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''We Own the Night'' (and the weekend?)

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It’ll be a good old battle royale at the box office this weekend, with a wide-open race for No. 1. Four major movies are debuting wide — We Own the Night, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and The Final Season. One film (George Clooney’s Michael Clayton) is expanding nationally. And let’s not forget about The Rock’s strong holdover, The Game Plan. That’s right: Several films will enter the ring with a fair shot at victory. But only one. Will survive. To be crowned. The next. Box. Office. Champion. Who will it be? Read on for my picks and then head on over to EW.com’s Box Office Challenge game to cast your ballots.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

We Own the Night
Columbia · R · 2,362 theaters · NEW

Here we have Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix in a gritty drama about drug warfare in New York City in the 1980s. Phoenix has never really had the opportunity to prove his mettle as a primary draw (he always seems to act alongside huge stars like Mel Gibson or Russell Crowe, or to appear in audience-magnet pictures like The Village or Walk the Line). And while Wahlberg’s strong appeal is documented (recently, he had three consecutive No. 1 openers with Four Brothers, Invincible, and The Departed), his similarly heavy adult thriller Shooter disappointed earlier this year after opening with just $ 14.5 mil. Then again, in a marketplace as crowded as this one, that kind of gross should be enough for a win.
Weekend prediction: $ 14 million

Michael Clayton
Warner Bros. · R · 2,511 theaters · 2nd weekend

Critics adore Clooney’s legal drama, which earned a terrific $ 719,910 in 15 theaters last weekend. All you math whizzes out there will recognize that as a really impressive $ 47,994 per-venue average — pretty much what you’d expect from any major release featuring a major star that got the kind of platform release typical of a micro-budgeted art-house indie. In other words, let’s hold off on going completely koo-koo for Clayton: Now that it’s going wide, the film’s box office should resemble that of Clooney’s previous critically adored R-rated drama, Syriana, which rolled out in a comparable fashion and earned a decent $ 11.7 mil over its first expanded weekend.
Weekend prediction: $ 12 million

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?
Lionsgate · PG-13 · 2,011 theaters · NEW

Domestic dramedy auteur Tyler Perry was flying high after his first two features, 2005’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman and 2006’s Madea’s Family Reunion, premiered with $ 21.9 mil and $ 30 mil, respectively. But then his Daddy’s Little Girls came back down to Earth with an $ 11.2 mil debut earlier this year. I suspect that’s about what Why Did I Get Married? — the first Perry film to be released during the crowded fall season — will bank as well.
Weekend prediction: $ 12 million

The Game Plan
Walt Disney · PG · 3,128 theaters · 3rd weekend

As if out of nowhere, The Rock’s football comedy has scored a really nice $ 47.2 mil in two weeks. And it may just sneak the old pigskin across the goal line for a third time, especially if its more adult-oriented opponents (which, I should note, are all playing on fewer screens) beat up on each other.
Weekend prediction: $ 11 million

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Universal · PG-13 · 1,951 theaters · NEW

Cate Blanchett stars in a sequel to her Oscar-nominated 1998 period piece, Elizabeth — which came out so long ago that the company that released it, Gramercy, doesn’t exist anymore. Now Universal owns the rights to this unlikely film franchise from director Shekhar Kapur, and the studio is taking a gamble by releasing the artsy historical narrative in nearly 2,000 places. It’s an iffy proposal, to be sure, particularly considering that critics aren’t biting. I dunno, are you?
Weekend prediction: $ 7 million

THE OTHER NEW RELEASE

The Final Season
Yari Film Group · PG · 1,011 theaters · NEW

Sean Astin and Tom Arnold appear in this family flick about a high school baseball team in Iowa hoping to end its program on a positive note. Sounds sweet, but given its small screen count and all that competition, The Final Season stands as much chance of triumphing at the box office as the Yankees do of winning the World Series.
Weekend prediction: $ 2 million

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