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MOVIE PROJECTOR

'Pineapple Express' seeks inside track on 'Dark Knight'

Sony's comedy aims to derail the momentum of Warner Bros.' record-breaking Batman.

August 06, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

When "The Dark Knight" recently broke the opening weekend box-office record with $158.4 million in sales, Warner Bros. snatched bragging rights from Sony Pictures, whose "Spider-Man III" had held the mark since summer 2007.

So the gang at Sony would relish the chance for a bit of buzz kill. The stoner comedy "Pineapple Express" may be just the ticket.

The R-rated romp from prolific producer Judd Apatow, stars Seth Rogen and James Franco and their co-conspirators could rack up $40 million from today's launch through Sunday, including $25 million-plus for the weekend, consumer tracking shows.

That won't be anywhere near a record, but it could be enough to dethrone the Batman movie from its three-week perch at No. 1.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, August 07, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Box-office forecast: The chart with Wednesday's Movie Projector feature in the Business section listed "Wall-E" as entering its third weekend of release. The movie will be in its seventh weekend.

"We think we can give 'The Dark Knight' a run for No. 1, but nobody's been able to beat it yet," said Jeff Blake, Sony's chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution. "I think we've got a shot."

Sony and Relativity Media produced "Pineapple Express," about a lazy pothead schlub and his small-time dealer on the run from the cops and a ruthless drug lord, for $27 million.

Universal Pictures' sequel "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" nearly trumped the Caped Crusader last weekend. "The Dark Knight," this year's only picture to three-peat, could bank another $25 million this weekend, enough to be in the mix for No. 1 again.

Alcon Entertainment and Warner's PG-13-rated comedy-drama "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," also opening today, is tracking for a $15-million weekend and $20 million-plus in its first five days.

Why release on a Wednesday? With most youngsters on vacation, studios are scrambling to maximize the industry's prime summer play dates -- when midweek business for the typical movie climbs by about one-third over the rest of the year, and to stoke word-of-mouth ahead of the weekend.

"Sisterhood," a $27-million production with a cast including America Ferrera from "Ugly Betty," and "Pineapple Express" were both recently scooted up by two days on the release schedule, as was next week's comedy "Tropic Thunder" from Paramount Pictures.

Rogen plays Dale Denton, the lazy pothead schlub of "Pineapple Express," in a role that marks a career first. Until now, he has never played a character named Dale Denton.

Franco, best known as Peter Parker's pal (and adversary) Harry in the "Spider-Man" movies, is earning raves for his warped turn as Dale's weed dealer.

"Sisterhood" is a sequel to 2005's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," a PG-rated heart-tugger aimed at 12-to-16-year-old girls that grossed an unspectacular $39.1 million domestically and didn't "travel," as they say in Hollywood, tallying a mere $3 million overseas.

Alcon co-Presidents Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson said that film was barely profitable but warranted a sequel because it had been popular on DVD, racking up more than $40 million in disc sales. The continuing book series from Ann Brashares and the elevated profile of the cast add to the fan base.

In the new film, the friends played by Ferrera, Alexis Bledel from TV's "Gilmore Girls," Amber Tamblyn from "Joan of Arcadia" and Blake Lively from Projector's guilty pleasure "Gossip Girl" are now of college age but still sharing a pair of supposedly magical jeans. The producers expect the audience to expand to 17-to-24-year-old females and above.

Kosove and Johnson, whose aww-inducing romantic drama "P.S. I Love You" grossed a solid $138 million worldwide, said the female-driven hits "Sex and the City" and "Mamma Mia!" proved that Hollywood was being wise to look beyond teenage guys.

"The film industry for so many years has been dependent on young males," Kosove said, "but new technologies including video games have distracted that population disproportionately."

The "Sisterhood" movies explore concepts like bonding that are well outside of Projector's emotional tool kit. But he nonetheless watched the first one as a dutiful spouse and was pleasantly surprised -- no, downright verklempt -- as he realized the magic was not in the jeans themselves but in the true friendship the characters shared. Much was made of Ferrera's initial reluctance to do the sequel, but she was contractually obligated and became an ardent promoter of the movie, the producers said.

SPOILER ALERT: They say the cast will probably not reunite again, but note that the jeans get lost at the end of the new picture -- perhaps to eventually be found by, say, another set of friends.

"We'll have a better sense on Thursday morning after we start to see the grosses," Kosove said.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Weekend Forecast

"Pineapple Express" is expected to challenge "The Dark Knight" in a close race for No. 1 at the box office this weekend. These figures are The Times' predictions. Studios will issue weekend estimates Sunday and actual results Monday.

*--* Movie 3-day prediction Through the Weeks (studio) (millions) weekend

1 Pineapple Express (Sony) $28.1 $40.5 1

2 The Dark Knight (Warner 26.7 445.7 4 Bros.)

3 The Mummy: Tomb of the 17.1 72.4 2 Dragon Emperor (Universal)

4 The Sisterhood of the 15.2 20.8 1 Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.)

5 Mamma Mia! (Universal) 9.2 105.0 4

6 Step Brothers (Sony) 9.1 83.2 3

7 Journey to the Center of 5.0 81.9 5 the Earth (Warner Bros.)

8 Swing Vote (Disney) 3.2 12.0 2

9 Wall-E (Disney) 3.1 210.2 3

10 Hancock (Sony) 3.0 221.8 6 *--*

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Source: Times research

Los Angeles Times

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