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Movie projector: 'Wall Street' and 'Guardians' to battle for No. 1 as 'You Again' lags

September 23, 2010 |  2:08 pm

WallStreet The return of a classic drama and a new attempt at a family animated franchise will compete for the top spot at the box office this weekend, though neither is likely to be a huge hit.

Twentieth Century Fox's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," a sequel to the 1987 classic that teams Shia LaBeouf with original star Michael Douglas, opens against Warner Bros.' "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," director Zack Snyder's animated feature adaptation of the fantasy book series for kids.

People who have seen pre-release surveys of potential moviegoers say both pictures are likely to sell about $20 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, making for a tight race for No. 1. Walt Disney Studios' female-targeted ensemble comedy "You Again" also debuts Friday but is expected to lag behind the competition with only about $10 million.

Of the trio of new films, the stakes are highest for "Guardians," which has the advantage of higher ticket prices because it is playing in 3-D. Warner and Village Roadshow Pictures spent more than $100 million to produce the adventure about a battle between good and evil in an owl kingdom, though tax credits in Australia, where it was produced, brought the final cost down to about $80 million. Distributor Warner has aggressively marketed the movie as coming "from the studio that brought you 'Happy Feet' " in hopes if tapping goodwill from the 2006 hit, its last animated production.

But the PG-rated "Legend of the Guardians" is darker and more intense than most successful animated fare, making it a challenge to persuade parents with young children to see the movie. If the film opens at around $20 million, as predicted, it would need to have a very long run in theaters, like March's "How to Train Your Dragon," to avoid being a financial disappointment.

A similar debut would be somewhat better, if not great, news for "Wall Street," which like the original was directed by Oliver Stone. Fox spent about $60 million to make the movie, which brings Gordon Gekko into the modern age following the recent Wall Street crash. Tax credits brought the cost of the film down closer to $50 million, according to a studio executive. Surveys indicate the main audience will be older adults who remember the original and its classic line, "Greed is good."

The good news for Fox is that older adults often don't come to movies on opening weekend but will attend later if word-of-mouth and reviews are good. So far, reviews have been mixed.

YouAgain "You Again," which stars Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kristen Bell and Betty White, is generating only mild interest among its target female audience. The comedy, about a young woman whose brother is set to marry her high school nemesis, cost a little less than $20 million to make and has not been advertised aggressively. That means that Disney's financial exposure on the movie is not huge, though the film does appear likely to be a box-office disappointment.

Sony Pictures is set to open the low-budget comedy "The Virginity Hit" at about 700 theaters nationwide, compared with more than 2,000 for the other new movies, with very modest expectations. The studio failed to generate much interest with sneak previews in college towns over the last two weekends and expects the raunchy comedy, produced by Will Ferrell, to gross less than $1 million. It cost between $2 million and $3 million to make.

Three movies also start playing in limited release this weekend.

Lionsgate opens the thriller "Buried," starring Ryan Reynolds as a man stuck in a coffin, at 11 theaters in five cities, including two in Los Angeles. The studio is hoping to build momentum for the well-reviewed film, which it bought at the Sundance Film Festival, leading up to a nationwide opening Oct. 8.

The documentary "Waiting for Superman," about the American education system, is debuting at two theaters in L.A. and two in New York through the Paramount Vantage specialty division.

Sony Pictures Classics opened the new Woody Allen romantic comedy "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" at three theaters in L.A. and three in New York on Wednesday, starting off with a solid $26,843.

-- Ben Fritz

Photos, from top: Michael Douglas in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Credit: Barry Wetcher / 20th Century Fox. Jamie Lee Curtis, Kristen Bell and Betty White in "You Again." Credit: Mark Fellmlan / Disney

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