August 13, 2010 / 12:54 AM / 9 years ago

"The Expendables" eyes brawny box office debut

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Julia Roberts doesn’t have a prayer against Sylvester Stallone at the weekend box office in North America.

Sylvester’s all-star mercenary thriller “The Expendables” will outmuscle Roberts’ “Eat Pray Love” as well as fellow newcomer “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” giving the venerable action hero one of the biggest openings of his career.

The ensemble actioner — also featuring Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren — is expected to fetch upward of $30 million through Sunday.

“The interest level with our core audience of male moviegoers is extremely high,” said David Spitz, president of distribution at Lionsgate, which is handling the U.S. release. “So we have a real shot at having a very solid weekend.”

The film, which Stallone also directed and co-wrote, was produced by Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millennium for more than $85 million. Lionsgate paid almost $20 million for distribution rights in the U.S. and the U.K., where it opens next Thursday. Maple Releasing will handle the picture in Canada this weekend.

“The Expendables” revolves around a group of mercenaries hired to overthrow a South American dictator. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger make cameos, while Mexican actress Giselle Itie is the lone female co-star.

Stallone was last in theaters in January 2008 with “Rambo,” which opened to $18.2 million. His best opening, unadjusted for inflation, was the $33.4 million start for “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over” in 2003.

“Eat Pray Love,” Columbia’s adaptation of writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir about a woman’s post-divorce global journey toward self-discovery, is “definitely going to enthrall the ladies,” said Rory Bruer, the studio’s president of worldwide distribution.

Prerelease tracking suggests a bow between such previous female-targeted films as “Julie & Julia” ($20 million last August) and “Mamma Mia!” ($27.8 million in July 2008).

Production costs on “Love” are estimated at about $60 million. Co-starring Billy Crudup, Viola Davis and James Franco, the film was directed by “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy.

The comic-book adaptation “Scott Pilgrim,” which also cost about $60 million, should travel well into the teen millions through Sunday.

Michael Cera stars as the title character, who must defeat his new girlfriend’s seven former lovers in a battle for her affections. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Make It Happen”) plays the girlfriend. Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”) directed the Universal release.

“It’s genre-bending and just so unique that it really plays to that Comic-Con crowd,” Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said. “But because it’s so unique, it is really hard to get a handle on exactly what it’s going to do.”

Limited openers set for Friday include Sony Pictures Classics’ Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” which comes out in two theaters in New York and two in L.A.

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