Fourth 'Resident Evil' to top first fall weekend

VIDEO: Fourth pic in franchise should make $25 million

Sony Screen Gems' sci-fi/horror fourquel "Resident Evil: Afterlife" opens Friday as the only wide release set for the first frame of the fall box-office season and the first 3D entry in a thoroughly undead zombie fright franchise.

"Afterlife" should open with $25 million or more through Sunday and is certain to top the weekend's domestic rankings based on solid must-see interest for the latest installment in the video game-spawned film series. Each new "Evil" pic has bowed bigger than its predecessor, and the most recent -- "Resident Evil: Extinction" -- unspooled with $23.7 million in September 2007 en route to stalking $50.6 million domestically.

Sony has "Afterlife" set for 2,909 U.S. locations, and Canadian distributor Alliance will handle 250 north-of-the-border venues. The R-rated pic boasts more than 2,100 3D playdates, including 141 Imax 3D engagements.

"Afterlife" also will debut in most international territories during the next two weeks. Constantin Films financed the reported $60 million production, with Sony acquiring distribution rights for most of the world for $52 million.

Franchise originator Paul W.S. Anderson" directed "Afterlife, with Milla Jovovich again toplining.

"We're feeling good," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "This is a global play for us, and there is a lot of heat for the film throughout the world."

Last weekend's No. 1 pic, George Clooney starrer "The American" from Focus Features, should grab the silver medal if it can ring up half as much as its $16.7 million first weekend. Its older-skewing audience profile should translate into a leggier run than the normal thriller, a genre that often shows good playability.

Focus execs shrugged off the D-minus score assigned by exit-pollster CinemaScore. Low scores would tend to suggest poor word-of-mouth, but "American" rose steadily in the box-office rankings after unspooling two days ahead of the Labor Day weekend and marked a notable Saturday-over-Friday uptick in grosses.

"Without knowing specifically their method and audience info, the scores clearly are invalidated by 'The American's' weekend business and its consistent strong, unwavering trend from Wednesday through Monday," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said.

Two other pics also enter sophomore sessions this weekend -- Fox's crime actioner "Machette" and Warner Bros.' romantic comedy "Going the Distance," each of which drew B grades from CinemaScore after their first day in theaters a week ago.

Also this session, Summit will rerelease "Eclipse" in 1,187 theaters. Soon to hit DVD, the "Twilight" threequel will revisit multiplexes for one weekend only in many locations in a promotion gambit tied to the birthday of one of the franchise's main characters, Bella.
The ploy should get "Eclipse" past $300 million domestically; the film has collected $298.8 million in U.S. and Canadian coin so far.

"Machete" is unlikely to do more than 40% of its $14.1 million opening take. "Distance," which disappointed with $8.8 million, will try to match the legginess of many other romantic comedies with $5 million or so this time around.

Industrywide, the weekend will be compared with a $92 million session last year, topped by the $23.4 million bow by Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All by Myself."

Year to date, industry box office is up 4%, at $7.7 billion, despite a 1% year-over-year dip by summertime grosses.
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