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Look for ''The Hitcher'' to ride in front

Producer Michael Bay’s remake of the ”The Hitcher” looks like a killer at the box office, leaving ”Night at the Museum” and ”Stomp the Yard” by the side of the road

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The Hitcher (Movie - 2007), Sophia Bush
The Hitcher: Van Redin

Indulge me, will ya, while I dip into my deep, damp well of metaphors for a moment: We are now in the eye of the awards-season hurricane, friends. Last weekend had a holiday and the Golden Globes. Next week comes the big Oscar nominations announcement. But here we are now at a rare moment of quiet.

Just one movie — the horror remake The Hitcher — is opening this weekend. (Yeah, it’ll be an easy No. 1.) And a handful of long-running Academy Awards contenders — The Queen, Babel, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Last King of Scotland, Letters From Iwo Jima, and The Painted Veil — are expanding their theater counts in anticipation of lots of nods on Tuesday. In the next week or so, it’ll be particularly interesting to keep an eye on how a Golden Globes win and an expected slew of Oscar nominations affect Dreamgirls‘ grosses. But in the meantime, this is our one chance to take a breath — enjoy it while it lasts!

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

The Hitcher
Rogue · R · 2,831 theaters · NEW
This remake of the 1986 Rutger Hauer-C. Thomas Howell-Jennifer Jason Leigh bone chiller comes courtesy of the genre unit of the classics unit of the movie unit of the entertainment unit of NBC Universal. (Got that?) This time around, Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton are the dupes and Sean Bean is the naughty, naughty fellow who gets into their car. So, unless you count producer Michael Bay (who was also behind the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror) there aren’t any big names to draw crowds. Still, the fright flick’s genre should be enough. It has been three long months since our last horror hit, Saw III, premiered with $33.6 mil. And fans are ready for more blood on a weekend that featured Underworld: Evolution‘s $26.9 mil debut last year.
Weekend prediction: $24 million

Night at the Museum
Fox · PG · 3,483 theaters · 5th weekend
Stiller slaps monkey. Monkey slaps Stiller. EW.com box-office savant reports on it. Same old, same old. (With one change this time around: Night should clear $200 mil this weekend.)
Weekend prediction: $11 million

Stomp the Yard
Screen Gems · PG-13 · 2,051 theaters · 2nd weekend
The college dance drama’s appeal to young women is a plus. But January hits like this one (which opened at No. 1 last weekend, with $21.8 mil) tend to have very short screen lives. Its midweek returns of about $750,000 per day have been so-so, so I’m not convinced.
Weekend prediction: $10 million

Dreamgirls
Paramount · PG-13 · 2,214 theaters · 6th weekend
Although its box-office momentum seemed to slow considerably last weekend (it earned just $8.4 mil), the musical’s post-GG-victory span has been promising. This week it bounced back, actually edging out Night and Stomp for first place on Wednesday. With a 20 percent drop, it’ll stay in the top 5.
Weekend prediction: $7 million

The Pursuit of Happyness
Columbia · PG-13 · 3,066 theaters · 6th weekend
The family drama is not the biggest of Will Smith’s hits, but it may just be the most unassuming. Quietly and consistently, TPOH has racked up more than $140 mil in 35 days.
Weekend prediction: $6 million