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''Ocean's'' eyes a big weekend heist

Odds favor the latest ”Ocean’s” casino caper to hang both ”Surf’s Up” and ”Knocked Up” out to dry this weekend

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Baseball fans are all too familiar with what I’m about to say: The box office is juiced, people! Grosses have been out of control. All the numbers — from theater counts to budgets to worldwide earnings — are way out of whack. Like the major leagues, Hollywood has developed an incurable jones for the long ball, spending hundreds of millions on franchise fare that they then release on historic numbers of screens to reap hugely inflated and unrealistic returns.

Truly, in box-office land, it’s particularly tough to tell which way is up anymore. Pirates 3 opens with $114.7 mil and it’s a bit disappointing; Knocked Up earns $30.7 mil its first weekend and it’s a hit. Go figure. And while you ponder that conundrum, ask yourself this: When will it end? When will some unpredictability return to the marketplace? After all, doesn’t the quality of the movies improve when there’s some chance involved — when filmmakers take some risks, when studios don’t stack the deck to ensure victory?

Well, enough of my rant (for now). Don’t look for the trend to be bucked this weekend, when we’ll be treated to the fifth franchise film of this six-week-old season, Ocean’s Thirteen. And sure as Barry Bonds is about to break the home-run mark, George Clooney & Co. will wind up at No. 1. But who’ll come in second? Please read on and then cast your vote below.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

Ocean’s Thirteen
Warner Bros. · PG-13 · 3,565 theaters · NEW
Oh yeah, the odds are in its favor. But let’s forget about the caper comedy’s star-studded cast (welcome, Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin!) and rich pedigree. Because picking the right number here is easier than handicapping the ponies. Ocean’s Eleven opened with $38.1 mil in 2001. Ocean’s Twelve opened with $39.2 mil in 2004. So the bet is simple: All we have to do is assume that the exact same crowd will go to this movie, and that they’re going to pay slightly higher ticket prices to see it on a few more screens. Bingo!
Weekend prediction: $40 million

Surf’s Up
Columbia · PG · 3,528 theaters · NEW
One year ago, Cars opened at $60.1 mil. Now, sure, this animated flick about wave-riding penguins doesn’t have Pixar-esque buzz going for it. But as I’ve said before, we should never misunderestimate the drawing power of these kid-friendly films (heck, even Meet the Robinsons debuted with $25.1 mil earlier this year). The penguin factor is another plus (check out Happy Feet‘s $198 mil total). And the sinking of Shrek the Third only clears the waters for Surf’s Up to swim for gold — or at least to approach the $38.5 mil that Over the Hedge scored in its debut early last summer.
Weekend prediction: $35 million

Knocked Up
Universal · R · 2,877 theaters · 2nd weekend
Surf’s Up, Knocked Up — what, did Michael Apted name all the movies playing this weekend?! (Oof — bad documentary joke. Sorry, friends. Had to give it a shot.) The Seth Rogen-Katherine Heigl comedy has already sprouted some serious legs thanks to all that critical fawning and positive word of mouth: It’s been out-earning Pirates 3 every day this week. So look for it to decline minimally over the weekend.
Weekend prediction: $21 million

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Walt Disney · PG-13 · 4,002 theaters · 3rd weekend
To paraphrase Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, ”A.B.D.: Another big drop.” Yep, no Cadillac Eldorado for this movie, whose plummet continues. Aaaaaaargh, indeed!
Weekend prediction: $20 million

Hostel Part II
Lionsgate · R · 2,350 theaters · NEW
I love the title here. Instead of calling it Hostel 2 or Hostel II or Hostel: The Nightmarish S— Continues, director Eli Roth went for the Godfather-esque Hostel Part II. But will this association with greatness help HPII put an end to the horror genre’s current losing streak at the box office? And will this sequel be able to match its 2006 predecessor’s $19.6 mil bow? I don’t think so. But, hey, please don’t hang me upside down on a rusty meat hook and flay me alive if I’m wrong.
Weekend prediction: $16 million

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