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Box office preview: 'Zombieland' to dominate

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Zombieland-woody_lHorror comedies have been a mixed bag at the box office. You have the good: Ghostbusters and the Scary Movie franchise. You have the bad: Snakes on a Plane and Eight-Legged Freaks. And then you have the ugly: Jennifer’s Body and Club Dread. In the case of this weekend, Zombieland seems destined to join the good. The film — starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as the last four humans stuck on a zombie-invested planet — has been generating incredible buzz and is sure to win the weekend. How high it goes will depend on how many over-17-year-old fans show up. My prediction is that Zombieland will outperform the studio predictions that are hovering in the low-20 million range. It should be a big weekend at the box office regardless, as Zombieland is one of three new releases (four actually if you count Disney’s double-feature 3-D re-release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2) along with Ellen Page-starrer Whip It! and Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying.

Zombieland: $30 million

First-time director Ruben Fleischer, along with young screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, are eyeing a great weekend for their debut theatrical effort. While recent horror entries Sorority Row and Jennifer’s Body haven’t connected at the box office, Zombieland is on track to reverse that trend. And with Zombieland being Woody Harrelson’s first of three films to bow this year, get ready to see a lot more of the former Cheers bartender. Between Zombieland, Roland Emmerich’s 2012, and the indie flick The Messenger, the hemp-loving peace activist is bound to be responsible for a solid chunk of 2009’s box-office receipts.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: $15 million

Sony Pictures is on a roll. Not only will they win the weekend with Zombieland, but they should have the number two spot as well with their hit animated flick Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Coming off an astonishing second weekend drop of only 17%, the film has already grossed close to $65 million. This frame the Toy Story double feature is sure to rain on its parade. Still, word of mouth is strong on Cloudy so I predict the drop to not fall beneath the 40% range.

Toy Story 3-D: $11 million

This is Disney Studios’ idea of an experiment. Release two beloved films for the price of one, in 3-D, eight months before the next installment comes out. Only screen it for two weeks and see if you can generate some solid revenue. It’s likely to work well, but because the package is bowing only in 3-D on 1745 screens and it’s over 3 hours of movie time, both films will be shown on average only three times a day. That automatically limits the grosses. Tracking on the Woody and Buzz reunion is strong, so it could get into the low single-digits but we’ll have to wait and see how it pans out.

Whip It!: $9 million

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It! starring Juno’s Ellen Page has teenage girl power written all over it. With its fun and frothy cast including Jimmy Fallon and Kristen Wiig, the roller-derby comedy should score with the under-17 female set. How that translates into box-office dollars remains to be seen. The film’s not opening super wide: it will be on 2100 screens. But the studio is confident of its playability since they sneaked it on some 500 screens last weekend. If it catches fire with the young girls, it could turn into a hit.

The Invention of Lying: $8 million

Ricky Gervais’ last film Ghost Town generated 87% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and only opened to $5 million. This time Gervais is lacking a bit in the review department but he seems to be generating more marketing support from the studio. Still, tracking isn’t taking this movie much beyond the single digits. It seems Gervais, while being a huge hit at any awards show, hasn’t yet caught fire as a box-office draw.

Other new releases:

The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man on six screens, Lebron James’ documentary More Than a Game on 14 screens and the expansion of the Michael Moore documentary Capitalism: A Love Story to 1000 locations.

Photo Credit: Glen Wilson