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Box Office Preview: 'Cars 2' Likely Will Open Below Original

Disney/Pixar

"Bad Teacher," starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal and Justin Timberlake, also opens wide, while "Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop" and Chris Weitz's "A Better Life" will be released in select markets.

Disney is prepared for Cars 2 to post a lower opening than usual for a Pixar title, but expects the 3D toon to stay on the race course for weeks to come. Tracking suggests the family film will open in the $50 million to $55 million range, while the first Cars opened to $60.1 million in June 2006. Some box office observers believe Cars 2 could do more, however. Either way, the sequel is all but assured of coming in No. 1 for the frame.

Not even Pixar — boasting one of Hollywood’s most illustrious winning streaks — is immune to the risks involved with creating a new franchise, and to the general downturn in moviegoing. A saving grace is the strong multiple enjoyed by animated films. Pixar’s Ratatouille was maligned when it opened to $47 million domestically, but went on to cume $206.4 million.

STORY: 'Cars 2': How Pixar Used Its Secret Weapon on CGI Sequel

Pixar CEO John Lasseter returned to the director’s chair for the first time since Cars to direct the sequel, which is drawing mixed reviews, unusual for a Pixar title. The toon cost $200 million to make, meaning it will have to do robust business worldwide. The first Cars, released in June 2006, cumed $244.1 million domestically and $217.9 million internationally.

Cars 2 has the potential to do bigger business overseas than its predecessor for several reasons. The film is set this time not in rural America, but in London, Paris and Tokyo, where Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) travel to compete in the World Grand Prix.

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Mater, however, gets swept up in an international espionage case and meets a new set of friends and enemies, including the James Bond-like Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) and Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). 

Also, foreign audiences have become more and more familiar with the franchise because of Cars merchandise, a billion-dollar business for Disney and Pixar. And Cars 2 also should benefit from the 3D boom in key foreign markets including Russia, Brazil and Mexico, where the toon debuts this weekend.

STORY: Walt Disney Expects 'Cars 2' Merchandise to Eclipse 'Toy Story 3'

In the U.S., though, 3D is struggling, with the majority of moviegoers now opting to watch a film in 2D instead.

The other new entry of the weekend is R-rated Cameron Diaz comedy Bad Teacher, from Sony. Also starring Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake, Bad Teacher is expected to open in the range of R-rated comedy Bridesmaids, which debuted to $26.2 million.

Sony would be satisfied even if Bad Teacher opened lower than Bridesmaids, considering the raunchy comedy only cost $20 million to make.

Bad Teacher is tracking best among females aged 17 and 35, followed closely by males aged 17 to 35.

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Sony is hopeful that Bad Teacher will come in No. 2 for the weekend and edge out Warner Bros. holdover Green Lantern, which enters its second weekend. The 3D superhero pic opened on the lower end of expectations last weekend, but has done solid midweek business, with a cume of $67.2 million through Wednesday.

There are a number of specialty films launching in limited runs on Friday, including A Better Life from filmmaker Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Twilight Saga: New Moon). Summit Entertainment opens the film in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and is targeting the art house crowd. Summit believes the movie will be a draw for Hispanics, since the movie follows an illegal immigrant living in Los Angeles who struggles to keep his son away from gangs.

Opening in 25 theaters in select markets is Rodman Flender’s documentary Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, shot during O’Brien’s 32-city live tour between leaving NBC’s Tonight Show and launching Conan on TBS.

Abramorama acquired theatrical distribution rights to the documentary following the film’s premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March.