'Tron: Legacy' Expected to Nab Upwards of $40 Mil, Top Weekend's Holiday Film Openings

Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy

Awards favorites "The Fighter," "King's Speech" set to expand, and "Black Swan" should dance circles around "How Do You Know."

Hollywood is once again overstuffing the Christmas stocking with films of all shapes and sizes, hoping to benefit from the most lucrative and intense stretch of the year at the box office.

Moviegoers will embrace some of the presents; others, not so much.

This weekend, there are four new wide players: Disney's 3D tentpole Tron: Legacy, which is expected to top the weekend; Warner Bros.' 3D family picture Yogi Bear; Paramount/Relativity Media's The Fighter; and Sony's romantic comedy How Do You Know, directed by James L. Brooks.

A film opening during the year-end holidays can earn five or six times its opening number, and sometimes more, thanks to kids and college students being out school and many adults taking time off. That's unheard of the rest of the year, when the average multiple is three to four.

Before Sunday even rolls around, distribution execs are usually able to tell their bosses how much a film will ultimately make, based on opening numbers. Not so for Christmas, whose lifetime grosses are more difficult to predict because of the unusually high multiple.

A year ago, Fox's Avatar grossed $77 million in its launch on its way to grossing $760 million domestically. Initially, many pundits wondered why the film opened so low.

Sony's Nancy Meyers-directed It's Complicated opened to $22.1 million over Christmas weekend last year, and it wound up with $112.7 million domestic -- a multiple of more than five.

Tron: Legacy, opening in the same slot as Avatar, is tracking well among males of all ages. Observers expect the film to gross north of $40 million as it goes out in 3,451 theaters (including Thursday midnight runs).

Disney began introducing Tron: Legacy -- a follow-up to the 1982 cult classic -- to fanboys two years ago and to exhibitors more than a year ago. The marketing campaign began in earnest nine months ago. Usually, fanboy-centric pictures are rated PG-13; Tron is rated PG.

The movie is getting heavy play in Imax theaters, with the large-format exhibitor expecting strong returns. Overseas, the film also has a major rollout. It cost nearly $170 million to produce.

Jeff Bridges returns in the role of Kevin Flynn, while Garrett Hedlund plays his son.

Yogi Bear brings an even more recognizable character to the big screen, at least among older moviegoers who grew up on the popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

The CG/live-action hybrid, playing in 3,535 theaters, is expected to do well among younger kids and should do steady business throughout the holiday session.

Warners will be happy as long as the 3D film opens to $20 million or higher this weekend, considering the strong multiple it should have. (Stuart Little opened to $15 million on the same weekend in 1999 and cumed $140 million domestically.)

The weekend's two wild cards are The Fighter, which goes out in 2,503 locations after a limited bow last weekend in New York and L.A., and Fox Searchlight's Black Swan, which makes a major play in expanding from 90 theaters to 959. On Wednesday, Swan ups its screen count to 1,426.

Both films are early awards favorites, as is the Weinstein Co.'s The King's Speech, which expands from 19 locations to 43 Friday. All three picked up significant Golden Globe and SAG nominations this week.

Specialty openers include Lionsgate's Nicole Kidman-Aaron Eckhart drama Rabbit Hole in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles in Toronto, while ATO Pictures launches George Hickenlooper's financial thriller Casino Jack, toplining Kevin Spacey, in New York and L.A.

Both Kidman and Spacey picked up Globe acting noms.

Some observers say Black Swan, which is drawing keen interest from both older and younger women, could takes females away from How Do You Know in markets in which both are playing.

Tracking for How Do You Know is on the softer side, indicating an opening of $12 million and possibly lower. The film, going out in 2,483 theaters, stars Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson.

Some insiders say there could be confusion over the title. How Do You Know also is drawing poor notices, which could hurt, since older women rely the most on reviews.

How Do You Know cost about $100 million to produce, with tax rebates. The Fighter was far less expensive, at about $25 million to produce, after Relativity took over the project from Paramount. Relativity financed a large chunk of the drama through foreign presales.

A bevy of films open Wednesday, including Universal's Little Fockers and Paramount's True Grit, directed by the Coen brothers. Fox opens 3D family pic Gulliver's Travels on Christmas Day.