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Movie Projector: 'The Crazies' could drive 'Cop Out' mad

February 25, 2010 |  1:59 pm

Crazies1 What once looked like a clear-cut weekend at the box office has turned into a pitched battle.

Overture Films' horror remake "The Crazies" has come on strong in pre-release surveys of moviegoers recently and has a shot at challenging Warner Bros.' buddy comedy "Cop Out" to be the top new film this weekend, people familiar with the situation said. Just a couple of weeks ago, Warner's bigger-budget movie, which stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, appeared certain to prevail.

Now both movies are on track to open at $15 million to $20 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada from Friday to Sunday. Both will be in competition for the top of the box-office charts with "Shutter Island," which opened to $41 million last weekend.

Every movie, however, is in danger of losing several million dollars of potential ticket sales with another major snowstorm looming in the Northeast.

"The Crazies," a remake of a 1967 George Romero movie about the accidental release of a biological weapon in a small town, appears to be benefiting from a marketing campaign that's heavy on viral online media, including a Facebook game and an iPhone application. The movie is generating the strongest interest with males under 30 and Overture is hoping that it will draw young women as well. The only audience segment that's largely uninterested is women over 30, according to surveys.

The film cost Overture and financing partners Participant Media and Imagenation Abu Dhabi about $19 million to produce, meaning it should be in healthy financial shape if it opens as expected. That's much-needed good news for Overture, whose future under corporate parent Liberty Media is the subject of speculation.

CopOut "Cop Out" cost Warner $37 million to make, setting its bar for success higher. The '80s-style mismatched-buddy-cop flick is tracking best with men of all ages but generating virtually no interest among young women.

The one audience segment that both movies are aggressively chasing is teen and college-age guys, meaning their choices are likely to be the key to how the weekend plays out.

"There is a lot of pressure on the young male audience this weekend," said Warner Bros. domestic distribution President Dan Fellman.

It's unclear whether "Shutter Island" will hold on well this weekend or take a big plunge and collect significantly less than $20 million domestically. Opening-weekend audiences gave it an average grade of C+, according to market research firm CinemaScore, a sign of poor buzz. However, its ticket sales grew from Friday to Saturday and it has performed well during the week, indications that it will hold on well and decline about 50%, an average amount, or possibly less.

In limited release, Summit Entertainment is expanding Roman Polanski's political drama "The Ghost Writer" to 43 theaters Friday. Last weekend it opened to a very strong $183,000 at four theaters.

Sony Pictures Classics debuts "A Prophet," a French crime thriller nominated for a best foreign language picture Oscar, at nine theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Montreal.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Joe Anderson and Timothy Olyphant in "The Crazies." Credit: Saeed Adyani / Overture Films

Bottom photo: Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in "Cop Out." Credit: Abbot Genser / Warner Bros.