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Box office preview: 'Life as We Know It' battles 'Social Network' for top spot; 'Secretariat' likely in third

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life-as-we-know-itImage Credit: Peter IovinoThe romantic comedy genre needs some intensive care after a bleak summer where the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore could do little to attract audiences. Is Katherine Heigl the answer? The former Grey’s Anatomy star didn’t score opposite Ashton Kutcher in Killers this past July, but perhaps Josh Duhamel is a more appealing co-star. We’ll find out this weekend when the duo’s film, Life as We Know It, opens wide, opposite Disney’s Triple-Crown horserace flick, Secretariat, which is battling its own issues.

Disney’s feel-good horse flick is an important movie for the studio. They consider the Diane Lane-starrer a role model for the type of movies the studio wants to make. They might want to ease up on that strategy — while the marketers are trying to reach family audiences, especially the church-going crowd, it’s still unclear if either will show up.

The two newcomers are also competing against the defending champ, The Social Network. The David Fincher-directed drama opened to $22.4 million, and this weekend will be crucial in determining the film’s long-term health. Critics and audiences both seem to love it, and the buzz should lure those who couldn’t make it to the theater last week.

My Soul to Take, Universal’s latest from director Wes Craven, is also steeling itself for an uphill battle. The director’s first 3-D film bows one week after two other horror films were practically D.O.A. Neither Let Me In nor Case 39 grossed more than $5 million in their opening frames. It will be a surprise if this genre film, with little marketing might behind it, will do much either. Read on for my predictions.

1. Life as We Know It: $16 million

I’m not sure why the ad campaign for this romantic-comedy is built around an action shot of the stars chasing the baby, but maybe it will work. Tracking suggests it will have trouble surpassing $20 million. With Heigl’s lackluster track record at the box-office, it will be interesting to see if this high-concept idea brings in the moviegoers.

2. The Social Network: $15 million

This movie was crowned a media darling, but now the haters are out, denouncing the film’s opening weekend draw and already discounting its awards potential. One thing is clear: This weekend is crucial. The film needs to hold well for it to maintain the buzz required to make it all the way to the Oscars. Watch closely. A 50 percent drop would be considered a failure.

3. Secretariat: $10 million

Disney desperately wants Diane Lane’s horse movie to be the next Blind Side, but general tracking suggests a weak opening. The big question is: Are families coming out for this film? If they do, the numbers could surprise, but the film will more likely earn a fraction of Sandra Bullock’s surprise hit last fall.

4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: $6 million

Now that Zack Snyder has signed on to direct the Superman reboot, perhaps there will be renewed interest in his owl movie. The animated flick held up well in its second weekend in theaters, losing only 32 percent of its gross, but I would expect at least a 40 percent fall this time.

5. My Soul to Take: $5 million

It’s been five years since Wes Craven has directed a full-length feature. (Red Eye was the last one.) Unfortunately, I don’t think the horror veteran will draw much of an audience to his flick, starring Max Thieriot and John Magaro. If it earns beyond $5 million, it will be a feat, considering how poorly horror flicks have fared lately.

In limited release, Focus Features will open It’s Kind of a Funny Story while Weinstein Co. will bow the young John Lennon tale, Nowhere Boy. Come back this weekend for a full report.