Box Office Preview: 'Finding Nemo 3D' to Make Big Splash

"Resident Evil: Retribution" also should produce solid returns for the long-running series.

Disney’s Finding Nemo, returning to theaters in a new 3D version, should prove to be the big fish in the proverbial small pond this weekend, although it will face some competition from the session’s other new wide Hollywood release, Sony’s zombie-battling, sci-fi horror movie, Resident Evil: Retribution.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Weinstein Co.’s The Master, fresh off the awards it picked up at the Venice International Film Festival for Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction and Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performances, will open in just four theaters, two in New York and two in Los Angeles.

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The Oscar-winning Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, is the latest movie from the Disney and Pixar vaults to undergo a 3D make-over. The Lion King, released exactly one year ago in a new 3D version, proved its continuing appeal by opening in the top slot and pulling in $30.2 million in the first weekend of its rerelease. Beauty and the Beast, also freshened up with 3D, returned to theaters in January, taking in $17.8 million on its first weekend.

Nemo, widely regarded as one of the best Pixar movies, is looking as if it will perform more like Lion than Beauty. Originally released in 2003, the G-rated movie, featuring the voices of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, grossed $867 million in its original run. It remains the fifth highest-grossing animated movie worldwide.

Pixar and Disney spent just under $5 million to convert the movie to 3D, which should be money well-spent since expectations are that the film, opening in 2,904 theaters, will collect something in the mid-to-high $20 million range.

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Retribution, the fifth film in the Resident Evil franchise that has seen Milla Jovovich battle wave upon wave of futuristic zombies, should follow just behind, opening to a number in the low-to-mid $20 million neighborhood.

From Sony’s Screen Gems unit, the Resident movies have been reliable moneymakers. 2002’s Resident Evil bowed to $17.7 million. The subsequent installments have opened to $23 million, $23.7 million and $26.7 million respectively.

The newest chapter, produced in 3D at a cost of $65 million and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed two of the previous films in the series, will play 3012 sites in North America, including Imax locations. And it’s expected to break out abroad, where the series has really proven its popularity – the last film, 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife grossed $60.1 million domestically and another $236.1 million abroad.

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The only other film opening wide, in 1,407 theaters, is a PG-rated family drama, Last Ounce of Courage, in which a man and his grandson come to terms with the wartime death of the son and father they share. It is being distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures, the same company that has been distributing the doc 2016: Obama’s America.

Meanwhile, on the exclusive front, The Master should post some big per-theater numbers, as Paul Thomas Anderson’s fan base of serious cinephiles show up for the film, which was applauded in both Venice and Toronto.

Also making its first appearance is Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, a financial drama in which Richard Gere plays a hedge fund manager. Released by Roadside and Lionsgate, which had success last year with another financial thriller Margin Call, Arbitrage will also be debuting as a cable VOD offering.