'Expendables,' 'Eat Pray' eye top spots

"The Expendables," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "Eat Pray Love"
"The Expendables," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "Eat Pray Love"
 
An industry wag dubbed this weekend's boxoffice competition "extreme testosterone vs. extreme estrogen," but a third wide opener targets yet another group of moviegoers: extreme geeks.

The proudly Y-chromosomed should help Lionsgate's "The Expendables" beat out Sony's Julia Roberts vehicle "Eat Pray Love" and Universal's comics-spawned "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" for the top spot in the domestic rankings. The ensemble actioner -- featuring iconic muscle guys Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren -- is expected to fetch upward of $30 million through Sunday.

Lionsgate has lined up 3,270 playdates for the R-rated pic in the company's widest movie release ever.

"The interest level with our core audience of male moviegoers is extremely high," Lionsgate distribution boss David Spitz said. "So we have a real shot at having a very solid weekend."
 
Produced by Avi Lerner's Nu Image/Millennium for more than $85 million, Lionsgate paid almost $20 million for distribution rights in the U.S. and the U.K., where it unspools Aug. 19. Maple Releasing will handle the pic in Canada this weekend. Lionsgate also covered marketing expenses for a taste of back-end profits, while Nu Image further diminished risk via broad foreign presales.

"Expendables," directed by Stallone, also co-stars Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Steve Austin in a story about a group of mercenaries hired to overthrow a South American dictator. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger make cameos, while Mexican actress Giselle Itie is the lone female co-star.

Best known as the creator of TV's "Glee" series, Ryan Murphy gets a second feature-directing credit with "Love" following 2006's "Running With Scissors." Co-starring Billy Crudup, Viola Davis and James Franco, "Love" is a big-screen adaptation of writer Elizabeth Gilbert's literary memoir about a woman's post-divorce global journey toward self-discovery.

"It's definitely going to enthrall the ladies," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "There is a strong desire for films that attract that core female audience."

With the PG-13 pic set for 3,082 playdates, prerelease tracking suggests a bow somewhere among previous top openings by female-targeting films. Those include the $20 million debut by "Julie & Julia" last August and the $27.8 million bow by July 2008's "Mamma Mia!"

Production costs on "Love" are estimated at about $60 million.

Based on the "Scott Pilgrim" comic book, the film has Michael Cera playing the title character, who must defeat his new girlfriend's seven former lovers in a battle for her affections. Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Make It Happen") plays the girlfriend, and other cast members include Jason Schwartzman. Edgar Wright ("Hot Fuzz") directed the PG-13 pic.

"It's genre-bending and just so unique that it really plays to that Comic-Con crowd," Universal distribution topper Nikki Rocco said. "But because it's so unique, it is really hard to get a handle on exactly what it's going to do."

Produced for an estimated $60 million, "Scott Pilgrim" is set for 2,819 locations and should travel well into the teen millions through Sunday.

Sony will be hoping for a solid sophomore session for last weekend's No. 1 opener "The Other Guys." If the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg starrer maintains decent market momentum, execs could be huddling with helmer Adam McKay and talent about a possible sequel to the buddy-cop action comedy.

Limited openers set for Friday include Sony Pictures Classics' crime drama "Animal Kingdom," which unspools in two theaters in New York and two in L.A.

A perfect industry weekend would see "Expendables" capture older males, "Love" woo older females and "Scott Pilgrim" corral younger males and females. The session will be compared with a big $142.5 million frame last year that was topped by the surprisingly strong bow of Sony's sci-fi thriller "District 9."

Domestic distributors marked the first year-over-year weekend downtick in almost two months last weekend. But year-to-date, industry b.o. remains 4% ahead of a comparable portion of last year at $6.93 billion.
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