Moviegoers will friend 'The Social Network'

"The Social Network"

VIDEO: 'Case 39,' 'Let Me In' also opening wide in theaters

Much like Facebook, Sony's "The Social Network" should launch notably and impress even more over the longer haul, though it's unclear which age group will support the drama most fervently.

The David Fincher-helmed tale of Facebook's Harvard origins should top the domestic box office with as much as $30 million this weekend. But with awards-season buzz about the Aaron Sorkin-penned pic already building, a long and lucrative theatrical run could be in the offing, provided that "Social" attracts a broad swath of moviegoers.

Most dramas play best with patrons ages 25 or older, but "Social" -- while showing good prerelease traction with all demos -- is tracking best with younger males. Chalk that up to its thematic hook, but the related question is how the oldest moviegoers will respond.

So far, there has been near-unanimous positive reaction from critics to the well-paced depiction of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's controversial early days on the road to online glory. But creative elements including an aggressively techno soundtrack and less inherent interest in the subject matter would seem to represent obstacles in luring older patrons.

Also, the cast comes from Young Hollywood. Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg, with Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker.

In any event, Sony is well-positioned to make out like a bandit on "Social," whose negative cost is estimated at less than $40 million.

"The picture is resonating with all facets of the moviegoing population," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "It also is a picture that's going to be around for a long time."

Even execs at competing studios are impressed by interest in "Social."

" 'Social Network' is going to work in a big way," a rival distribution exec said. "It should open well and then stick around for a good while."

A couple of strong holdover pics with adult fan bases offer another impediment to "Social" opening higher than projected: Fox's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" topped last weekend with a $19 million bow, and Warner Bros.' heist thriller "The Town" has rung up more than $50 million through three strong sessions.

"It's fair to say there are some smart pictures in the mix, and there is always going to be some cannibalization in the market when you're all going after the same audience," Bruer said. "But when all is said and done, our picture is going to do extremely well, and it's going to be an extremely satisfying film for all who see it."

Two other movies opening wide today are unlikely to fetch even double-digit millions during their first three days.

Paramount Vantage's Renee Zellweger starrer "Case 39" will play in about 2,200 theaters and should open in the mid- to high-single-digit millions. Overture's vampire thriller "Let Me In" should debut in a similar range with slightly more than 2,000 playdates.

"Case" packs about $17 million in foreign lucre since unspooling abroad last year. Par held back its domestic bow to bide time to exploit the spreading fan base of co-star Bradley Cooper, whose first tentpole release came with June's disappointing actioner "The A-Team."

Zellweger plays a social worker trying to help a mysterious young girl. German helmer Christian Alvart ("Antibodies") directed, with Ian McShane of "Deadwood" fame among the R-rated pic's cast.

Audiences are expected to skew older and female.

Helmed by Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield"), "Let Me In" stars Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins and Kodi Smit-McPhee and is based on the 2008 Swedish horror film "Let the Right One In."

The pic should skew significantly young while attracting males and females about equally, but its R rating will keep younger vampire lovers from multiplexes. Overture produced "Let Me In," its last wide release before the company is swept up into Relativity Media branding, for less than $20 million.

Elsewhere among the weekend's holdovers, box-office watchers will get to see whether Warners has a big or little problem on its hands with "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole." Produced for an estimated $79 million with Australian tax credits, "Ga'Hoole" underperformed with a $16.1 million bow last weekend.

Industrywide, the frame will be compared with last year's $107 million weekend that was topped by the $24.7 million bow of Sony's "Zombieland."

Year-to-date, 2010 is tracking almost 4% ahead of last year, at $8.06 billion.