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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood should jump back into the win column this weekend with three diverse wide openers, led by "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa."
A built-in fan base and strong early reviews could help the DreamWorks Animation sequel outpace the 2005 franchise original's opening Friday-Sunday haul of $47.2 million. "Madagascar" bowed during a Memorial Day frame and thus posted a four-day opening of $61 million, en route to grossing $193.6 million overall domestically.
The Paramount-distributed sequel certainly should ring up at least $45 million-$50 million, but a big weekend of moviegoing could push the comedy even a bit higher.
"I think the movie has a real shot at opening over $50 million," Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore said. "The only real wild card is the weather. If it rains, that's great news for any film that plays to a family audience. But if it snows, it kills you."
Like its predecessor, the new "Madagascar" was co-directed by Eric Darnell -- who helmed 1998's "Antz" -- and Tom McGrath, who directed two episodes of "The Ren & Stimpy Show" before getting his big-screen break. Its voice cast again features Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Elsewhere among the weekend debuts, Universal unspools the raunchy comedy "Role Models," while MGM sends out the urban-skewing "Soul Men," starring the late Bernie Mac. Sales for the new films will be padded by grosses for holdovers including Disney's "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," which has held the top spot for the past two weekends.
That should make for a combo powerful enough to outpace the comparable year-ago weekend, a $114 million frame whose top opener was Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy "Fred Claus" with a disappointing $18.5 million. Total sales marked a year-over-year decline last weekend for the first time in six sessions.
"Role Models" has been drawing quite a favorable response from critics, and prerelease tracking indicates solid interest among young male moviegoers for the Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd starrer, suggesting a bow in the low single-digit millions. Anything higher would seem unlikely with "Madagascar" hitting the marketplace and the Weinstein Co.'s R-rated comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" in just its second weekend.
"Soul Men" will be helped by core appeal among fans of both Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, and an inaugural weekend of as much as $10 million appears possible. (In an odd twist of fate, Mac actually has two films opening this weekend; he provides a voice in "Madagascar" as the father of Stiller's lead character Alex the Lion.)
Mac's death this year prompted helmer Malcolm D. Lee ("Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins") to add some poignant bio clips prior to the film's final credits. "Soul Man" also features the late Isaac Hayes in a smaller role.
Limited openers include this doozy: Lionsgate's campy rock musical "Repo! The Genetic Opera," which unspools in eight locations in six markets.
Rated R for gore and violence, "Repo" is based on a stage musical with songs composed by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich and a futuristic sci-fi theme. The cast includes pop songstress Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton, with Darren Lynn Bousman ("Saw II," "III," "IV") directing.
Lionsgate plans a slow expansion over coming frames, hoping to spin a cult fan base built on word-of-mouth.
"If we're lucky, we'll turn it into a 'Rocky Horror' kind of film," Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.