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Movie projector: Audiences set to swoon for 'Valentine's Day' over 'Wolfman,' 'Percy Jackson'

Valentine"Valentine’s Day" is poised to join "Dear John" in the select club of critic-proof, chick-flick box office hits.

The Garry Marshall-directed ensemble romantic comedy from Warner Bros.’ New Line Cinema unit will almost certainly sell more tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend than Universal Pictures' and 20th Century Fox's bigger budget event films, "The Wolfman" and "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief."

The big question for the three-day weekend, distribution executives at several studios agreed, is whether all three films can comfortably coexist. With the R-rated "Wolfman" doing best among men, PG-13-rated "Valentine's Day" appealing to women, particularly younger ones, and "Percy Jackson" going after tween boys and their parents, all three have potentially distinct crowds.

Overall audience intent to see movies is very high this weekend as people scramble to find dates for Valentine's Day that won't break the bank account. That means it's possible none of the new releases will come out a big loser. Total receipts could beat the President's Day weekend record of $220 million that was set last year, when the top movie was "Friday the 13th," according to data from Hollywood.com. Of course, the X-factor in all this is whether the Mid-Atlantic region will have dug out from the snow to trek to the multiplex.

Just a week after romantic tear-jerker "Dear John" scored with a surprisingly strong $30.5-million debut, "Valentine's Day" is poised for a monster opening of about $50 million from Friday through Monday, which should be a strong movie-going day due to the President's Day holiday. Because many people have Monday off, Valentine's Day itself should be a particularly lucrative day for the movie on Sunday.

Despite a big-name cast that includes Julia Roberts, Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher, "Valentine's Day" cost $52 million to produce and should be very profitable for New Line. Of course, all those big names have small amounts of screen time, which helped keep costs down.

Going into the weekend,Wolfman prospects are less certain for the other two movies. "Wolfman" is expected to open to between $35 million and $40 million -- a decent but not spectacular start for such a costly movie. One person close to the project said it cost Universal and its financing partner, Relativity Media, a hefty $150 million, before tax credits, to produce. Universal said that the cost after tax credits was $110 million.

The remake of one of the studio’s classic monster films had a troubled production, with extensive reshoots and three separate delays in its release date before Universal finally settled on this weekend. The picture, which stars Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, could do better overseas, where it’s opening simultaneously in 37 territories including Mexico, France, Germany, South Korea, and Brazil.

Family films are always particularly difficult to predict because children under 13 can't take part in pre-release polls, but estimates are that "Percy Jackson" could generate anywhere from $24 million to $35 million for the long weekend. Fox financed the movie with Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners at a cost of about $95 million. Like "Wolfman," it will need to generate solid word of mouth and international receipts to turn into a hit if its domestic debut is in line with estimates.

"Percy Jackson" opens this weekend in 63 foreign markets, including Britain, Mexico and South Korea.

Fox will also open its foreign production “My Name is Khan,” which features Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, in India and at 120 domestic theaters in cities with large Indian American populations.

-- Ben Fritz

Times staff writer Claudia Eller contributed to this report.

Upper photo: Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher in "Valentine's Day." Credit: Rob Batzdorff / Warner Bros.

Lower photo: Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro in "The Wolfman." Credit: Frank Connor / Universal Pictures

 
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