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Movie projector: Adults to drive big 'Shutter Island' debut [updated]

February 18, 2010 |  1:26 pm

Shutter Paramount Pictures looks to have something on its hands this weekend that has become a rare commodity in Hollywood: a hit R-rated drama.

The release of the Martin Scorsese-directed thriller "Shutter Island," which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, was delayed from October to this Friday due to financial concerns at Paramount. The switch, which came after some marketing materials had already launched, doesn't seem to have hurt the movie's chances, however.

Pre-release surveys of potential moviegoers show "Shutter Island" generating healthy interest with all audience segments, according to people who have seen the data. However, adults over 30 are among the most excited, an unusual occurrence given that they are the least frequent movie-goers and rarely rush out to a movie on its opening weekend.

Movie theaters have been littered with R-rated dramas that failed to connect with audiences in the last year, including "The International," "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" and "The Informant!" Even last weekend's big budget thriller, "The Wolfman," debuted to a modest $31.5 million. [Update, 3:02 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed "State of Play" as an example of an R-rated film.]

"Shutter Island," however, is firing on all cylinders and should sell between $35 million and $40 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen its prerelease tracking. That's a very healthy start given that the picture cost just under $80 million to produce. If audiences react as well as most critics have, it should continue to play well in the coming weeks.

The previous biggest opening for a movie directed by Scorsese was $26.9 million for "The Departed" in 2006. DiCaprio's high-water mark is $30 million for "Catch Me If You Can" in 2002.

Paramount is benefiting from a lack of competition this weekend, with no other movies opening nationwide. Lionsgate moved the John Travolta action film "From Paris With Love" up two weeks to Feb. 5 after Paramount in August chose this Friday for "Shutter Island."

The studio is also opening its thriller in seven foreign countries this weekend, the biggest of which is Australia. It will then roll out to other major international markets through the end of March.

Warner Bros.' romantic comedy "Valentine's Day" will almost certainly be No. 2 at the box office this weekend after its huge $56.3-million debut, even though its ticket sales will likely fall off more than 50% given the huge crowds it drew on its titular holiday Sunday.

Universal Pictures is hoping that "Wolfman" doesn't decline as much after its less-than-impressive start. But with "Shutter Island" attracting a similar adult audience and word-of-mouth likely to be weak after opening weekend audiences gave it an average grade of C+, the odds are that "Wolfman" will drop more  than 50%.

Fox's family film "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief" has the best odds to decline modestly, since its audience is completely different from that of "Shutter Island" and opening weekend crowds gave it an average grade of B+.

Also this weekend, Summit Entertainment opens the new Roman Polanski-directed drama "The Ghost Writer" at two theaters in Los Angeles and two in New York City.

--Ben Fritz

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo in "Shutter Island."  Credit: Andrew Cooper / Paramount Pictures.