past.

For “Prisoners,” which bows at 3,260 locations, reviews have been stellar (pic is at 81% on Rotten Tomatoes). Variety called the film “a spellbinding, sensationally effective thriller with a complex moral center.”

Meanwhile, “Rush,” which needs strong reviews to help generate interest for the obscure (in the U.S.) racing story, has not disappointed, with a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film’s limited release also must produce a strong per-screen average, since success at its debut theaters (the five largest in the country) will help prompt good placement in smaller markets next weekend.

While “Rush,” co-produced and financed by Exclusive Media and Cross Creek, generated positive reactions from Toronto, that’s no guarantee the film will register with a broader audience. Consider the Weinstein Co.’s “The Master,” which played extremely well at Venice and Toronto, then scored the all-time best per-screen average for a live-action film this time last year.

Ultimately, “The Master,” albeit a far less commercial film than “Rush,” belly-flopped in wide release, topping out at just $16 million domestically.

Warner’s “Gravity,” which premiered in Venice to great fanfare, bows wide in two weeks, with anticipation that it will become a major fall release. Early projections have the film grossing more than $100 million in its theatrical run.

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