Weekend lineup to reinvent fall?

'9,' new Tyler Perry pic among titles expected to thrive

Fall is no longer a no-fly zone for Hollywood movie studios.

Movie theater operators long have been pressing film distributors to spread their bigger titles more evenly throughout the boxoffice year, and studios have begun to answer the call.

Four new wide releases unspool in domestic multiplexes this week, and all should ring up decent coin in a competitive session that could alter early fall's reputation as a dumping ground for low-quality fare.

Focus Features got a jump on the competition by debuting its PG-13 animated feature "9" in 1,653 theaters Wednesday, with the intent of adding a few more venues for the weekend. The well-reviewed pic, produced for an estimated $22 million, expands to 1,661 engagements Friday and could fetch $15 million or more during its first five days.

"9" rung up an estimated $3 million Wednesday.

"The prospects are very, very positive, and we're excited," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said.

Although he earlier in the week had insisted that execs would be happy if "9" opened with $6 million, Foley on Thursday acknowledged, "We may need a bigger bank."

Meanwhile, the weekend likely will be won by another of Friday's three wide openers: Tyler Perry's latest dramedy "I Can Do Bad All by Myself." Lionsgate execs say they will be pleased if "Bad" bows anywhere north of $20 million, and prerelease forecasts suggest they should be smiling by Sunday.

Perry's pics play best in urban theaters, and the multihyphenate's previous outing, "Madea Goes to Jail," for a personal-best $41 million bow in February en route to grossing $90.5 million domestically. Yet during this frame's comparable weekend last year, Perry's "The Family That Preys" fell on the lower end of his openings with $17.4 million for a movie that went on to pull in just $37.1 million in North America.

Prerelease tracking for "Bad" looks promising enough for a debut of $25 million-$30 million. Anything in that range is certain to win the weekend.

Also this weekend, Summit Entertainment debuts the R-rated horror pic "Sorority Row" and Warner Bros. bows the supernatural thriller "Whiteout," a Kate Beckinsale starrer that also totes a restricted rating.

"Sorority" and "Whiteout" both target younger moviegoers. So though prerelease interest appears decent among both males and females for each, the audience overlap could keep each from opening any higher than in the upper-single-digit millions.

On an industrywide basis, the frame will be compared with a $101 million session last year topped by "The Family That Preys." Hollywood enters the fall on a roll, having closed out summer 2009 with six consecutive year-over-year weekend upticks.