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''3:10 to Yuma'' on track for No. 1

It’s hard to predict exactly how ”3:10 to Yuma” and other new releases will open on this tricky weekend — but the star power of Russell Crowe and Christian Bale gives the Western an edge

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Hey, box office fans, I’m back! Miss me? (Don’t answer that.) Anyway, many huge thanks to my best pal Nicole Sperling for putting on EW.com’s Box Office Savant hat while I was away. If I can be half as accurate as she was — and remotely as witty — the world will be a better place.

Of course, that might not happen this weekend. The problem with the film-release calendar’s move into the fall season is that, while the movies are of lower profile and the grosses will be much smaller than they were in May or June or last month, picking what’s gonna earn what and who’ll win each week is much trickier. September, after all, is the movie industry’s big dumping ground (see, particularly, The Brothers Solomon, opening in just 700 theaters, below), so now I’m regularly faced with, basically, trying to figure out which cinematic turd smells sweeter. Or something like that. The point is, in box office prognostication land, the fun is just beginning.

Oh, and, speaking of fun, the final results for EW’s Summer Box Office Challenge are in. Big congratulations to ”movieman” for winning! Rest assured, game players, that a new box office contest will be kicking off in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

3:10 to Yuma
Lionsgate · R · 2,652 theaters · NEW
I love Westerns almost as much as I adore Michigan football (and, goodness, probably even more this week), but I still have reservations about putting a good old ”oater” at the top of the list. Because, you know, this isn’t 1952. The genre’s popularity died out decades ago (although, interestingly, more Westerns won Best Picture between 1990 and 1993 than in all of the preceding decades combined, and Brokeback Mountain almost pulled off the feat again a few years back — chew on that little piece of trivia jerky, cowpokes!). Recently, the hits have been few for the genre: Kevin Costner’s Open Range earned a respectable $58.3 mil in 2003, while Ron Howard’s The Missing tanked with just $27 mil later that same year. So I’m really picking this remake of the 1957 Glenn Ford-Van Heflin classic, from Walk the Line director James Mangold, to finish No. 1 because of its star power — Russell Crowe and Christian Bale have certainly fronted their share of blockbusters before — and weak competition.
Weekend prediction: $14 million

Halloween
MGM · R · 3,475 theaters · 2nd weekend
Rob Zombie’s take on the old horror flick broke records last weekend with a $30.6 mil bow over four days, and it’s brought in nearly $35 mil to date. So, even with a steep drop (as tends to happen with fright flicks), it’ll still scare up a nice chunk of change. And then I’ll get to gripe about how having two remakes leading the box office is yet another sign of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy.
Weekend prediction: $13 million

Shoot ‘Em Up
New Line · R · 2,108 theaters · NEW
Of course, we shouldn’t judge a movie by its title, but there’s something so wonderfully simple about the generic moniker for this, er, shoot-’em-up (starring Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, and Monica Bellucci), that I think it could draw a big crowd. All sorts of viral marketing tricks should give it a boost, too. Then again, look what happened to New Line’s last perfectly generically titled and virally marketed movie, Snakes on a Plane.
Weekend prediction: $12 million

Superbad
Columbia · R · 3,069 theaters · 4th weekend
My biggest regret about going on vacation and off the grid for the past three weeks was missing the chance to see my favorite movie of the year defy expectations and triumph at the box office. I’m truly McLovin the success of this film, because it proves that a star-less, R-rated comedy can still become a hit, merely because it’s good; quality should be enough but it rarely is. Anyhow, the boys have scored not only beer and babes, they’ve got big bucks, too. At $95 mil and counting, the crass comedy will cross the $100 mil mark this weekend.
Weekend prediction: $8 million

The Bourne Ultimatum
Universal · PG-13 · 3,000 theaters · 6th weekend
Gee, you think that after this third installment of Matt Damon’s super spy series has banked more than $200 mil they’re really going to forego making another one?
Weekend prediction: $7 million

THE OTHER NEW RELEASE

The Brothers Solomon
TriStar · R · 700 theaters · NEW
Seems like every funny Will in the world is starring in this comedy about two goofballs (Will Arnett and Will Forte) on the prowl for a woman to knock up…except, of course, for Will Smith or Will Ferrell or any other Will who might encourage moviegoers to actually pay to see it.
Weekend prediction: $1 million