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Box office preview: 'Real Steel' to rock and sock the competition

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Real Steel

After the highest-grossing September on record, the first full weekend of October is stepping out with a one-two punch: The sci-fi/sport/family-film hybrid Real Steel and the Oscar-hopeful political drama The Ides of March. The former will easily win the match, while Dolphin Tale, Moneyball, and Courageous should all continue to perform well. My predictions for the top five:

1. Real Steel: $25 million

DreamWorks’ $110 million picture, which is being released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, combines a father-son story with a futuristic setting in which robotic boxing has become America’s sport of choice. Hugh Jackman plays a former boxer turned promoter who helps his son (Dakota Goyo) build and a train a competing robot. By mixing so many genres, Real Steel could appeal to multiple demographics.

However, it also runs the risk of alienating fans of each individual genre. For instance, Transformers fans might be turned off by the film’s emotional father-son storyline, while the movie’s PG-13 robot-on-robot violence may concern parents with young children. Also, Hugh Jackman hasn’t had much success outside of the X-Men films, and reviews have been merely okay. Real Steel‘s showings at 270 IMAX theaters will provide a bit of a bump, but the movie will likely have to settle for a mild opening in the mid-20s.

2. The Ides of March: $12 million

Starring, directed, and co-written by George Clooney, this R-rated political thriller also features a stellar cast including Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and Marisa Tomei. Favorable reviews and Oscar buzz will attract adult moviegoers looking for serious fare (and handsome leading men like Clooney and Gosling). Yet with the presidential race already dominating the coverage of cable networks, some folks may rather see anything but politics on the big screen.

Playing at 2,199 locations, Sony’s $12.5 million movie should match the Clooney debuts of 2007’s Michael Clayton and 2009’s Up in the Air, which respectively expanded wide to $10.4 million and $11.3 million after limited openings.

3. Dolphin Tale: $10 million

The surprise hit flipped to first place last weekend after dropping only 27 percent. Real Steel will steal away some of the PG-rated movie’s family audience, but Dolphin Tale‘s word of mouth is so strong — it received a rare A+ from CinemaScore participants — that I’m predicting the film will slip about the same amount this week.

4. Moneyball: $7.5 million

This Brad Pitt baseball drama also held up well its second weekend, falling just 38 percent, in part thanks to the film’s glowing reviews. The Ides of March will reel in some of Moneyball‘s adult base, but like Dolphin Tale, I think the PG-13 movie will manage to duplicate its slight decline from last week.

5. Courageous: $5.5 million

The $2 million Christian drama produced by Sherwood Pictures, the film production company of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., opened last week to a solid $9.1 million at just 1,161 theaters. The company’s last movie, 2008’s Fireproof, was also a surprise success, debuting to $6.8 million and ultimately grossing $33.5 million. Sony’s TriStar Pictures, which is distributing Courageous, has so far done an excellent job reaching out to Christian communities and fathering organizations. Expect the PG-13 picture to follow the box-office trajectory of Fireproof and fall around 40 percent this weekend.