October 8, 2010 / 2:14 AM / 8 years ago

"Life" a favorite to top weekend box office

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Disney’s wannabe thoroughbred of a sports drama is limping to the starting gate.

One of three wide releases set to hit domestic multiplexes Friday, “Secretariat” totes relatively modest production costs and the grossly immodest marketing costs typical of any major studio release. But the weekend’s other wide-release debuts look a bit hotter to trot.

The Warner Bros. comedy-drama “Life as We Know It,” starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, and Rogue Pictures’ 3D horror thriller “My Soul to Take” each should fetch $15 million or more through Sunday. “Secretariat” will have to break big in the homestretch to reach similar turf; interest in the horse-race film still looked light in Thursday’s tracking data.

“Secretariat” carries a PG rating and a roughly $32 million price tag, but its marketing costs ran to about $50 million because of the standard pricey TV commercials and other media buys. In a strategy reminiscent of last year’s sports drama “The Blind Side,” a supplemental grassroots campaign tied to the picture’s inspirational subtext has targeted faith-based groups.

Directed by Randall Wallace (“We Were Soldiers”), “Secretariat” is a 1970s-set sports tale about a famous Triple Crown pursuit. Diane Lane portrays racehorse owner Perry Chenery, with a supporting cast of John Malkovich, Scott Glenn and James Cromwell. Reviews have been largely positive, but tracking appears soft in all demographic groups. The strongest support for the film is with older women.

The clearest historical comparison for “Secretariat” is 2003’s “Seabiscuit,” which bowed with $20.9 million en route to posting $120.8 million domestically.

Disney staged sneak previews of “Secretariat” in 804 theaters last weekend, with auditoriums at just 59 percent capacity on average. Of the sneaks patrons, 55 percent were 35 or older, and 55 percent were female, with family and date-couple patrons also notably in the mix.

Warners offered sneak previews of “Life” in 811 locations last weekend, drawing 60 percent-capacity audiences comprising more than 70 percent females and 50 percent patrons age 30 or older. Rated PG-13, “Life” was produced for an estimated $35 million with Village Roadshow co-financing.

“Soul” was produced for a reported $50 million and should skew much younger than “Secretariat” or “Life” despite the horror flick’s R rating. Universal has distribution rights in the U.S. and Alliance in Canada, with “Soul” set for almost 1,800 3D locations among 2,500-plus total domestic engagements.

Films opening in limited release Friday include Overture’s “Stone,” a dramatic thriller starring Robert De Niro, Edward Norton and Milla Jovovich that’s set for exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles. The R-rated film represents the last Overture release before its operations are swept up into Relativity brand.

Sony Pictures Classics unspools the Stephen Frears-directed “Tamara Drewe,” an R-rated comedy starring Gemma Arterton, in two New York locations and two in Los Angeles. The specialty distributor also will bow the financial-crisis documentary “Inside Job” in a pair of New York theaters.

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