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Movie projector: 'Social Network' looks strong; 'Let Me In' and 'Case 39' will struggle

September 30, 2010 |  2:45 pm

SocialNet "The Social Network" will have a lot more friends in movie theaters this week than the competition.

Sony Pictures' heavily hyped film about the controversial founding of Facebook is sure to dominate the box office this weekend, people who have seen pre-release surveys concur. Most estimate that the movie will sell between $25 million and $28 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, though a Sony spokesman said the studio has slightly more modest expectations of between $20 million and $25 million.

Either way, it's sure to significantly exceed the other two movies opening this weekend combined. Horror film "Case 39" and "Let Me In," a remake of a critically beloved Swedish vampire drama, are generating little pre-release interest and will each probably open to between $6 million and $8 million.

In part that's a function of marketing. Sony has promoted "The Social Network" far more aggressively than the studios behind the other two new pictures. Beginning in August, the campaign featured billboards labeling Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, as "punk, prophet, genius, billionnaire, traitor." Because the studio wasn't allowed to advertise on Facebook itself, Sony took over the home page of competing social network MySpace and promoted the movie elsewhere online, along with airing frequent television spots. The film has also benefited from extensive press coverage of its controversial backstory, as Facebook has quietly tried to influence the picture by disputing the veracity of its portrayal of Zuckerberg and how the company was started.

Initially, the audience most interested in "The Social Network" was young men, who were probably drawn by its Facebook subject matter. But Sony's advertising and almost universally positive reviews have attracted interest among adults to the film directed by David Fincher and written by "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin.

The question now, as it is for all serious dramas, is whether adults outside big cities will show up and if word-of-mouth will be strong enough to keep the movie playing solidly for weeks. "The Social Network" cost just under $40 million to produce, meaning Sony and co-financier Relativity Media should be well positioned if the picture opens as expected.

LetMeIn "Let Me In" is also benefiting from rapturous critical response but has failed to gin up much audience excitement. The drama about a young female vampire who bonds with a lonely boy is a remake of the well-received but little-seen Swedish movie "Let the Right One In," which collected only $2.1 million when it was released in U.S. theaters in 2008.

With its young protagonists, the film is mostly drawing interest from teenage vampire fans, though its backers are hopeful that reviews will bring in more adults.

Co-financed and originally to be released by the now defunct Overture Films, "Let Me In" was central in a dispute between former Overture chief Chris McGurk and his boss, Starz president Chris Albrecht, over how much could be spent to market the studio's movies. McGurk and his No. 2, Danny Rossett, were subsequently pushed out of the company and Overture's distribution and marketing operations were acquired by Relativity Media, which is releasing the picture.

Overture and its partner, Hammer Films, spent about $20 million to make "Let Me In."

Paramount Pictures' "Case 39," originally set to be released in 2008, was moved multiple times until the studio finally decided to open it this Friday. The horror film, which stars Renee Zellwegger as a social worker looking after a demonically possessed girl, is expected to draw a small, mostly female audience.

Paramount spent $27 million to make the movie and has already released it in a number of foreign markets, where it has so far generated $17 million. It was most popular in Spain and Mexico.

Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. are showing sneak previews of their respective movies "Secretariat" and "Life As We Know It" in about 800 theaters Saturday night. The two pictures officially debut nationwide Oct. 8.

Such sneak previews are risky because any tickets sold don't count toward the movies' box office gross but rather that of the films they replace. But the two studios apparently believe that their movies need more word-of-mouth before they launch. Sneak previews can provide good buzz if audiences respond positively.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Jesse Eisenberg and Joseph Mazello in "The Social Network." Credit: Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures. Bottom photo: Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz in "Let Me In." Credit: Saeed Adyani / Overture Films

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