Hollywood will suffer from the box office blahs this weekend.
In fact, insiders anticipate so little moviegoer enthusiasm for the weekend's new wide releases that it won't take much to capture first place.
Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's R-rated action comedy "Bait" has the best shot at topping the chart thanks to a very wide opening at 2,352 theaters and its likely appeal to urban moviegoers.
"I'm sure it's going to play well to African-Americans, but after what happened to 'Turn It Up' last week (you can't expect much)," a source points out. "Bait' is probably $6-8 million, just because it's going out so wide and should have strong black appeal. Depending on what happens to 'The Watcher,' either film could be number one."
"I would say 'Bait's got a shot at number one. I would say in the high end of that $6-8 million range," says a distributor. "And everybody just moves down a notch."
"You've got the Olympics," an insider points out. "That's definitely going to affect Friday night's business, because Opening Night is usually the big night. Everybody - especially women - likes to see the spectacular Opening Night parade and fireworks. Even though it's not live, I don't think that's going to affect it too much, because there's nothing else to watch. Friday isn't a big TV night, but NBC will get its good share of the ratings."
Universal's R-rated psychological thriller "The Watcher," which opened in the top spot to a modest $9.1 million last weekend, would have to show great legs in order to retain its box office crown.
Universal reportedly picked up "Watcher" from Interlight for only $5 million.
"Let's say it drops 25 percent, because it doesn't have any real competition other than the Olympics (on television)," an insider explains. "It'll do $6.7 million." But for that to take the top spot, "Bait" would really have to under-perform.
USA Films' R-rated dark comedy "Nurse Betty," which opened in second place to $7.1 million last weekend, could retain the second spot if it holds as well as insiders anticipate. Moreover, if it holds very well and "Bait" and "Watcher" both under-perform, "Betty" might even inch up to first place.
"'Nurse Betty' is playing very well in Westwood (LA's upscale movie district), but I don't know that it's a middle America movie," a distributor says. "They could have a very strong hold in big cities and upscale areas yet drop off in smaller markets. But let's say they have a very strong hold - they could do $6 million. You could have three movies in contention for the 'coveted' $6-8 million slot!"
"Nurse Betty" is actually owned by Universal, which acquired it when the studio took over PolyGram. Universal turned the specialized picture over to USA Films to market and distribute.
"This week, nothing's going to work," a studio executive warns. "It's such a slump between now and 'Remember the Titans' (opening Sept. 29). We are going to have the second weekend in a row - and only the fourth or fifth weekend this year - where nothing breaks $10 million. You have a situation here where the number one movie is nothing to shout about once again."
Also arriving this weekend is Buena Vista/Hollywood Pictures' R-rated dramatic comedy "Duets." While it's got big star power in Gwyneth Paltrow, it's limited release pattern will only put it in 581 theaters. Insiders think it's heading for a gross of $3-4 million.
DreamWorks' Top Ten markets launch of its critically-acclaimed dramatic comedy "Almost Famous" will be a box office wild card this weekend. After kicking off Wednesday with exclusive engagements in New York and L.A. to get word of mouth going and to put the much-anticipated favorable reviews in the hands of DreamWorks' marketing team, "Famous" is adding 129 more theaters, bringing its total to 131 runs this weekend.
"How big can 'Almost Famous' be?" asks one insider. "Let's say they do $15,000 a theater. That would be $2.2 million, which would be fine. Or they could do $20,000 a theater and do about $3 million. They could get into the Top Five with 150 runs."
This weekend will also see MGM's limited release dark comedy "Crime and Punishment in Suburbia" in New York and L.A.
Lions Gate Films' R-rated drama "Urbania" opens exclusive engagements in New York, L.A., San Francisco and San Diego.
Sony Classics' foreign art film "Goya in Bordeaux" opens exclusively in New York and L.A.
Warner Bros.' PG-rated documentary "Into the Arms of Strangers" goes into limited release.
Columbia's dark comedy "Circus" opens in limited release.