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'Fast Five' Poised to Deliver Year's Biggest Opening

The summer season unofficially kicks off this weekend at the domestic box office with the release of Universal's Fast Five, which drives into 3,643 theaters on Friday, including 244 Imax locations.

Fast Five, already off to an impressive start overseas, is expected to deliver the biggest opening of 2011, whether that means $60 million or $70 million (or even more). Technically, the summer campaign starts May 6 with the domestic bow of Paramount and Marvel Studios' Thor.

The previous film in the action franchise, Fast & Furious, opened to $71 million, but box office observers can't count on the same gross for Fast Five considering the downturn at the domestic box office.

Fast Five will have the advantage of appealing to an ethnically diverse audience as well as younger moviegoers.

Directed by Justin Lin, one of Hollywood's hottest young talents, Fast Five reunites franchise stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Tyrese Gibson. Joining the series is Dwayne Johnson.

Universal has a lot riding on the event pic, set this time in Rio de Janeiro. The studio says the film cost $125 million after production incentives and tax credits, but others put the price tag as high as $150 million.

If Fast Five's revved-up opening overseas is any indication, Universal looks to be on strong footing, which is sure to please its new owners at Comcast.

Fast Five opened last weekend in Australia, the U.K., New Zealand and South Korea to record numbers for the franchise. To date, it has grossed more than $35 million internationally.

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Also opening domestically is Prom, the first film greenlighted by Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross to hit theaters. The teen romantic comedy, made for a modest $8 million, targets girls ages 8 to 13, since the film's PG rating might be a turn-off for older teen girls.

Disney is hoping for an opening in the $7 million to $9 million range. Prom goes out in 2,730 locations.

Directed by Joe Nussbaum, Prom's cast includes Aimee Teegarden, Nicholas Braun, Danielle Campbell, Cameron Monaghan and Christine Elise McCarthy.

The Weinstein Co. will try to grab even younger kids with 3D toon Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil.

Like Prom, Hoodwinked is expected to gross in the $7 million to $9 million range, helped by higher-priced 3D tickets. The pic goes out in 2,505 theaters, 75% of which are 3D.

Hoodwinked faces tough competition in Fox's box office hit Rio, which should stay high up on the chart in its third weekend. Universal's family film Hop also remains a contender.

The Weinstein Co. believes there is enough room in the marketplace for all three family films, but Hoodwinked Too! will have a hard time matching the $12.4 million opening of the first Hoodwinked.

Hoodwinked Too! is a co-production with Maurice Kanbar's Kanbar Entertainment (Kanbar created SKYY Vodka). Insiders say Kanbar put up much of the financing for the $30 million film.

Also this weekend, Omni Lab/Freestyle Releasing is opening supernatural action pic Dylan Dog: Dead at Night, starring Brandon Routh, in 862 theaters.

At the specialty box office, IFC opens Werner Herzog's 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams in five theaters, including in New York and Los Angeles.

Overseas, Fast Five expands into additional markets, but Thor will have the biggest footprint as it opens in most of the world a week ahead of its domestic bow. Paramount wants to take advantage of May Day, a significant holiday internationally.

Email: Pamela.McClintock@thr.com