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Movie Projector: Matthew McConaughey, Bradley Cooper and an alien battle for No. 1

March 17, 2011 |  2:25 pm

Matthewwide Matthew McConaughey, Bradley Cooper or ... an alien?

Each will carry a new film at the box office this weekend, but moviegoers may have a difficult time choosing between the two handsome leading men and a decidedly less attractive protagonist. According to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys, McConaughey's "The Lincoln Lawyer," Cooper's "Limitless" and "Paul," which centers on an extraterrestrial, are in a tight race for the No. 1 spot and will all likely gross between $10 million and $15 million.

The new releases, however, still face competition from last weekend's top-grossing film, "Battle: Los Angeles," which debuted with $35.6 million. Like most action movies, the Sony Pictures release should drop about 50% to 60% on its second weekend, which means the picture could retain its dominance. Paramount's animated film "Rango," which is entering its third weekend in theaters with a tally of more than $73 million, will likely see ticket sales fall about 40%. So, it too could be among the weekend's highest-grossing films.

"The Lincoln Lawyer," in which McConaughey stars as an attorney who runs his practice from the back of his car, is the only new release generating interest among older females. That's probably because McConaughey has starred in a number of romantic comedies throughout his career, most recently in "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "Fool's Gold."

But older audiences don't typically rush out to see new films on their first weekend, which could mean that young males interested in "Paul" and "Limitless" would propel one of those two films to the top of the box office charts.

"The Lincoln Lawyer," which cost about $40 million to produce, was primarily financed by Lakeshore with a smaller investment by distributor Lionsgate. Earlier this week, Lionsgate announced it had partnered with daily deal site Groupon to offer $6 tickets to the positively reviewed film through Fandango this weekend. As of midday Thursday, 9,280 users had purchased the deal on Groupon's Los Angeles site.

Limitless "Limitless," a psychological thriller that costars Robert De Niro, cost $27 million to produce, according to director Neil Burger. Financier Relativity Media covered much of its investment by preselling foreign distribution rights to the picture, said a person familiar with the film's economics.

The movie is the first production from Richard Branson's fledgling company Virgin Produced, which was founded last summer. 

"Paul," the latest comedy from British "Shaun of the Dead" costars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, was co-financed by Relativity and distributor Universal Pictures for about $40 million. The movie, which was co-written by Pegg and Frost and directed by Greg Mottola, had a strong start when it debuted in Britain in mid-February with the third biggest opening there this year behind "Tangled" and "The King's Speech."

The film took in just slightly less than the opening of 2007's "Hot Fuzz," in which Pegg and Frost also acted and Pegg co-wrote. "Hot Fuzz" went on to gross $41.2 million in Britain and Ireland, and $23.6 million domestically.

"Paul," about two comic book nerds who encounter a space creature, has already grossed $25.7 million in four foreign markets and has yet to open in 54 additional territories. It will launch in Russia next weekend, followed by Korea and Australia next month.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight will premiere "Win Win," starring Paul Giamatti as a wrestling coach, in five theaters. "Jane Eyre," which last weekend opened to the highest per-theater average of any film in limited release so far this year, will expand from four theaters to 26.

-- Amy Kaufman

Top photo: Matthew McConaughey stars in "The Lincoln Lawyer."Credit: Lionsgate

Bottom photo: Bradley Cooper stars in "Limitless." Credit: Relativity Media

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