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James Cameron's "Avatar" will put a seventh notch in its domestic boxoffice belt this weekend.
The sci-fi epic looks likely to register more than $25 million through Sunday, and that should be plenty to top the frame despite two potentially appealing wide openers set to hit theaters Friday. Warner Bros.' Mel Gibson-starring thriller "Edge of Darkness" and Disney's romantic comedy "When in Rome" appear headed for bows in the low to mid-teen millions.
Rated R, "Darkness" is directed by Martin Campbell, who also helmed the BBC's six-episode miniseries of the same name from which the movie was adapted by William Monahan ("The Departed") and Andrew Bovell ("Lantana").
The studio is simply distributing for pic for Gibson's Icon Prods and opted against staging the usual all-media screening. But early reviews from critics' screenings have been positive.
Likely to draw older-skewing audiences, "Darkness" represents Gibson's first topline role in a film since 2002's "Signs." With the multihyphenate thus lacking a direct connection with any younger fan base, it's perhaps unsurprising that must-see interest has been slack in prerelease tracking surveys.
"Mel has not been on the screen for years," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said. "I don't know if that has any bearing on the tracking, but tracking is not always correct, and I think the playability will be good. It just might take a little word-of-mouth to get it going."
"When in Rome," rated PG-13, stars Kristen Bell ("Couples Retreat") and Josh Duhamel ("Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"). "Rome" support will be dominated by female moviegoers, with a roughly even split among patrons above and below age 25.
"Teenage girls will go, but it will mostly be college kids and above," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane predicted.
"Avatar's" winning streak still pales in comparison to "Titanic's" 15-week run in 1997-98. Its stay at the top is likely to last until at least Valentine's Day weekend.
Elsewhere, a handful of platform pics with Oscar ambitions continue incremental rollouts on the last weekend before Academy Award nominations are announced Tuesday.
Those include Fox Searchlight bringing Jeff Bridges starrer "Crazy Heart" into 35 additional markets and at least 237 total playdates. "Crazy Heart" will expand into barely wide release of about 750-800 engagements for the first post-noms weekend.
The music-filled drama totes $4 million-plus in cumulative boxoffice since unspooling in limited release Dec. 16 .
On an industrywide basis, this weekend will be compared with a Super Bowl-weakened weekend that produced less than $127 million and was topped by the sub-$25 million bow of Fox's action thriller "Taken."
So far, 2010 is pacing almost 3% ahead of the same portion of last year, with $671.6 million in the boxoffice kitty through last weekend. The industry jumped back into the win column in the last frame, following the sole year-over-year downtick in four sessions marked to date.