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Movie projector: 'Zombieland' heading for first place on crowded box office weekend

October 2, 2009 |  8:00 am


Maybe some Zombies can pump life into the horror genre.

After a string of horror movies that have posted weak openings, Sony's "Zombieland" is poised to scare up big business on a weekend during which five films are opening or expanding into wide release, including Disney's re-release of the "Toy Story" films in 3-D and Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story."

The slapstick horror flick starring Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg is expected to sell more than $20 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada and could come close to $30 million, according to people with access to pre-release audience polling.

That would be a remarkably strong start given the past three weeks have seen three consecutive horror movies -- "Pandorum," "Jennifer's Body," and "Sorority Row" -- all bomb, while "Halloween II" opened to a so-so $16.3 million in late August.

Audiences seem to be responding well to the heavy dose of comedy in the film's marketing, however. And unlike its predescesors, "Zombieland" is hitting the market with largely positive reviews.

Sony co-financed the movie with Relativity Media at a cost of $23.6 million. Even with marketing expenses, it should be a solid hit for both companies if it opens as expected.

The same can't be said for two other new movies: Fox Searchlight's "Whip It" and Warner Bros.' "The Invention of Lying," both of which are likely to gross under $10 million.

Roller derby drama "Whip It," Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, generated strong reactions in previews last week according to Fox, but appears to not be transforming that into strong buzz for the weekend. The movie cost a relatively modest $15 million to produce, however and may be one that has a slow build but strong long run.

"Lying," directed by and starring Ricky Gervais of "The Office," is being distributed by Warner for financiers Media Rights Capital and Radar Pictures. The fantastical comedy cost $18.5 million to produce, Gervais said in an interview.

Disney's release of the two "Toy Story" movies in a 3-D double feature is something of a wild card. Based on audience tracking it should collect about $10 million. It's difficult to predict, however, whether audiences will find the the opportunity to see the two beloved Pixar animated features together in 3-D to be worth buying movie tickets as opposed to watching them at home on DVD.

If the two week limited run is successful, Disney is surely it will become an annual tradition, just as it has for "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 3-D every Halloween.

One thing that's more certain for the "Toy Story" re-release, however, is that it will cause Sony's "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" to take a bigger drop than the tiny 17% it experienced last weekend. That's because "Toy Story" is taking well over 1000 of the 3-D screens on which "Cloudy" has been playing.

Still, "Cloudy," which has grossed $64.7 million as of Wednesday, will likely be no. 2 at the box office this weekend behind "Zombieland."

After a successful opening weekend at just four theaters, "Capitalism" will open nation wide in 962 theaters. It's not expected to be a phenomenom like Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," but will likely gross around $5 million for the weekend. If audiences respond well, the picture, which is being distributed by Overture Films and is co-owned by Paramount, could play strongly for several weeks, as other documentaries from Moore have done.

Focus Features is opening the new Coen brothers movie "A Serious Man" at six theaters in Los Angeles, New York City and Minneapolis, Minn.

--Ben Fritz

Photo: Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg in "Zombieland." Credit: Glen Wilson, Columbia Pictures.