After holding the top spot for seven consecutive weeks, it looks like "Avatar" will reign one final time over Super Bowl weekend.
Despite rising interest among its core audience of teenage and twentysomething women, romantic tear-jerker "Dear John" appears on track to open just shy of director James Cameron's blockbuster, which could be No. 1 at the box office for the eighth consecutive weekend.
According to people who have seen pre-release polling of moviegoers, "Dear John" could sell a little more than $20 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada. That's a solid start given that Relativity Media spent about $25 million to produce the film, which Sony Pictures is releasing in exchange for a distribution fee.
Still, the backers of "Dear John" will be looking for more than a solid opening and to a long run in theaters akin to that of 2004's "The Notebook," also based on a Nicholas Sparks romance novel, which made $13.5 million its opening weekend and ended up with $81 million in ticket sales.
"Avatar" is on track to gross $26 million to $28 million from Friday through Sunday if it continues the minimal 10% to 15% drop that it has experienced for each of the last several weekends. The 3-D science-fiction epic could get a boost from its nine Oscar nominations, including for best picture, this week and see an even smaller decline.
"Avatar" is virtually certain to be thrown off its domestic perch the weekend after the Super Bowl by any one of several new releases, including the romantic comedy "Valentine's Day" and horror remake "The Wolfman."
"Dear John" was originally set to be the only movie opening this weekend. However, when Paramount Pictures delayed the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller "Shutter Island" from October to Feb. 19, Lionsgate decided to avoid the competition and pushed back its John Travolta-Jonathan Rhys Myers action movie "From Paris With Love" to Friday.
Studios usually don't open movies aimed at men on Super Bowl weekend because the target audience is otherwise occupied on Sunday. But Lionsgate, which bought distribution rights to "From Paris" from financier Europa Corp., is hoping to duplicate the success of "Taken," which opened on Super Bowl weekend last year to a healthy $24.7 million. Both films were directed by Pierre Morel.
However, people who have seen pre-release surveys say "From Paris" is tracking for a more modest opening of about $15 million.
Much of the action on the box-office charts this weekend may be focused on several low-budget movies that received multiple Oscar nominations Tuesday from which they are hoping to receive significant boosts.
Lionsgate will expand best picture nominee "Precious" to 669 theaters from 222. The low-budget Sundance acquisition has already sold a healthy $46 million of tickets to predominantly African American crowds.
Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight are using this weekend to springboard their movies "An Education" and "Crazy Heart," respectively, beyond the limited runs they have had so far. The British coming-of-age drama "An Education," which got a best picture nod and has generated $8.8 million so far, will go to 763 theaters from 75. Country music drama "Crazy Heart," for which Jeff Bridges got a best actor nomination, is jumping to 819 theaters from 239. It has collected $7.3 million.
"An Education" and "Crazy Heart" will be looking to gross about $3 million this weekend, while "Precious" will probably take in an additional $1.5 million or so, having already done a substantial chunk of business.