Summertime, and the boxoffice ain't easy

Only Sony's 'Superbad' seen with chance at top rung

Does summer 2007 have room for just one more breakout hit? As an overheated summer season draws to a close in North America, Sony Pictures is betting that it can eke out yet one more chart topper with the new R-rated teen sex comedy "Superbad."

By contrast, the weekend's other new wide arrivals -- Warner Bros. Pictures' sci-fi remake "The Invasion" and the Weinstein Co.'s fall-of-the-Roman-Empire actioner "The Last Legion" -- are shaping up more like traditional, late-summer entries, which aren't expected to burn up the boxoffice.

While "Superbad" has taken its time in building awareness, the film comes from the comedy machine surrounding writer-director Judd Apatow, who already knocked one out of the park with this summer's $147 million grossing "Knocked Up." On "Superbad," Apatow serves as one of the producers. Additionally, Seth Rogen, who starred opposite Katherine Heigl in "Knocked Up," penned the screenplay along with Evan Goldberg.

"Superbad" stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera as high school buddies bent on sampling that good ol' American Pie. Although neither are household names, their mugs are hovering on the periphery of fame -- Hill has had supporting roles in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Evan Almighty" and "Rocket Science," while Cera appeared on Fox's "Arrested Development." Directed by Greg Mottola (who made his directorial debut with 1996's "The Daytrippers"), the film traffics in the same raunchy terrain as "Knocked Up," though it is not expected to scale the same boxoffice heights. By appealing to younger males, the film, opening in 2,948 theaters, appears headed for an opening in the mid-$20 million range.

The only thing that could stand in its way is the second weekend of New Line Cinema's "Rush Hour 3." The buddy cop flick debuted last weekend to a chart-topping $49.1 million. If it holds to a typical 55% drop, it will pick up another $22 million or so, but a stiffer drop would see it fall below the $20 million level.

Oliver Hirshbiegel's "The Invasion," starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, is this frame's starriest offering. But this latest adaptation of the Jack Finney novel about body snatchers from outer space -- its fourth film adaptation -- has undergone reworking, with producer Joel Silver calling in the Wachowski brothers to beef up additional scenes directed by James McTeigue. A Warners/Village Roadshow effort, the R-rated movie, in 2,776 theaters, doesn't appear to have developed much traction and will probably find itself stuck in the teen-million-dollar range.

Also aiming for genre fans is the Weinstein Co.'s "Last Legion," from Dino De Laurentiis Prods., bowing in 2,002 theaters. Mixing up the final days of the Roman empire with the rise of the Arthurian legend, the PG-13 actioner, directed by Doug Lefler and starring Colin Firth, Ben Kinglsey and Aishwarya Rai, would like to claim a slice of the "300" audience, but it is looking to be a narrow slice, arriving at less than $5 million.

Even so, the industry should witness the sixth weekend in a row in which boxoffice receipts are up year-over-year when New Line's "Snakes on a Plane" opened to a disappointing $15.2 million, including Thursday night showings.

Other titles entering the race include MGM's "Death at a Funeral," a Frank Oz-directed comedy of dark British manners, debuting in 260 theaters; Picturehouse's documentary about die-hard gamers "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," directed by Seth Gordon; and Warner Independent Pictures' environmentally minded documentary "The 11th Hour," with Leonardo DiCaprio narrating, while also serving as a co-writer and a producer.