Box Office Preview: Brett Ratner's Star-Packed 'Tower Heist' Hopes to Steal $30 Mil Opening

"Tower Heist"

Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick's film is set to win the weekend race over the first holiday film of the season, stoner comedy "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas."

Universal's broad PG-13 action-comedy Tower Heist is poised to top the domestic box office in its debut, but the big question is whether it can hit $30 million.

The $85 million pic has plenty of star power in a cast led by Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick. Murphy, whose live-action career has suffered in recent years, in particular should see better numbers than usual. Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Tea Leoni, Michael Pena and Gabourey Sidibe also star in the film, about a group of non-crooks who set out to rob the man who swindled them out of their pensions.

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Imagine Entertianment's Brian Grazer and Kim Roth produced the film with Murphy, while Relativity Media helped finance.

A year ago on the same weekend, Warner Bros.' comedy Due Date opened to $32.7 million at the domestic box office, and while Universal is using that film as a comp, the studio is lowering its weekend estimate to between $25 million and $30 million because of the soft marketplace. Rivals suggest Universal needs the movie to open to at least $30 million.

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Tower Heist also opens day and date in 21 countries overseas, including the U.K., Germany, Spain, Hong Kong and India.

In the U.S., tracking -- which has popped in recent days, due to a flurry of publicity by Stiller and Murphy -- is strong among males of all ages followed by older women. Tower Heist also should play well with African-American and Hispanic audiences because of Murphy and Pena, according to Universal.

However, Tower Heist could lose young men to Warner Bros. and New Line's more modestly budgeted A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Conservative estimates show the R-rated stoner comedy opening in the $18 million range, but it could hit $20 milion, thanks in part to the 3D factor. (Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay opened to $14.9 million in April 2008.)

Played by John Cho and Kal Penn, Harold and Kumar go on the search for the perfect Christmas tree after Kumar destroys the original. The film, also starring Niel Patrick Harris, is packed with 3D gimmicks (think smoke rings).

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas cost in the $20 million range to produce.

DreamWorks Animation and Paramount's 3D toon Puss in Boots has a good shot of besting Harold & Kumar  for the No. 2 spot domestically, and is predicted to gross in the low $20 million range in its second weekend. The pic opened to $34.1 million last weekend after losing business because of the freak storm on the East Coast. Puss in Boots has grossed just north of $40 million through Wednesday at the domestic box office, and nearly $20 million overseas, where it enjoyed a record-breaking debut in Russia last weekend.

But big story internationally will continue to be Steven Speilberg's The Adventures of Tintin: Secrets of the Unicorn, which debuted to a dazzling $56 million last weekend as it rolled out in its first key territories, smashing records in France and Belgium, home country of the beloved comic book character.

Sony and Paramount are partners on Tintin, and sharing foreign distribution duties. Paramount releases the film in North America over Christmas.

At the specialty box office, Anchor Bay opens The Son of No One in 10 theaters in select U.S. cities. The Sundance Film Festival title stars Channing Tatum, Al Pacino and Katie Holmes.

The Weinstein Co. is re-releasing Kristin Scott Thomas indie hit Sarah's Key in 300 theaters across the U.S. this weekend in a move to drum up attention as awards season gets underway. The film has grossed north of $7 million domestically to date.