LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Expect bloody competition for the top spot at the weekend box office.
Lionsgate's horror sequel "Saw VI" does battle with Paramount's similarly targeted supernatural thriller "Paranormal Activity" as three other wide releases hit multiplexes: Fox Searchlight's Hilary Swank-starring "Amelia," Summit's animated feature "Astro Boy" and Universal's John C. Reilly-toplined "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant."
The "Saw" sequel had been expected to perform much in line with franchise predecessors, bowing just north of $30 million to top the weekend rankings. But "Paranormal" has been doing abnormally strong business, first in limited release and last weekend from a barely wide 760 playdates.
"Paranormal" expands again to nearly 2,000 engagements Friday, creating audience overlap with the Lionsgate movie. But though both pictures carry R ratings, "Saw" support comes mostly from younger males, while the notably non-gory "Paranormal" plays best among younger females.
All things considered, the "Saw" sequel, set for 3,036 engagements, might find it tough to open higher than $25 million-$30 million, and "Paranormal" should fetch just below that range.
The PG-rated Amelia Earhart biopic "Amelia" should play broadly and vie for date-night coin Saturday. But its relatively modest distribution in about 800 theaters suggests a debut in the range of $8 million-$10 million.
Critics' support could be key to opening prospects for the Mira Nair-helmed pic, and positive word-of-mouth will be important further along. Early reviews have been lukewarm.
Inspired by the 1960s TV cartoon series, the PG-rated "Astro Boy" boasts 3,014 playdates. Young boys and their dads form a target audience, with the film likely to register $10 million or more through Sunday. Imagi Studios produced the 2D-animated pic at an estimated cost of $65 million, with Summit distributing.
"Cirque du Freak" is based on a series of books for tween and young teenage boys. A $10 million-plus bow looks likely for the PG-13 film, which circulates in 2,754 locations.
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, Warner Bros.' Spike Jonze-directed fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are," will be watched closely after opening with a better-than-expected $32.7 million. Adults outnumbered kids at its opening performances, so "Wild Things" might not display the marketplace hold of a typical family film.
On an industrywide basis, the weekend will be measured against a big $134 million session last year topped by "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" ($42 million) and "Saw V" ($30 million). That could prove a tough comparison, but the market has been strong of late, with year-over-year upticks each of the past two weekends.
Year to date, 2009 is pacing 5 percent ahead of 2008 at $8.06 billion.
Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters