LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Five wide releases hitting theaters in mid-August smack of inventory-clearing, yet one of the pictures could become a late-summer sleeper hit and another could reap solid counter-programing business.
A well-received promo event at Comic-Con stoked prerelease buzz on the sci-fi actioner "District 9," and early reviews for the Peter Jackson-produced film have been fervid.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp -- a South African commercials veteran getting his first feature credit -- Sony's R-rated pic is tracking best with male youngsters, and a debut north of $25 million looks likely.
"It's a picture that will open well and then can continue to broaden," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "It's got a lot of facets to it. On the surface it's a science fiction picture, but it's more. The movie has a lot of heart."
Based on Blomkamp's film short "Alive in Joburg," "District 9" was shot in Johannesburg and tells the story of extraterrestrials who become refugees in South Africa.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. bows the literary adaptation "The Time Traveler's Wife," starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, with the intent of capturing women out to avoid "District 9."
Tracking shows strong interest in the romantic fantasy among younger and older women alike, thanks to Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling novel of the same name.
"That's what sets it apart," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.
Elsewhere among the wide openers, Summit Entertainment has modest aims for the high school comedy "Bandslam," starring Disney alumna Vanessa Hudgens. The picture should gross into the lower double-digit millions based on decent interest among teens and tweens.
Paramount opens the R-rated comedy "The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard," starring Jeremy Piven and Ving Rhames, amid soft prerelease interest, suggesting a bow in the mid- to high single-digit millions.
And Disney sends out its English-dubbed version of "Ponyo" from Japanese animation king Hayao Miyazaki with 800-plus playdates. The English voice cast for "Ponyo" includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey and 9-year-old Noah Cyrus, as a goldfish aspiring to become human, in her first feature role.
Despite its barely wide theater count, a sum in the mid- to high single-digit millions seems doable for the family fantasy. "Ponyo" was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid."
Limited releases this weekend include Sony Pictures Classics' musical documentary "It Might Get Loud," starring guitar heroes Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. The Davis Guggenheim-directed film is set for seven playdates.
Editing by DGoodman at Reuters