Box Office Preview: Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Dictator' Takes a Shot at 'Avengers'

9:54 AM PST 05/15/2012 by Pamela McClintock
Paramount Pictures

The R-rated comedy is expected to do better overseas than in the U.S. as 'Avengers' still dominates

CANNES -- Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator begins rolling out Wednesday in the shadow of box-office monster The Avengers and might be on course for a relatively modest opening in the U.S.

Prerelease tracking suggests that the Paramount comedy will gross in the $5 million range on Wednesday en route to a North American debut of about $25 million. Avengers, meanwhile, could earn $50 million to $60 million in its third weekend.

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The Dictator, Baron Cohen's first narrative feature, stands to do bigger business overseas; his Borat and Bruno both grossed more internationally than domestically. He's showing up Wednesday in Cannes, where the international press is gathered for the annual film festival, to promote his film in character as Admiral General Aladeen.

The comedy opens in 30 foreign markets this week, including Wednesday in the U.K., Australia and Germany. Latin America, France, Italy and Spain open in the coming weeks. (Avengers also remains a powerhouse overseas but will be in its fourth weekend of play).

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In the U.S., tracking for The Dictator is soft among moviegoers older than 30, who might be skittish about what boundaries Baron Cohen will cross in the film. Paramount believes positive reviews could help persuade them to give it a go.

The Dictator reunites Baron Cohen with Borat and Bruno director Larry Charles. Borat was a worldwide phenomenon, grossing $133.1 million internationally and $128.5 million in North America after opening to $26.5 million in November 2006.

Bruno was considered a disappointment in comparison, opening to $30.6 million domestically in July 2009 but topping out at $60.1 million. The film earned $78.8 million overseas.

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The Dictator cost $65 million to produce and was shot on a bigger scale than Borat and Bruno because of the storyline, which centers on a Middle Eastern dictator who goes to New York and is essentially defrocked. Part of the movie was shot on location in the Middle East before the production moved to Manhattan.

Paramount originally intended to open the R-rated comedy May 11 opposite Dark Shadows but pushed back the release until May 16 because of Avengers and Dark Shadows, which ended up having a heavy comedic tone.

Avengers, from Disney and Marvel Studios, turned out to be even bigger than expected, sucking the oxygen out of the marketplace.

As with The Dictator, Universal's Battleship, which opens Friday domestically, will be impacted by the continuing strength of the superhero film. One advantage The Dictator could have is that R-rated comedies, when they work, have better multiples than other genres.

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