LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The stars come out at the box office this weekend, with the two films opening in wide release featuring top-name talent.
Sony unspools a remake of the 1974 subway-hijacking thriller "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3," starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, while Paramount debuts the PG-rated comedy "Imagine That," toplined by Eddie Murphy.
Yet the fight for the No. 1 spot could prove to be a rematch of last weekend's slugfest between Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' R-rated comedy "The Hangover" and Disney/Pixar's 3-D animated feature "Up."
"Hangover" captured the box-office flag with a much stronger-than-expected opening-weekend gross of $45 million, and its midweek grosses have been equally outsize. If its strong word-of-mouth can generate sufficient sophomore-session momentum, it should register at least half as much box office this weekend as last.
"Up" had looked like a repeat box-office victor last weekend until final figures showed that "Hangover" had a better Sunday than originally estimated. "Up" dropped only 35 percent from its first Friday-Sunday tally, so it would seem likely to hold up decently this frame and compete for one of the top three spots in the weekend rankings.
The original "Pelham" featured Walter Matthau in a transit-cop role that has been tweaked for Washington in the remake. As the hijacker, Travolta steps into the role originated by Robert Shaw.
There also was a 1998 "Pelham" telefilm, starring Edward James Olmos in the Matthau role and Vincent D'Onofrio as the hijacker.
Sony distribution president Rory Bruer believes "Pelham" has a lot going for it this weekend.
"We have two big stars in a mano-a-mano confrontation, and it just works beautifully," Bruer said. "So we expect the results to be fantastic, certainly as it plays into the rest of summer."
Must-see interest in the film is strongest among older males, and "Pelham" -- which has James Gandolfini and John Turturro in supporting roles -- looks set for a first-frame haul in the $20 million-$25 million range. That should be enough to finish in one of the weekend's medal positions, with a shot at a No. 1 bow if the movie overperforms lustily.
Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick ("Over the Hedge"), "Imagine" casts Murphy as a father whose daughter (Yara Shahidi) helps him apply fantasy-world solutions to real-life problems. Prerelease tracking shows OK family interest, and the film might bow with a gross in the teen millions.
"It's a bit of a sapling among redwoods," one industryite observed.
Limited releases unspooling Friday include Vivendi's "Call of the Wild 3-D," a family adventure starring Christopher Lloyd that's set for 15 playdates, and Sony Pictures Classics' sci-fi thriller "Moon," starring Sam Rockwell, which debuts in eight locations in New York and Los Angeles.
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters