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Box Office: ‘The Visit,’ ‘Perfect Guy’ in Tight Race to the Top

For Hollywood, September may be the cruelest month.

The start of fall isn’t known for hosting a lot of blue-chip productions, and this weekend is shaping up to be a typically muted start to the season. Two new films, “The Visit,” M. Night Shyamalan’s latest act of penance for that infamous Newsweek cover, and “The Perfect Guy,” a thriller aimed at African-American audiences, will try to breath some life into multiplexes.

It’s looking to be a toss-up for first place with both films looking at openings of between $15 million and $17 million based on tracking. Some analysts expect “The Visit,” which has a creepy ad hook depicting what appears to be the most disturbing visit to grandmother’s house ever, to pull ahead and climb higher. Although early ticket sales give the slight edge to “Perfect Guy,” which is currently outpacing “The Visit,” according to Fandango.

Neither picture was terribly expensive. “The Visit” cost $5 million and will be distributed by Universal and low-budget horror maestro Blumhouse. It bows on 3,068 theaters, and looks to snap Shyamalan’s cold streak. Once the hottest young director in the business, “The Sixth Sense” filmmaker became, fairly or not, a cautionary tale about cinematic hubris after his more recent efforts like “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender” were rejected by audiences and critics. “The Visit” plants him back in the shock and scare territory he mined admirably in “Signs,” “Unbreakable” and a certain film about seeing dead people that launched his career. A PG-13 rating should help the film bring in teenagers, who will likely make up a large chunk of the opening weekend audience.

The Perfect Guy” arrives courtesy of Sony’s Screen Gems label and cost a modest $12 million to produce. Given the low-budget the studio says it will be happy with an opening in the low-teens. The story of a woman (Sanaa Lathan) who makes a very bad bet by dating the man of her nightmares (Michael Ealy) opens on 2,200 screens. Screen Gems has had luck with this particular launching pad, having debuted “No Good Deed,” a similar “Perils of Pauline” storyline with Idris Elba and a pre-Cookie Taraji P. Henson, to a smashing $24.3 million over the same weekend. If “The Perfect Guy” does land in first place, it will follow on the heels of “War Room” and “Straight Outta Compton,” two other films that drew large African-American crowds.

There’s another picture hitting theaters that would love to follow “War Room’s” path — “90 Minutes in Heaven.” The story of a man who experiences a brush with the afterlife following a terrible car accident is aiming to attract the same faith-based crowds that transformed “War Room” into a box office success. That could be hard to pull off. “War Room” filmmakers Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick are major attractions with Christian audiences, and “90 Minutes in Heaven” lacks anything of that pedigree despite the fact that it is based on a popular book of the same name and stars Hayden Christensen. The picture should generate between $2 million and $4 million when it debuts on 838 locations.

In limited release, the weekend brings the adventure film “Wolf Totem,” the Jason Sudeikis romantic comedy “Sleeping With Other People” and Richard Gere’s “Time Out of Mind,” a drama about a homeless man.

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