District 9 has no stars, a rookie director, and a $30 million price tag. Yet with an inventive marketing campaign, glowing reviews, and a blogosphere already championing this unique film, District 9 is on its way to being the surprise hit of the summer. From director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson, the low-budget South African sci-fi flick is sure to be the box office winner of the weekend. How high it goes depends on how pervasive its strong word-of-mouth will be, and if those sci-fi geeks can get their ladies into the theater. That’s going to be a challenge considering the adaptation of the HUGE best-selling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife also bows this weekend and though reviews aren’t as glowing, romance is one genre that’s been largely underserved this summer. Disney also unveils its widest release of a Hayao Miyazaki film: Ponyo. But with little marketing push, not even the voices of Matt Damon, Tina Fey, and Liam Neeson are going to do much to get audiences into theaters.

1. District 9: $32 million

Tracking is suggesting this film opens in the mid-20s but I’m going to put some faith in the movie-going public and believe that they are going to seek out this fine film. Despite its R-rating, the film should lure in a wide swath of fanboys and maybe even others looking for something a bit different. Not even the obligatory actioner G.I.Joe is going to dampen the fun of this movie.

The critics have not been very kind to this adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel. However, it also seems most of the critics haven’t read Niffenegger’s book and are taking biggest issue with her time-traveling premise. Fans of the novel may see no problem here and might choose to jump on for the romance ride with Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. The audience is guaranteed to be predominantly female but we’ve seen their power before. Let’s see if they can do it again this weekend.

That G.I.Joe has already earned close to $72 million is astounding. The studio has already put a sequel into development. Now the question is whether the film can hold. Critics destroyed it but that fact has become completely irrelevant. I predict close to a 60% drop. For the good of the movie-going public, let District 9 take some wind out of its sails.

4. Julie & Julia: $11 million

This Meryl Streep, Amy Adams two-hander has been embraced by critics and audiences alike. Its challenge this weekend will come primarily from Time Traveler. Though with word-of-mouth so good, Julie & Julia should have legs to carry it through August. I’m predicting a 45% drop.

5. Bandslam: $6 million

Don’t discount those Twilight fans. While the teenage comedy Bandslam has absolutely nothing to do with Stephenie Meyer’s world of vampires, it is fortuitous enough to share a studio with the uber-successful movie franchise. As such, the brand new New Moon trailer will bow with the high-school battle of the bands pic and that better be enough to propel Bandslam to at least $6 million. Those loyal Twilight fans could raise it up even higher. You just never know.

Also opening:

Jeremy Piven as a used-car salesman in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard from producers Will Farrell and Adam McKay.

Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated creation Ponyo with English-speaking movie stars Matt Damon, Tina Fey, and Liam Neeson providing the voice talent for the U.S. release.