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Movie projector: Mel Gibson's return challenged by Kristen Bell, not that James Cameron has to worry

January 28, 2010 |  4:51 pm

EdgeDarkness This weekend will test the box-office appeal of one of Hollywood's most experienced and controversial stars against one of its newest.

After a seven-year absence from acting on the big screen, Mel Gibson returns in "Edge of Darkness," an action thriller along the lines of movies in the 1990s he starred in such as "Conspiracy Theory" and "Payback." Many in Hollywood are wondering not just whether moviegoers will flock back to a Gibson film after his long absence, but how many will remember or care about his alcohol-fueled rant about Jews in 2006.

People who have seen surveys of potential moviegoers say that "Edge of Darkness" isn't generating too much excitement. It's expected to sell about $15 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday, lower than the opening of any picture starring Gibson since 1995's "Braveheart," despite substantial increases in ticket prices since he was last seen in theaters.

Still, distributor Warner Bros. paid $27 million to acquire domestic rights to the movie from GK Films, which fully financed it, meaning it could be a modest success if word of mouth is good and it plays well for several weeks.

The one audience segment significantly more interested in "Darkness" than any other is men over 30, a sign that those who warmly remember Gibson's 1980s and '90s action pictures are still his biggest fans.

WhenRome Walt Disney Studios' "When in Rome" is appealing to the exact opposite audience: women under 20. The movie, which stars Kristen Bell in her largest role in a romantic comedy since she shot to fame with the 2004-2007 cult favorite TV show "Veronica Mars," was previously tracking far behind "Edge of Darkness." However, in recent days interest in "When In Rome" has grown to the point where the low-budget movie could rival Gibson's movie in the $15-million range.

For the seventh weekend in a row, however, 20th Century Fox's 3-D smash "Avatar" is certain to be No. 1. If it continues the same 15% to 20% drops it has experienced for the last few weeks, James Cameron's science-fiction epic will likely gross a little less than $30 million this weekend, bringing its domestic total close to $600 million.

CBS Films is hoping its "Extraordinary Measures," which debuted to a very weak $6 million this past weekend, experiences a modest decline based on strong word of mouth. Fox and Walden Media have the same goal for family comedy "Tooth Fairy," which opened to an unimpressive $14 million. Both pictures got average grades of A- from opening weekend audiences, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Sony Pictures may be looking at a bigger drop for its post-apocalyptic picture "Legion," which had a solid debut of $17.5 million but got an average audience grade of just C-.

--Ben Fritz

Top photo: Ray Winstone and Mel Gibson in "Edge of Darkness." Credit: Warner Bros.

Bottom photo: Kristen Bell and Danny DeVito in "When in Rome." Credit: Myles Aronowitz / Touchstone Pictures.

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