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Box office preview: Will 'Gamer' shoot to the top?

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gamer_lIt’s been four months since Wolverine sliced open the summer, and eleven weeks since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen began its rise toward the $400 million mark. Now, the fall movie season is upon us, and you can expect the box office — like the weather — to cool off as studios roll out their second-string pics in the downtime before the awards race.

Last year’s Labor Day weekend saw newcomers Babylon A.D., Traitor, and Disaster Movie get soundly beaten by holdover Tropic Thunder. This time around, we’ve got a similar crop of likely underachievers: The week’s widest release, Gamer isn’t even screening for critics, while All About Steve is getting soundly drubbed. On top of that, word-of-mouth champs Inglourious Basterds and District 9 will put up a strong fight for slots in the top five. Here’s how it might play out over the four-day Friday-to-Monday weekend:

1. Gamer $15 million

Gerard Butler hasn’t starred in a straight-faced action movie since 2007’s 300. But don’t expect this futuristic battle pic to get anywhere near that blockbuster’s $70.9 million bow. Instead, look for it to ride the genre’s appeal to a $15 million haul—pocket change compared to recent weekend winners, but probably enough to take the top spot in a playing field like this.

2. The Final Destination — $14 million

Horror pics typically bleed out in their first weekend, and this one won’t get any help from word-of-mouth (the movie averaged a C grade from viewers polled by Cinemascore). But 3-D thrills should still entice enough moviegoers to put it in the silver-medal spot.

3. All About Steve — $12 million

While this quirky romcom has dismal buzz (it was originally slated for a March release), it does boast two stars fresh off of huge summer hits—Bradley Cooper broke through in The Hangover, while Sandra Bullock scored a career best with The Proposal. Combined with a lack of competition for female moviegoers, that should be enough to get Steve into the top three.

4. Inglourious Basterds — $11 million

Good word-of-mouth helped Quentin Tarantino’s WWII pic hold its own last weekend against the horror duo of The Final Destination and Halloween II. Look for it to have another soft decline this time around, pushing its cume past $90 million.

5. Extract — $7 million

Mike Judge’s dark comedy will have to fight middling reviews (like this one from EW’s Owen Gleiberman) and a less-than-confident release plan that puts the pic in just 1,600 theaters this week. Against those odds, it would be a pleasant surprise if the movie makes anything over $10 million.

Also opening in limited release:

Carriers – This apocalyptic horror pic probably only got a theatrical release thanks to star Chris Pine’s little trek through the stars earlier this summer. Look for it to tank in a token 100-theater release.

Be sure to check back this weekend to read our full box office report!

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