'Unstoppable' on Track to Thwart 'Megamind'

Any box office weekend featuring three wide releases, including a Denzel Washington movie, is almost certain to ring up a lot of loot, but the industry’s year-earlier comparison is a tough one.

The final session of the fall box office season will be compared with the second weekend of November last year, an impressive $145 million frame topped by the $65.2 million bow of Sony’s sci-fi action flick 2012. That’s likely going to be a hill too high for Hollywood to conquer despite a recently ebullient theatrical marketplace.

Just last weekend, the industry posted the best domestic box office session ever for the first weekend in November.

Fox’s Unstoppable — boasting Washington’s marquee magic and rising A-lister Chris Pine in an action thriller about a runaway freight train carrying toxic chemicals — is likely to open at No. 1 this weekend with up to $25 million. Two rival wide releases are on track for significantly smaller first-frame hauls.

Only an unexpectedly big second weekend for Megamind from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount could stop Unstoppable from topping weekend rankings. But Fox execs weren’t counting their trainload of chickens just yet.

“It could be a close race for No. 1,” Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said. “I am hoping for not only a very good opening weekend but also a nice, long theatrical run.”

Elsewhere among the trio of new wide releases, Universal bows Rogue Pictures’ sci-fi thriller Skyline Friday amid prerelease tracking data suggesting a weekend haul somewhere in the mid-teen millions. 

Rated PG-13, Skyline was co-directed by brothers Colin and Greg Strause and features an ensemble cast of mostly TV actors including Eric Balfour, Donald Faison and Scottie Thompson. Universal is distributing in the U.S. and Alliance in Canada, with Rogue on the hook for an estimated $10 million in production costs.

Paramount’s Morning Glory unspooled Wednesday and also should open with $15 million-$17 million. Targeting an older audience, its midweek debut isn’t likely to pad opening grosses but could help generate early media and stimulate buzz.

Meantime, the recently hot theatrical marketplace has year-to-date box office now pacing 4% ahead of a similar portion of last year, at $8.97 billion.

With the average movie ticket costing about $7.85 in 2010, or 5% more than in 2009, that suggests the industry has a shot at posting a year-over-year increase in admissions. But to do so, distributors must continue to best prior-year comparisons and build on the market momentum in the weeks ahead.