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MOVIE PROJECTOR

Plenty of 'Thunder' in forecast

The Hollywood satire is likely to roll over the 'Dark Knight.'

August 15, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

A shape-shifting mummy couldn't dethrone "The Dark Knight" at the box office two weeks ago, and neither could a pair of stoners last weekend. Now comes a trio of self-absorbed actors with a chance to knock Batman from No. 1.

DreamWorks' "Tropic Thunder" -- the Hollywood satire whose Simple Jack character sparked a boycott call from advocates for the developmentally disabled -- should displace Warner Bros.' Caped Crusader with about $25 million expected in ticket sales this weekend, based on audience tracking polls. The film was produced for more than $90 million.

The R-rated action comedy, starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black as actors on location in Southeast Asia getting caught up in real combat, opened Wednesday at $6.5 million. The drug-addled comedy "Pineapple Express" launched to nearly twice that much a week earlier, but "Tropic Thunder" plays to a slightly older crowd that doesn't necessarily stand in line just to see the first show.

"Tropic Thunder" might be one of the last releases from the DreamWorks and Paramount family before an anticipated divorce announcement. DreamWorks/Paramount is the distribution entity created by Viacom Inc. to soothe the egos of -- er, ensure proper credit for -- the DreamWorks creative team.

When Projector called Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore to check the company credits on "Tropic Thunder," the executive quipped: "This may be the last time you have to worry about it."

Complaints about a subplot involving Simple Jack appear unlikely to hurt sales. Stiller's character is best known for his cheesy turn in an earnest drama titled "Simple Jack," a plot line DreamWorks calls a jab at Oscar-chasing actors.

But groups including the Special Olympics and the Down Syndrome Assn. of Los Angeles say the character and dialogue rife with "the R word," retard, are offensive and sure to fuel schoolyard taunting.

When ticket seller Fandango.com asked in a poll this week, "Does the national boycott by disability groups make you less interested in seeing the movie or more interested?," 77% of the 1,000-plus respondents chose "more interested."

Regardless of how well it opens, "Tropic Thunder" could show sturdy legs. On Thursday, 83% of reviews were positive, according to RottenTomatoes.com, and IMDB users rated it 8.3 out of 10.

"Tropic Thunder" is the third in a string of high-profile, over-the-top comedies, following "Step Brothers" and "Pineapple Express" into the market, but Moore notes that it has fairly clear sailing, with few similar movies coming soon.

"The Dark Knight," which fended off "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" and "Pineapple Express" the last two weekends, should haul in an additional $17 million. That won't be enough to make it five weekends in a row atop the charts, but the movie will pass "Star Wars," which has grossed $461 million in multiple releases since 1977, to rank as all-time No. 2 behind "Titanic."

Producer George Lucas won't rest until the "Star Wars" franchise has been exploited in every market, including dinner theater in Des Moines. His empire's latest spinoff, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," opens this weekend. The Warner Bros. release is headed for a $10-million-to-$15-million debut, depending on how strongly preteen boys turn out.

New Regency Pictures and 20th Century Fox's "Mirrors," starring Kiefer Sutherland in a remake of an Asian horror film, will lure genre fans. Director Alexandre Aja's credits include "High Tension." Tracking signals an $11-million launch.

Woody Allen's sun-splashed romantic comedy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," from Weinstein Co. and MGM, shapes up as another successful late-career change of scenery. Allen, who enjoyed one of his best box-office results since the 1980s with the British-set 2005 crime drama "Match Point," followed the money as Spanish financiers invited him to shoot his latest film in Barcelona.

The saucy (by PG-13 standards) "Vicky," starring Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson, should benefit from good reviews and scant competition for adult females. It opens at only 692 theaters, versus 3,319 for "Tropic Thunder," but should take in $3 million to $6 million.

Theater availability might keep "Fly Me to the Moon" from Summit Entertainment out of the top 10 as exhibitors struggle to install 3-D technology. The animated film, showing strictly in 3-D, opens at 452 venues. Limiting the supply of theaters is Warner's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," which is hanging tough in 3-D as well as 2-D.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Weekend Forecast

"Tropic Thunder" could knock off "The Dark Knight" for No. 1 at the box office. Along with the movies listed below, contenders to make the top 10 include "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Studios will issue weekend estimates Sunday and actual results Monday.

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

1 Tropic Thunder $23.7 $34.5 1 (DreamWorks/Paramount)

2 The Dark Knight (Warner 17.1 473.0 5 Bros.)

3 Star Wars: The Clone Wars 14.2 14.2 1 (Warner Bros.)

4 Pineapple Express (Sony) 12.5 66.9 2

5 Mirrors (20th Century Fox) 10.7 10.7 1

6 The Mummy: Tomb of the 7.8 86.7 3 Dragon Emperor (Universal)

7 The Sisterhood of the 6.5 33.3 2 Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.)

8 Mamma Mia! (Universal) 5.5 115.6 5

9 Vicky Cristina Barcelona 5.2 5.2 1 (MGM)

10 Step Brothers (Sony) 5.0 91.6 4 *--*

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Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.

Source: Times research

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Los Angeles Times

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