June 29, 2010 / 10:46 PM / 7 years ago

Summer box office looks for sunlight after "Eclipse"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood hopes the sleepy summer box office gets jolted awake by vampire film "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" when it debuts on Wednesday, ahead of what some experts believe will be a $175 million-plus opening over five days.

"Eclipse," about a romance between a teen and a vampire, will open in more than 4,400 U.S. and Canada theaters, a record number of venues and one that almost guarantees a blockbuster.

Overall U.S. and Canadian ticket sales are down 8 percent for the summer season to $1.88 billion from $2.04 billion in 2009, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co, as recent films such as "Killers," "The A-Team" and "Knight and Day" have posted less than stellar returns.

"It's been kind of a bummer summer, but thank goodness for films like the 'Karate Kid,' 'Toy Story 3' and now 'Eclipse' because it just takes a couple of films to turn things around," said Paul Dergarabedian, head of Hollywood.com Box Office.

Summit Entertainment, the studio behind "Eclipse," said it expects the movie will make $150 million in the U.S. and Canada over six days from Wednesday through the Independence Day weekend in the U.S., which ends on Monday, a public holiday.

But that figure is seen as a conservative estimate by some box office analysts, who say the film, which cost $68 million to produce, could make closer to $175 million from Wednesday through Sunday, not even including Monday.

Dergarabedian said "Eclipse" could even earn up to $190 million over the five days. The biggest five-day opening ever for a Wednesday opening is last year's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" with $200 million.

"SORCERER'S" AND "SALT"

Analysts say if "Eclipse" does well, that will bode well for other summer films, such as: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," "Inception" and "Salt," which all debut in July, as well as August openers "The Expendables" and "Eat Pray Love."

"Anytime you have a big opening like this ('Eclipse,') it does help, it creates excitement about going to the movies and that gets people talking," said Jeff Bock, analyst with Exhibitor Relations.

Bock said this is a weak summer compared to other years.

"Fanboy films and superhero films really drive the box office, and when you only have one of those on the schedule in 'Iron Man 2' and it comes at the beginning of the summer, it comes off a little lackluster," he said.

Bock calls science fiction film "Inception," which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, the only sure-fire blockbuster for the rest of the summer, and said it could make more than $80 million in the U.S. and Canada its first weekend.

Meanwhile, "The Last Airbender," a family adventure film from director M. Night Shyamalan which opens on Thursday, could benefit from some theatergoers not being able to get a ticket for packed showings of "Eclipse."

With fans lining up for midnight showings of "Eclipse," analysts said if the film has a weakness it is the heavy doses of romance between teenage girl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire man Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), which could turn off male audiences.

Summit has amped up the action in the "Twilight" series of movies, and the studio said males have shown as much interest in "Eclipse" as for 2009's "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." That second film in the franchise made $297 million at U.S. and Canada box offices.

Online ticket seller Fandango.com said its fan survey shows more moviegoers plan to bring a date to "Eclipse" than for the previous two "Twilight" films, which could bode well for reaching that male audience.

"'Eclipse' doesn't have to top 'New Moon' in order to be a big hit, it would be unreasonable to expect it to do more than 'New Moon,' and if it does, that would be a good thing," said Brandon Gray, head of tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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