October 30, 2008 / 9:25 PM / in 10 years

"High School Musical 3" set for Halloween honors

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Once more with feeling?

Cast members of the "High School Musical" movies, (from L-R) Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, present an award at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles September 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Friday night’s trick-or-treating could tie up a few prospective movie patrons, but it’s hard to see how “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” can be kept from repeating atop the weekend box office in North America. A 50% drop would see the Disney hit fetch $21 million this session, and it’s unlikely either of the frame’s wide openers will top that.

The Weinstein Co.’s R-rated comedy “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” seems to be tracking well enough in prerelease surveys of prospective patrons to produce an opening in the teen millions. But it appears Freestyle Releasing’s PG-13 horror film “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” could be hurt enough by Halloween diversions that even a $10 million opening proves out of reach.

Meantime, Lionsgate’s “Saw V” is likely to drop at least a bit further than 50 percent from last weekend’s $30 million debut. The R-rated sequel still could grab second place during its sophomore session — depending on how “Zack and Miri” performs.

“We’re very optimistic,” Weinstein Co. distribution boss Steve Bunnell said of opening prospects for the raunch-and-romance comedy. “We have very strong awareness, even in the competitive landscape.”

Directed by Kevin Smith, “Zack and Miri” stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as cash-strapped platonic friends who decide to, well, make a porno. Executives hope cast talk-show stumping will help boost their film’s opening haul. But though Rogen, Banks and Smith have been embraced by distinct fan bases, it’s questionable whether any of the trio can deliver an audience based on their individual renown.

“Molly” appears to be the most disadvantaged by the holiday’s costumed diversions, but Freestyle chief Mark Borde said he has his fingers crossed that the Halloween hex won’t hit the horror film too severely.

“That’s all we’ve been talking about,” Borde said. “About a third of the camp says it won’t have any effect, a third says it will have a good effect, and a third says it will hurt us. I think we might get a little stung on Friday, (but) we’re praying for a little rain and cold.”

“Molly” stars Haley Bennett (“College”) in the title role.

Elsewhere this session, Universal expands Clint Eastwood’s Angelina Jolie starrer “Changeling” to almost 1,900 locations, a week after it enjoyed a strong bow on 15 screens in nine markets. The drama will likely finish ahead of “Molly” on the weekend chart. Warner Bros. also sets Guy Ritchie’s platforming “RocknRolla,” to a barely wide 825 playdates, which could help the gangster release rumble with “Molly” for the next rung in the rankings.

The “Changeling” expansion bears particularly close watching — for how the film is received by critics at the cusp of awards season and for how its box office performance bears on prospects for another Eastwood film. Warners recently slotted the Eastwood-helmed and -toplined drama “Gran Torino” for a limited bow December 17.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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