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Movie projector: 'Dear John' likely to come close but not quite dethrone 'Avatar'

February 4, 2010 |  3:29 pm

DearJohn

After holding the top spot for seven consecutive weeks, it looks as if "Avatar" will reign one final time over Super Bowl weekend.

Despite rising interest among its core audience of teenage and twentysomething females, the romantic tearjerker "Dear John" appears likely to open just shy of director James Cameron's blockbuster, which looks to be No. 1 at the box office for the eighth weekend in a row.

According to people who have seen pre-release polling of moviegoers, "Dear John" is on track to sell a little more than $20 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada. That's a solid start given that financier Relativity Media paid about $25 million to produce the film, which Sony Pictures is releasing in exchange for a distribution fee.

Still, the backers of "Dear John" will be looking to go beyond a good opening to a very long run akin to that of 2004's "The Notebook," also based on a Nicholas Sparks romance novel, which debuted with $13.5 million and ended up with $81 million in ticket sales after five months in theaters.

"Avatar" is on track to gross $26 million to $28 million from Friday through Sunday if it continues the minimal 10% to 15% drops that it has experienced for the last several weekends. The 3-D science fiction epic, which has grossed $604 million domestically and nearly $1.5 billion overseas, could get a boost from its nine Oscar nominations this week, including best picture, and see an even smaller decline.

Overseas, "Avatar" could easily take in an additional $80 million-plus this weekend, bringing its total worldwide haul to nearly $2.2 billion.

On the post-Super Bowl weekend, "Avatar" is certain to be thrown off its domestic perch by any one of several new releases, including the romantic comedy "Valentine's Day" and the horror remake "The Wolfman."

"Dear John" was originally set to be the only new movie opening this weekend. However, when Paramount Pictures delayed the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller "Shutter Island" from October to Feb. 19, Lionsgate decided to avoid the competition and pushed back its John Travolta-Jonathan Rhys Myers action movie "From Paris With Love" to this Friday.

FromParis Studios usually don't debut movies aimed at men on Super Bowl weekend, because the target audience is otherwise occupied on Sunday. But Lionsgate, which bought distribution rights to "From Paris" from financier Europa Corp., is hoping to duplicate the success of "Taken," which opened on Super Bowl weekend last year to a healthy $24.7 million. Both films were directed by Pierre Morel.

However, people who have seen pre-release surveys say "From Paris With Love" is tracking for a more modest opening of about $15 million.

Much of the action on the box-office charts this weekend may be focused on several small movies that received multiple Oscar nominations on Tuesday, which are hoping for significant boosts.

Lionsgate will expand best picture nominee "Precious" from 222 theaters to 669 theaters. The low-budget Sundance acquisition has sold a healthy $46 million of tickets to overwhelmingly African American crowds.

The studio is hoping that Oscar attention will draw a more diverse crowd to the harrowing inner-city tale. "Precious" had played as wide as 1,003 theaters in December. In some cases it will be returning to theaters where it already played, such as Los Angeles' Arclight Cinemas.

Sony Pictures Classics and Fox Searchlight are using this weekend to springboard their movies "An Education" and "Crazy Heart," respectively, beyond the limited runs they have had. The British coming-of-age drama "An Education," which got a best picture nod and has generated $8.8 million, will go from 75 theaters to 763. The country music drama "Crazy Heart," for which Jeff Bridges got a best actor nomination, is jumping from 239 to 819 theaters. It has collected $7.3 million.

"An Education" and "Crazy Heart" will be looking to gross about $3 million this weekend, while "Precious" will probably take in $1.5 million or so, since it has already done a substantial chunk of business.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried in "Dear John." Credit: Scott Garfield / Sony Pictures.

Bottom photo: John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Myers in "From Paris With Love." Credit: Rico Torres / Lionsgate.

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