Will the power of a derivative, low-budget horror movie compel Carl Icahn?
That's what Lionsgate officials are undoubtedly wondering Saturday, after their cheaply acquired PG-13-rated "The Last Exorcism" grossed $9.3 million at the domestic box office on Friday, according to studio estimates.
Produced by Eli Roth with a largely no-name cast for under $2 million, "Exorcism" should easily surpass the $20 million mark for the weekend, which would be way over pre-release estimates in the mid-teens.
Here's how Friday's top 10 shaped up (full box-office report continues below chart):
Close on "Exorcism's" heels in the No. 2 spot is Sony's grit-themed urban ensemble drama "Takers," which grossed an estimated $7.5 million Friday.
"Takers" would probably have finished No. 1 on Friday, but is distributed in 2,206 theaters compared to the 2,874 North American locations for "Exorcism."
And speaking of Zoe Saldana…
Fox's re-release of James Cameron's "Avatar' under-performed the low side of a rather wide-spanning pre-release estimate of $5 million-$20 million, taking in only $1.2 million Friday.
Released exclusively in 3D this time — and at 125 IMAX theaters in North America — with an additional eight minutes and 33 seconds of runtime, the film that got everyone super-excited about 3D over the winter doesn't seem to have the latent theatrical demand Cameron suspected.
"Avatar" was still running in 500 theaters as of the weekend of April 16-18, and had sold more than 19 million bare-bones DVD and Blu-ray copies.
But since the film lost most of its 3D exhibition back on March 5, with the debut of Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," there was hope that a latent 3D audience would emerge.
But like a lot of things 3D lately, the box-office performance was underwhelming. In fact, the domestic theatrical market has only one film, "Avatar," clinging to the top 10 right now, with Weinstein/Dimension's "Piranha 3D" dropping like dead fish (63 percent) Friday from its disappointing $10 million start a week ago.
But none of that matters to Lionsgate, which is immersed in an attempted hostile takeover bid by noted corporate raider Icahn, and needs all the good news at the box office it can get.
On Friday, the studio's Sly Stallone action movie "The Expendables" grossed another $2.7 million — a solid 45 percent Friday-to-Friday drop in week three — bringing its domestic total to $75.2 million.
In their quarterly earnings conference call with investors earlier this month, Lionsgate officials said that they had acquired "Expendables," "Exorcism" and "Buried" for under $22 million combined.
They'll make out OK on that slate.