Box Office Preview: 'Underworld 4' Looks to Slay 'Red Tails,' 'Haywire'

 Screen Gems

Screen Gems and Lakeshore's Underworld: Awakening -- the fourth outing in the Kate Beckinsale vampire-werewolf franchise -- should win the weekend at the domestic box office with a gross in the low to mid $20 million range, buoyed by the extra upcharge for 3D and IMAX runs.

The last film in the horror-action franchise, Underworld: Rise of the Lycons, debuted to $20.7 million in January 2009, a franchise low. The original Underworld opened to $21.8 mllion, followed by $26.9 million for Underworld: Evolution.

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Awakening, co-produced by Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment for $70 million, also opens in a number of overseas markets this weekend.

Tracking for the George Lucas-produced Red Tails, about the famous Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, suggests it will open in the $8 million to $10 million range or higher. Fox is distributing the film.

Lucas spent 20 years pursuing the project, and recently revealed he couldn't get any studio to finance it because of an all-black cast. He finally decided to put up the money himself, and spent $58 million on the production budget and another $35 in distribution costs. Lucas produced with Rick McCallum.

The cast of Red Tails includes Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard. Recently, the producers and cast were invited to the White House for a special screening of the film, along with director Anthony Hemingway.

Fox, also the distributor of Lucas' Star Wars movies, believes that Red Tails will have especially good word of mouth, and that it will appeal of males of all ethnicities.

Steven Soderbergh's upscale R-rated action pic Haywire also opens this weekend. The Relativity Media movie, headlining Gina Carano as a female covert operative, is expected to open in the $8 million to $10 million range as well. The movie, also starring Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Chaning Tatum and Michael Douglas, cost a modest $23 million to make, with Relativity covering some of the budget through foreign presales.

Haywire opens in a handful of foreign territories this weekend, including Russia and the U.K. Alliance is distributing the movie in Canada.

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A number of specialty releases make major expansions this weekend in advance of Oscar nominations on Jan. 24, including Stephen Daldry's awards hopeful Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which has only been playing in six theaters since opening on Dec. 25, grossing roughly $662,000. As of Friday, the film will be playing in 2,630 theaters and is expected to gross north of $12 million.

The Weinstein Co.'s awards frontrunner The Artist, which scored a number of key Golden Globe wins, including best picture for a musical or comedy, adds 446 theaters, bringing its total location count to 662. The black-and-white silent film has grossed $9.6 million to date.

Also at the specialty box office, Wrekin Hill Entertainment opens Zhang Yimou's Chinese-language film The Flowers of War in 30 theaters, many of them in Chinese-American markets. The historical epic, starring Christian Bale, has grossed nearly $100 million in China and is on course to become the top grossing Chinese title of all time.

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