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Movie projector: 'Basterds' could have a glorious $30-million-plus opening

August 20, 2009 |  4:17 pm

BasterdsThe Weinstein Co. might be getting some much-needed good news this weekend.

The financially beleaguered independent movie studio opens Quentin Tarantino's World War II action film "Inglourious Basterds" tomorrow and all indications are that it will have a solid and potentially very strong opening. It's the first major release for the Weinstein Co., which is attempting to strip away its widespread media interests and focus on movies and television, since "The Reader" last December.

According to people with access to pre-release audience polling, "Basterds" should sell more than $25 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend and could very well top $30 million.

The movie cost about $70 million to produce. The Weinstein Co. split that cost with Universal Pictures, which is handling overseas distribution. "Basterds" is opening in 22 foreign countries this weekend including most of Europe. Weinstein Co. and Universal will split the movie's worldwide proceeds 50/50.

It's very likely to be the biggest ever opening for Tarantino, not accounting for ticket price inflation. His highest domestic launch previously was $25.1 million from "Kill Bill, Vol. 2," which the Weinstein brothers' old studio Miramax released in 2004.

A strong opening, however, won't guarantee a great overall performance for "Inglourious Basterds." The movie clocks in at over two and a half hours and may generate some negative reactions given its explicit violence, so word-of-mouth will be critical. In addition, movie attendance in late August is typically slow. The biggest-ever opening in the second half of the month is 2007's "Superbad," which earned $33.1 million its first weekend.

Reviews for "Basterds" thus far have been largely positive, with some notable exceptions like Times critic Kenneth Turan, who called it "unforgivably leisurely, almost glacial, a film that loses its way in the thickets of alternative history and manages to be violent without the start-to-finish energy that violence on screen usually guarantees."

The movie is tracking strongest with male moviegoers. That could put it in conflict with "District 9," which opened to a very strong $37.4 million last Friday. Sixty-four percent of its opening-weekend audience was men, although Sony Pictures is hoping to attract more women on its second weekend.

"District 9" will almost certainly be the No. 2 movie this weekend, as three other low-budget releases are all expected to gross well under $10 million. Fox has the comedy "Post Grad," from its now-defunct Fox Atomic youth unit, for which its Fox Searchlight specialty division has handled marketing. Disney is releasing documentary "X Games 3D" on 3-D screens only. Warner Bros. is releasing the Robert Rodriguez-directed family movie "Shorts," which was financed by Media Rights Capital and Imagenation Abu Dhabi.

With no new film aimed at adult women this weekend, Warner Bros. will likely be watching to see if "The Time Traveler's Wife" demonstrates strong staying power by dropping less than 40% after its mediocre $18.6-million debut last weekend.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Eli Roth and Brad Pitt in "Inglourious Basterds." Credit: Francois Duhamel, The Weinstein Co.