'Inglourious Basterds' hunting a big bow

'Shorts,' 'Post Grad,' 'X Games 3D' also opening Friday

For better or worse, this weekend's opening of "Inglourious Basterds" looms large in the fiscal health of its producers and distributors at the Weinstein Co.

Execs at the New York indie say their financial woes have been great exaggerated and that the company's fate won't be sealed by the success or failure of any one film release. But it's safe to say the Weinsteins would welcome a big "Basterds" bow, and prerelease tracking offers some auspicious signs of must-see interest in key demos.

One of four domestic wide openers set for Friday, "Basterds" is tracking best with 18- to 35-year-old males. But though the R-rated, 2 1/2-hour Quentin Tarantino pic will draw best among moviegoers bearing Y chromosomes, topliner Brad Pitt should help draw just enough gals to help "Basterds" reach north of $25 million through Sunday.

Tarantino's best opening was 2004's "Kill Bill, Vol. 2," which unspooled with $25.1 million en route to $66.2 million domestically. "Basterds" follows a team of eight Jewish-American soldiers in Nazi-occupied France, with French actress Melanie Laurent and multihyphenate Eli Roth among the co-stars.

Universal is distributing the film internationally and will split all costs and proceeds evenly with the Weinsteins. With reported production costs of about $70 million, "Basterds" totes a lower negative cost thanks to substantial film incentives, according to production insiders.

In any event, "Basterds" will need not only to open well but also must sustain momentum over subsequent sessions.

Meanwhile, some industryites suggest the Weinstein's slotting of another R-rated pic, Rob Zombie's "Halloween II," just one week after "Basterds" shows the indie's need to goose theatrical cash flow. But they argue that the ploy could undermine the World War II pic's second session and note that the slasher sequel's prospects will be limited by Warner Bros.' opening 3D horror thriller "The Final Destination" on Aug. 28.

Elsewhere this weekend, Warner Bros.' PG-rated family fantasy "Shorts" looks headed for a limp debut. Helmed by Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids"), "Shorts" tells the story of a mysterious object that falls into the hands of some kids from comically dysfunctional families. The cast includes William H. Macy, James Spader and John Cryer.

But prerelease interest appears weak, and an inaugural tally of $8 million-$10 million appears in the offing.

"We're just hoping for a family following, which hasn't had a new picture in a couple weeks," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said.

Fox Searchlight's youth comedy "Post Grad" is a Fox Atomic production directed by Vicki Jensen ("Shrek") starring Alexis Bledel ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") as a recent college grad who moves back in with her crazy parents (Michael Keaton and Carol Burnett).

Fox will handle distribution for Searchlight, as usual whenever the specialty unit's pics are slated for wide release. A debut in the mid-single-digit millions appears likely.

A fourth wide opener, Disney's sports documentary "X Games 3D: The Movie," is likely to post a similar sum during its first three days and is scheduled to play in theaters for just one week.

The film focuses less on the actual X Games and more on the recent ESPN-sponsored event's participants. It will play only in 3D venues and is set for more than 1,300 extra-dimensional auditoriums.

On an industrywide basis, this weekend will be compared with a soft $106 million session last year that was topped by the $14.5 million bow of Sony's comedy "The House Bunny." The relatively easy comparison could result in Hollywood's marking a third consecutive year-over-year weekend improvement as the industry seeks to close the summer strongly and post upticks in boxoffice and admissions when the season concludes on Labor Day.
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