Box Office Preview: 'Wreck-It Ralph' Aims For $45 Mil as East Coast Theaters Reopen

4:30 PM PST 11/01/2012 by Pamela McClintock

The majority of the 300 theaters closed because of superstorm Sandy are back on line, but some locations in Lower Manhattan, Long Island and New Jersey still being dark could impact "Wreck-It Ralph" and Denzel Washington's "Flight."

No one is sure whether superstorm Sandy will hurt -- or help -- the domestic box office this weekend.

Most of the 300 theaters closed earlier in the week, stretching from Washington to Boston, have reopened, with the exception of areas in Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island where power is still out.

At the height of the storm, 79 AMC East Coast locations were closed. By Thursday, only 20 theaters were shuttered, the majority of which are in New Jersey. Only seven Regal sites were dark by Thursday -- Regal and AMC by far have the largest presence in the Northeast -- and only one of those is in New York, Union Square Stadium 14.

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Moviegoing surged overall in New York City on Wednesday as people, off work and out of school, looked for something to do and flocked to theaters, including the AMC Empire in Times Square, the busiest theater in the country. Overall grosses were up 36 percent from Tuesday and were the best of any market in the country.

Three new films enter the fray Friday, with the 3D toon Wreck-It Ralph expected to easily race to the top of the chart with a debut in the $45 million range or better. If so, the film, opening in more than 3,600 theaters, could score the top nonholiday opening for a Disney animated title (excluding Pixar movies).

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Denzel Washington's awards contender Flight also opens, but in far fewer theaters (1,900). The Paramount film marks Robert Zemeckis' first live-action movie since Cast Away in 2000 and is expected to open in the $12 million range.

The third new release is Universal's martial arts pic The Man With the Iron Fists, which marks RZA's directorial debut. Presented by Quentin Tarantino, the movie is tracking to open in the $7 million to $10 million range.

Of the new offerings, Flight arguably could be hurt the most in the aftermath of the storm. New York City is an important market for the adult-skewing film, and Flight will take a bit of a hit from the continued closure of Regal's Union Square theater. But other New York theaters could make up the difference.

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Flight -- featuring a dramatic plane crash -- stars Washington as a pilot who saves nearly all on board but is later discovered to have had alcohol in his system. (Its disaster theme could put off some who are recovering from the storm.)

Paramount always had planned to take a measured approach in releasing Flight. Studios often open adult dramas in fewer theaters -- particularly during awards season, when the goal is to foster word-of-mouth and have a longer run. In terms of comparison, Paramount's The Fighter debuted to $12.1 million from 2,500 locations on its way to grossing $93 million domestically.

Wreck-It Ralph, Flight and Iron Fists have all received strong reviews.

Wreck-It Ralph, about the villain of a video game who no longer wants to be the bad guy and starts game-jumping, cost $165 million to produce.

Flight was made for a relatively modest $30 million. Iron Fists cost $15 million.

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