'Toy Story 3' expected to repeat as No. 1 at weekend box office

Ben Fritz
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — "Toy Story 3" will rule the box office playground again this weekend as the ensemble comedy "Grown Ups" is set for a healthy start and the Tom Cruise action comedy "Knight and Day" is already sputtering.

"Knight," which stars Cruise as a spy and Cameron Diaz as a woman caught up on one of his missions, opened Wednesday to a weak $3.8 million. Distributor 20th Century Fox moved up the film's debut two days ahead of its planned Friday release and also had put on sneak previews Saturday in hopes of building word of mouth for the movie. The studio's marketing campaign has failed to catch on with the public in the last few weeks, resulting in low interest in pre-release surveys. Cruise and Diaz appear to be generating little excitement among the young moviegoers who primarily drive big summer opening weekends.

The picture, which is one of the few big-budget releases this summer that isn't a sequel or based on an existing property, opened a distant second to "Toy Story 3" on Wednesday and may struggle to reach the $25 million total by Sunday that Hollywood executives who reviewed the pre-release surveys had previously estimated. That would be a very weak debut given that Fox and its financing partners New Regency Pictures and Dune Entertainment spent $117 million to produce the spy caper before tax credits and tens of millions more on marketing. It would need to perform significantly better overseas, where Fox executives believe it will have strong appeal, to avoid being a major money loser.

Following its strong, $109 million opening last weekend, Pixar Animation Studios' third "Toy Story" movie has rung up phenomenal weekday ticket sales, bringing its total domestic gross to $154.5 million by Wednesday. Given its box-office momentum — stronger than for any previous Pixar feature — "Toy Story 3" is likely to collect more than $60 million in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, bringing its total take to more than $200 million in just 10 days.

The well-reviewed sequel is benefiting from excellent word of mouth that is drawing audiences of all ages, as well as some repeat viewers. If it continues to play as well as it has been, it could easily gross more than $400 million domestically for Pixar owner Walt Disney Co. and be the biggest hit of the summer.

Though it has virtually no shot at first place, Sony Pictures' comedy "Grown Ups," which stars a raft of well-known comedians including Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Chris Rock, is poised for a good opening. People who have seen pre-release audience surveys say it is generating strongest interest among men and should collect about $40 million this weekend.

That would be a solid launch for the movie about five old friends reuniting in middle age, particularly if it benefits from good buzz and keeps playing well for several weeks, as often happens with comedies. Sony and financing partner Relativity Media spent $70 million to $80 million on production, a relatively high amount for a comedy, though not given its numerous stars.

Despite the likely weak returns for "Knight and Day," it's looking like another strong weekend for the industry overall, helping Hollywood make gains in what has thus far been an overall disappointing summer compared with 2009. That trend should continue next week when the highly anticipated sequel "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" opens, followed by "The Last Airbender," Paramount Pictures' live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated TV series.

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