"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," starring Gemma Arterton… (Paramount Pictures )
The witch hunters are headed for a box-office bull's-eye this weekend.
"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" has a lock on No. 1 at the box office with an expected opening of about $30 million, according to peole who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
A spokeswoman for distributor Paramount Pictures said the studio is expecting a more modest debut of a little over $20 million.
The action-oriented retelling of the classic fable will easily exceed two other new movies: "Parker," which stars Jason Statham in a crime thriller based on a series of novels, and the ensemble comedy "Movie 43."
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Both are expected to have weak openings of less than $10 million.
The competition for No. 2 will instead come down to a pair of returning movies. "Mama," which opened to a strong $28.4 million last weekend, will likely take a big tumble as most horror movies do in their second weekends. "Zero Dark Thirty," after grossing $15.8 million last weekend, should enjoy a more modest decline as it continues enjoying positive word-of-mouth and awards buzz.
Originally set to come out in March 2012, "Hansel & Gretel" was postponed by Paramount to this weekend, a move that appears to have paid off as it is outpacing the weak competition.
The $50-million 3-D film, which stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton and was co-financed by Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, opened last weekend in Russia to a healthy $8.6 million.
"Parker" was financed by several companies for about $30 million, with rights sold to different distributors around the world. Independent studio FilmDistrict bought U.S. rights to the movie, which costars Jennifer Lopez.
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The domestic opening looks like it will be in line with Statham's 2012 "Safe," which had a weak $7.9-million debut and a final box office tally of $17.1 million.
For director Taylor Hackford, however, it could be the lowest nationwide opening since 1995's "Dolores Claiborne."
"Movie 43" features a variety of A-list stars, including Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry and Emma Stone, all of whom make brief appearances in the collection of intertwined comedy vignettes. The film also has 12 credited directors, including Elizabeth Banks, Peter Farrelly and Brett Ratner.
Its anticipated poor performance may be less financially painful for distributor Relativity Media, as the comedy cost less than $10 million to produce.
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