Crowds will go straight to 'Hellboy'

Action sequel is hotter than 'Journey,' 'Dave'

Welcome to the July crush.

Eight wide releases bow during the next three sessions, including three Friday. Universal unspools its superhero sequel "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," Warners Bros. debuts its 3-D adventure release "Journey to the Center of the Earth," and Fox sends out its Eddie Murphy comedy "Meet Dave."

Each targets a somewhat different prospective audience. Yet with holdover competition including a second outing for Sony's Will Smith hit "Hancock" and the third frame for Disney/Pixar's still-strong animated feature "WALL-E," somebody's movie is going to get hurt.

It probably won't be "Hellboy." Early buzz on the PG-13 film has been good -- happily so for Universal executives, who greenlighted the sequel even though Sony released the Revolution-produced original.

The first adaptation of the "Hellboy" graphic novel series opened in April 2004 with $23.2 million, en route to $59.6 million domestically and $99.3 million worldwide. The sequel is expected to do better business in light of director Guillermo del Toro's industry ascendancy during the past four years and the tendency of sequels to outgross originals.

"Hellboy II" -- which again stars Ron Perlman in the title role with Selma Blair again co-starring -- should easily gross in the upper $20 millions and could surpass $30 million. Most support should come from young males, who might have just rushed out to see "Hancock" but always are ready for a new action film.

Produced by New Line and Walden Media for an estimated $60 million, the PG-rated "Journey" will play on fewer than 1,000 3-D screens -- a low number considering that the whole point of the movie is to show it in the growing format -- with almost twice that number of conventional playdates.

"Journey" represents the frame's strongest family-friendly entry, and its extra-dimensional novelty also could translate into date-movie appeal. So something in the teen millions looks doable.

"Dave" -- toting production costs of almost $60 million split among Fox, New Regency and Dune -- has potentially the broadest appeal of the new releases. Emphasis on the word "potentially."

Rated PG, appeal theoretically should range from families with kids to the date-night crowd. But prerelease tracking has been soft on "Dave," and its weekend haul looks likely to be limited to the high-single-digit millions.

"Hancock" should finish at No. 2 during its sophomore session. A second-frame drop of 55% -- about average for a big action movie these days -- would produce about $28 million this outing.