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''Norbit'' should be a heavy-hitter this weekend

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It’s Eddie Murphy’s universe these days, people, and we’re just living in it. After a few years in the I Spy/Haunted Mansion netherworld, the comedian — and recent EW cover subject — is all the rage in Hollywood again, thanks to his breathtaking performance in Dreamgirls. He’s a Best Supporting Actor front runner. And he just happens to have a new movie, Norbit, opening this week. What timing!

If the smash success of Night at the Museum ($225 million and counting) proves anything, it’s that star-driven comedies remain great bets at the box office. Add that fact to Eddie’s present Zeitgeist dominance and, well, you have your weekend winner — well above the other big premiere, Hannibal Rising. Certainly, this is a much easier week to call than last, when 60 percent of us (yes, including EW.com’s box-office savant) incorrectly went for Because I Said So over eventual champ The Messengers. But what does your gut tell you this time around? G’head — cast your vote at the end of this story!

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

Norbit
Paramount · PG-13 · 3,136 theaters · NEW
Buried under pounds of makeup, Eddie is back to his old tricks, playing a number of characters just like he did in his Nutty Professor days. This flick (costarring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Thandie Newton) is about a man who was raised in a Chinese restaurant-cum-orphanage and… oh, like the plot really matters. Or the fact that critics, like EW’s Owen Gleiberman, won’t be cooing. People — especially teenagers — will go see it regardless, and they’re going to go in droves. Interestingly, nearly all of Eddie’s recent family films have opened with virtually identical grosses. The Nutty Professor (1996): $25.4 mil. Dr. Dolittle (1998): $29 mil. Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001): $25 mil. Daddy Day Care (2003): $27.6 mil. The Haunted Mansion (2003): $24.3 mil. Why should this film be any different?
Weekend prediction: $29 million

Hannibal Rising
MGM · R · 3,003 theaters · NEW
I’ve already been vocal on this here website about my misgivings over yet another Hannibal Lecter movie. I mean, I feel sad watching them continue to cash in on the good name of The Silence of the Lambs and milk this character for all he’s worth. But then again, how many more drops can they actually squeeze from the teat of Thomas Harris’ uber-cannibal? While 2001’s Hannibal was a huge hit (debuting with $58 mil and totaling $165.1 mil domestically), the 2002 remake, Red Dragon, was barely half as strong at the box office (it opened at $36.5 mil and wound up with $93.1 mil). The trend will continue with Hannibal Rising, a prequel with no major stars (French actor Gaspard Ulliel plays the teenage Chianti lover) and, from what I’ve heard, potentially weak reviews.
Weekend prediction: $15 million

Because I Said So
Universal · PG-13 · 2,529 theaters · 2nd weekend
Except for its relative popularity among older women, nothing from its woeful critical response (the rom-com scores a terrible 26 out of 100 on Metacritic.com) to its shabby B- CinemaScore grade indicates that this Diane Keaton comedy has any juice for the long haul. So it’s here merely due to a lack of direct competition — and because it has been edging out The Messengers at the mid-week box office, by a couple thou per day.
Weekend prediction: $6 million

The Messengers
Screen Gems · PG-13 · 2,529 theaters · 2nd weekend
The horror flick’s $14.7 mil debut at No. 1 was impressive, especially considering its reported $16 mil budget. But don’t be misled into thinking that it’s much of a hit. With the Super Bowl dominating last weekend, The Messengers didn’t have to earn much to win, and a dreadful C- CinemaScore review from audiences portends a quick death in theaters.
Weekend prediction: $5 million

Night at the Museum
Fox · PG · 2,702 theaters · 8th weekend
As it happens, the comedy (now the 54th domestic grosser of all time; soon to be the 51st) will run neck-and-neck with holdover Epic Movie this weekend, and either could land in 5th place. But, really, I just couldn’t face saying goodbye to Ben Stiller and the slapping monkey.
Weekend prediction: $4 million

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