On the first full weekend of 2011, the top of the box office chart will look a lot like the end of last year.
Neither one of the two new movies opening Friday, the fantasy action flick "Season of the Witch" and the musical drama "Country Strong," is expected to sell as many tickets as the most popular two releases of the last two weekends, "Little Fockers" and "True Grit," according to people who have seen pre-release audience polling.
"Witch," which stars Nicolas Cage, should gross about $12 million in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday, while "Country Strong" probably will take in between $5 million and $7 million.
"Little Fockers" and "True Grit" are each likely to take in between $12 million and $15 million on their third weekend in theaters. Foretelling a champion ahead of the weekend is difficult. The Ben Stiller- Robert De Niro comedy "Little Fockers" was more popular for the last two weekends, but "True Grit" ticket sales have declined more slowly. The Coen brothers-directed western, starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, pulled into the lead Monday and has maintained its edge through Wednesday.
The predicted openings for "Witch" and "Country Strong" would be soft, though not terrible, given their costs.
Relativity Media, which has recently moved beyond co-financing films with other studios into releasing its own pictures, spent about $40 million to make "Season of the Witch," which stars Cage and Ron Perlman as warriors returning home from the Crusades in the 14th century. Pre-release polling indicates that although the movie's core audience is younger men, more women than the studio expected are interested in the picture.
As it does with most of its movies, Relativity has already covered much of the budget with pre-sales to foreign distributors.
The film was previously set to be released by Lionsgate last March under a now-defunct distribution deal the studio had with Relativity.
"Country Strong," which stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a faded Nashville star seeking a comeback and Garret Hedlund as a rising young singer, cost Sony Pictures' Screen Gems genre label $12.5 million. Its core audience is expected to be adult women drawn to its romantic plot line.
The first weekend of January is typically one of the slowest of the year at movie theaters. And with no films approaching even $20 million in ticket sales, 2011 appears poised to continue that trend.