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This weekend will be more about ''Prestige'' than ''Flags'' or ''Flicka''

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Christian Bale, The Prestige
The Prestige: Francois Duhamel

The movie mavens are putting me to the test this week, with four big new movies on the schedule, three of which have a shot to finish No. 1. Making matters worse, I’m definitely playing hurt: I think my ego has a torn ACL. After four straight weeks of pitch-perfect predictions I was about to change my name to Tiger Rich, I was so dominant. But then I really stank it up last weekend. What can I say? My picks were really poor — I mean, as shabby as a reality-show contestant’s grammar.

Now I’m ready to turn things around. I’m confident. Because I’m pinning my hopes on Disney’s magic thriller The Prestige, which is opening in more than 2,000 venues. Aside from that moderate theater count, much appears to be in its favor. First, pedigree: Director Christopher Nolan has become a real force at the box office since breaking out with the best movie of 2001, Memento. His Insomnia debuted with $20.9 mil in 2002 and last year’s Batman Begins opened to $48.7 mil, en route to a $205.3 mil domestic take; The Prestige also stars erstwhile Batman Christian Bale and everybody’s favorite Wolverine this side of future Heisman winner Mike Hart, Hugh Jackman, whose movies tend to open strongly even when they suck (see: Swordfish‘s $18.1 mil bow and Van Helsing‘s $51.7 mil). Second, buzz and marketing might: Seems I can’t channel surf these days without coming across that slick promo with the spinning letters. (No wonder I’m so dizzy.) Third, cool factor: The movie’s intricate plot is cool, its stars are cool, and it plain looks cool. So, you know, call me Kinsella, because I think that means people will come, Ray. It all adds up to an $18 mil premiere.

That should be enough to edge out the other major openers. DreamWorks/Warner’s Flags of Our Fathers is a film that would ordinarily seem like a sure first-place winner, thanks to its appealing patriotism (there’s plenty of literal flag-waving here, despite an ambivalent stance on warfare), its Oscar-baiting position, and the universal love of director Clint Eastwood. But its theater count of around 1,800 is on the low side and its R rating will limit crowds, so it’s looking at a $12 mil debut. That’s also what Fox’s family flick Flicka, an update of the classic horse story, which is playing in nearly 3,000 venues, will earn. I saw this movie a few weeks ago while I was working on a profile of its supercool star, Maria Bello (who appears alongside Alison Lohman and Tim McGraw), and I really enjoyed it. It really warmed my heart. It almost made me want to have children…or at least a horse. But it’s hard to imagine that a live-action family drama, no matter how sweet it is, can truly break out in this age of Pixar and Potter. I just don’t envision kids clamoring to see it. So that’ll keep returns low.

And speaking of der kinder, let’s discuss Sony’s Marie Antoinette, director Sofia Coppola’s children-in-palaces historical tale. This movie is quirky and has a lot of people talking, and it’s opening on a somewhat limited 800-odd screens; it will bring in $6 mil. That’ll put it a bit behind second-week holdover The Grudge 2 at $8 mil, and well in back of third-week holdover The Departed, which will stay strong with $13 mil. Yep, its hot streak will continue this weekend — and, baby, a new one for Tiger Rich will begin.