'Avatar' poised for eighth boxoffice win

"Avatar," left, "Dear John" and "From Paris With Love"

Film to outperform new pics 'Dear John,' 'From Paris'

This could be the last time James Cameron's "Avatar" tops the domestic boxoffice.

By next weekend, a combination of tougher competition and declining market hold should topple the all-time boxoffice champion from top of the theatrical heap. But for now, an eighth consecutive session atop the rankings is all but certain for the sci-fi epic.

"Avatar," whose market dominance compares with 15 chart-topping frames for Cameron's "Titanic" in 1997-98, should fetch $25 million or more this weekend. That should be plenty to win theatrical bragging rights for the Super Bowl frame.

Meanwhile, a pair of female-targeting pics are set to open wide Friday in a counterprogramming bid to lure women and football-phobic guys away from pigskin parties.

Sony sends out the romantic drama "Dear John," with Channing Tatum ("G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra") and Amanda Siegfried ("Jennifer's Body"), and Lionsgate unspools crime thriller "From Paris With Love," starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

"John" looks like the stronger of the new pics, with prospects of hitting $20 million.

"It's a red-hot female picture, and they will be there in a big way," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

"Paris" will travel into lower-double-digit millions but might peter out before hitting the teens. The pic's R rating should mean an audience tilt toward older demos, with a core base of support from Travolta fans.

"Advance screenings have proven that audiences love to see Travolta in this type of role," Lionsgate exec vp distribution David Spitz said.

Elsewhere, a handful of platform pics expand into wide release today after securing Academy Award nominations.

Fox Searchlight's Jeff Bridges starrer "Crazy Heart," which drew noms for its topliner, co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal and its theme song, will broaden from 239 playdates to about 800. And Sony Pictures Classics' British drama "An Education," included among nominees for best picture, actress (Carey Mulligan) and adapted screenplay, will stretch from 75 locations to about 750.

Also, Lionsgate will re-expand the drama "Precious," which drew six Oscar noms including best-picture, to a modestly wide 669 locations.

Looking ahead to the four-day Presidents Day weekend, Warner Bros. will unleash likely "Avatar"-killer "Valentine's Day." With the hearts-and-flowers holiday falling on the Sunday before the nation's cherry pie celebration, "Valentine's" could woo $50 million through that Monday and easily top the boxoffice session.

More immediately, this weekend will be compared with the industry's $155 million session last year topped by the $27.8 million opening of Warner Bros.' "He's Just Not That Into You." Boxoffice this year is up 2% through five frames at $839.3 million.
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