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Box office preview: 'Avatar' poised for incredible opening weekend

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This is the weekend we’ve all been waiting for. Avatar finally hits theaters and the results are sure to be spectacular. Tracking indicates the James Cameron extravaganza is playing like a sequel, rather than as a brand new piece of filmmaking based on nothing other than what rolls around inside Cameron’s brain. With early reviews overwhelmingly positive, the film’s audience is likely to be much broader than initially expected. Going up against this massive endeavor is Sony Pictures’ Did You Hear About the Morgans starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant. The cynical “counter-programming” option for women doesn’t seem to be working, as tracking suggests not even the prime demographic is interested in seeing this rom com. Read on for my predictions.

1. Avatar: $87 million

So Fox is trying to keep expectations in check with this film but I’m not buying the modest predictions. I think the incredible word-of-mouth coupled with the must-see factor will propel this movie into the upper echelons of weekend grosses. (This is not a movie you wait to see when the DVD comes out.) It also helps that Avatar will be on over 2300 locations in 3-D, including 180 IMAX theaters. That uptick in sales price is also going to buoy this film. Movie ticketing site Fandango is reporting that the movie is outselling Star Trek’s ticket sales, which is impressive considering the J.J. Abrams film (also starring Zoe Saldana) debuted back in May to $75 million. (For more on Avatar pre-sales, click here.)

2. The Princess and the Frog: $18 million

Relief is finally here for Disney’s animated romp that began its theatrical run with a rather soft opening frame last weekend. Moms — and kids — are finally free and nothing says “holiday cheer” like lots of trips to the movies. Audiences have loved Disney’s twist on the princess who kisses the frog, an A from exit pollster Cinemascore. This frame should see the 2-D animated film finally earn the cash it deserves. Expect a very small drop this weekend, which is needed because Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which opens Christmas Day, is nipping at its heels.

3. The Blind Side: $10 million

This movie can do no wrong. In its fourth week, the film dropped a scant 25%, putting its total gross at $150 million. I don’t think it will hold on that strong again this frame but I do expect not much more than a 30% fall.

4. Did You Hear About the Morgans?: $8 million

What happened to Hugh Grant? The guy who used to be able to do no wrong hasn’t had a real hit since 2002 when he scored twice with About a Boy and Two Weeks Notice. Since then audiences seemed to have tire of his movie choices — and Morgans doesn’t look like it will be the big hit to resurrect his career. A lot of critics haven’t screened Morgans yet (never a good sign) and those who have seen it aren’t raving. It would be a huge surprise if it reached $10 million.

5. Invictus: $5 million

Solid reviews and a bit more moviegoing time should help Clint Eastwood’s latest film gain some traction its second weekend in theaters. Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman have both received high marks. Perhaps the film will drop somewhere in the 40% range.

In limited release The Weinstein Co. opens the Daniel Day-Lewis starring musical Nine, Fox Searchlight opens the Jeff Bridges-starrer Crazy Heart, and Emily Blunt’s turn as Queen Victoria in Young Victoria will bow in 44 theaters.

Photo Credit: WETA