Movie projector: 'New Moon' headed for $90-million-plus launch

Edward and Bella's latest bite at the box office looks like it will be the second biggest of 2009.

People with access to pre-release audience surveys say "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" will likely sell about $90 million worth of tickets this weekend and could possibly exceed $100 million. That would give it the No. 2 opening weekend of the year behind "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."

The first "Twilight" movie opened to $69.6 million on the same weekend last year. Interest in the series has only grown, however, driven in part by its DVD, the top seller so far this year. Audience surveys have shown that interest among adult women has grown, while teenage and tween girls remain as fanatical as ever. Vampires in general are hot. Witness the success of HBO's "True Blood" and the CW's "The Vampire Diaries."

Combined with receipts from the 25 countries where it is launching simultaneously, including several where the original performed extremely well, such as Brazil, France, Italy, Mexico and the United Kingdom, "New Moon" will certainly gross significantly more than $100 million worldwide.

Summit Entertainment spent just under $50 million, including Canadian tax credits, to produce the film. Even including marketing costs, "New Moon" is all but certain to be a financial success from theatrical receipts alone, even before revenue from DVD and other ancillary markets.

As with the first "Twilight" movie, early showings are expected to be particularly lucrative, given huge anticipation for the picture among young female fans of the book and first movie who probably can't stay up past their bedtime. Online ticket sellers Fandango and MovieTickets.com both report that "New Moon" is the No. 1 advance ticket seller of all time, a reflection not only of overall interest, but of the intense desire of many fans to see the picture on its opening weekend.

"New Moon" could easily break the $22.2-million record for midnight showings set this summer by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." A total of 3,514 theaters, 87% of the 4,024 total playing it this weekend, have midnight screenings scheduled.

Midnight ticket sales will get a boost from Summit's decision to re-release the original "Twilight" in 2,057 theaters tonight, about half as many as will start showing "New Moon" on Friday. Many locations are expected to create a double-screening event in which fans will come to watch "Twilight" and stay for "New Moon," generating even more money for the franchise in the process (ticket sales for the two pictures will be tallied separately).

The total Friday gross will likely be huge, followed by a big drop on Saturday. The first "Twilight" saw ticket sales decline 41% the day after it launched. It also experienced a substantial 62% drop on its second weekend despite the fact that the Friday after Thanksgiving is a holiday. If the new movie follows the same path as the first, however, it's all but certain to gross more than $200 million in the U.S. and Canada and about the same amount from foreign countries.

While "New Moon" is sure to dominate the box office this weekend, it doesn't appear to be sucking the life out of other movies.

BlindSide Inspirational football story "The Blind Side," which Warner Bros. is distributing for financier Alcon Entertainment, appears likely to open to a solid $20 million based on interest from adult women.

Lionsgate is expanding "Precious" once again, this time to about 600 theaters, which would put the critical favorite in nearly every major market around the country, although it's not yet in many suburbs or small towns. The hard but uplifting film, which Lionsgate acquired at the Sundance Film Festival for $5.5 million, has already collected $9.6 million in its first 13 days. It will likely gross an additional $6 million to $9 million this weekend.

Sony Pictures will open the family-friendly animated picture "Planet 51," which it is distributing for Spanish production studio Ilion Animation. It will likely gross between $12 million and $15 million. The movie was originally set to be distributed by New Line Cinema before the Time Warner division was folded into Warner Bros.

Sony's successful disaster flick "2012" will likely take a big drop from its $65.2-million opening and gross between $20 million and $30 million this weekend. Disney's "A Christmas Carol," which dropped only 26% on its second weekend, should decline very modestly again and collect more than $15 million.

Update (3:45 PM): Early returns from foreign countries where "New Moon" opened yesterday are phenomenal, already totaling $10.9 million. According to Summit, opening day grosses in France were $4.4 million, almost four times as much as the debut of "Twilight." In Italy and Spain it had the third highest Wednesday opening ever, collecting $2.7 million and $2.2 million, respectively. Midnight screenings in Australia grossed $1.6 million, a new record for the country.

--Ben Fritz

Top photo: Stephanie Alex, 20, holds a large sign of two of her favorite "New Moon" actors as she waits for the premiere in Westwood. Credit: Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times.

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