What once looked like a clear-cut weekend at the box office has turned into a pitched battle.
Overture Films' horror remake "The Crazies" has come on strong in pre-release surveys of moviegoers and has a shot at challenging Warner Bros.' buddy comedy "Cop Out" to be the top new film this weekend, people familiar with the situation said. Just a couple of weeks ago, Warner's bigger budget movie, which stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, appeared certain to prevail.
Now both movies are on track to open to between $15 million and $20 million in sales in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday. Both will be in competition for the top of the box- office charts with "Shutter Island," which opened to $41 million last weekend.
Every movie, however, is in danger of losing several million dollars of potential sales with another major snowstorm bearing down on the Northeast.
"The Crazies," a remake of a 1967 George Romero movie about the accidental release of a biological weapon in a small town, appears to be benefiting from a marketing campaign that is heavy on viral online media, including a Facebook game and an iPhone application.
The movie is generating the strongest interest with males under 30, and Overture is hoping that it will draw young women as well. The only audience segment that's largely disinterested is women over 30, according to surveys.
The film cost Overture and financing partners Participant Media and Imagenation Abu Dhabi about $19 million to produce, meaning it should be in healthy financial shape if it opens as expected. That's welcome news for Overture, whose future under parent Liberty Media Corp. has been a subject of speculation.
"Cop Out" cost Warner $37 million to make, setting the bar for financial success higher than for the low-budget "Crazies." The '80s-style mismatched police partners flick is tracking best with men of all ages.
The audience segment that both movies are chasing aggressively is teen and college-aged guys, meaning their choices probably will be the key to how the weekend plays out.
"There is a lot of pressure on the young male audience this weekend," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' domestic distribution president.
It's unclear whether "Shutter Island" will hold on well this weekend or take a big plunge after a $20-million domestic debut. Opening-weekend audiences gave it an average grade of C-plus, according to market research firm CinemaScore, a sign of bad buzz.
However, its ticket sales grew from Friday to Saturday and it has performed well during the week, indications that it will hold on well and decline about 50%, an average amount, or less.
In limited release, Summit Entertainment is expanding Roman Polanski's political drama "The Ghost Writer" to 43 theaters Friday. Last weekend it opened to a very strong $183,000 at four theaters.
Sony Pictures Classics debuts "A Prophet," a French crime thriller nominated for a best foreign language picture Oscar, at nine theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Montreal.