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Movie projector: Few headed to 'Green Zone' as 'Alice' set to dominate box office again

March 11, 2010 |  1:25 pm

GreenZone Moviegoers would rather escape to "Wonderland," it appears, than visit the "Green Zone" this weekend.

The pricey action drama "Green Zone," which re-teams Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass from the last two movies in the "Bourne Identity" franchise, is on track to be the latest film about the Iraq war to disappoint at the box office.

Tim Burton's 3-D "Alice in Wonderland" is certain to be the No. 1 film again this weekend following last week's $116-million debut, as relatively soft openings are expected for three low-budget pictures debuting Friday: romantic comedy "She's Out of My League," romantic drama; "Remember Me," starring Robert Pattinson; and comedy "Our Family Wedding."

Universal Pictures and its financing partner Relativity Media invested about $100 million to make "Green Zone" after the benefit of tax credits, but pre-release surveys of potential moviegoers suggest the film will sell between $15 million and $20 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend. That would make it a major financial disappointment and particularly tough for Universal and Relativity coming after a weak 2009 box-office run and a recent underperformer in monster movie remake "The Wolfman."

The evidence appears clear, however, that audiences aren't too interested in films that tackle politically thorny issues in Iraq and the Middle East. "Body of Lies" opened to only $12.9 million in 2008 despite being headlined by two major stars, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, and the action-heavy drama "The Kingdom," starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, debuted with $17.1 million in 2007.

Distributor Summit Entertainment was only able to book its Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker," which is already on DVD, in 35 additional theaters for this weekend despite its multiple Academy Award victories on Sunday including best picture. "Hurt Locker" has grossed just $14.7 million in the U.S.

In hopes of avoiding a similar fate, Universal has emphasized the action elements of "Green Zone" in its marketing, as well as the "Bourne" pedigree of its director and star. Although reviews are decent and the movie is tracking well with older men, it appears that the best the studio can hope for is a weak but not disastrous launch of $20 million to $30 million.

"Green Zone" may perform a bit better overseas. Initial returns from Britain, where it opened on Wednesday, were solid. It debuts in 14 foreign markets this weekend, including Spain, Russia and Australia.

After "Alice in Wonderland's" huge domestic opening, several people who closely follow box-office results expect the film to decline about 50%, meaning it will likely collect from $50 million to $60 million in  tickets this weekend. The Walt Disney Studios picture starring Johnny Depp should perform similarly overseas after opening to $100 million in 40 foreign markets last weekend.

Summit's "Remember Me" is primarily generating interest among young women who know Pattinson from the "Twilight" movies and should open close to $10 million. Paramount Pictures' "She's Out of My League," which was made by its former subsidiary DreamWorks SKG, appears to be more of a date movie and should attract about $6 million to $8 million. "The Family Wedding," which is being distributed by Fox Searchlight, appears to be getting very little interest and may struggle to open to more than $5 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Jason Isaacs and Matt Damon in "Green Zone." Credit: Jasin Boland / Universal Pictures

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