Friday Box Office: ‘Limitless’ Leads Limited Pack With Modest $6.5M

Relativity's Bradley Cooper flick on pace to beat tracking with $18 million opening; “The Lincoln Lawyer” and “Paul” in fight for runner up

Updated, Saturday 8:06 a.m.

It must be the drugs.

Bradley Cooper's pill- popping thriller "Limitless" is on track to beat expectations this weekend with a $18 million opening in 2,756 theaters, according to studio estimates.

The Relativity film debuted with a modest $6.5 million gross on Friday, but up against a pack of lesser lights, "Limitless" is on pace to be the weekend's top grossing debut. 

It had been tracking to earn between $15 to $16 million. 

Nipping at its heels are box-office holdovers "Battle: Los Angeles" and "Rango." In its second week, Sony's alien invasion film grossed $4.5 million in 3,417 dates on Friday and should pull in $14.6 million over the weekend.

Johnny Depp's animated western had a softer Friday, grossing $4.2 million, but should see its numbers climb on Saturday with kids out of school. The Paramount release is expected to make $17.2 million showing on 3,843 screens. 

The weekend's other debuts will jockey for runner up status, with no film earning over the $20 million mark. A clever pairing with Groupon won't be enough to push Lionsgate's "The Lincoln Lawyer" into first or even third place, for that matter. Debuting in 2,707 theaters, the Matthew McConaughey film banked $4 million on Friday, and is on track for an $11.5 million opening weekend. 

Universal's  "Paul" performed slightly better. The R-rated alien comedy racked up $4.4 million on Friday in 2,802 dates and should earn $12.2 million for the weekend. 

Here's how the top 10 shaped up Friday:

1.)"Limitless" ($6.5m)
2.)"Battle: Los Angeles" ($4.5m)
5.)"The Lincoln Lawyer" ($4m)
6.)"Red Riding Hood" ($2.4m)
7.)"The Adjustment Bureau"($1.8m)
8.)"Mars Needs Moms"($1.4m)
10.)"Gnomeo & Juliet" ($664,000)


If Bradley Cooper and Matthew McConaughey occupy the same box office at the same time, will there be a matter/anti-matter reaction?

We'll find out this weekend, when the two similarly profiled leading men face off at a weekend domestic box office during which no film is expected to gross more than $20 million.

Besides Cooper's "Limitless" and McConaughy's "The Lincoln Lawyer," Nick Frost/Simon Pegg R-rated comedy "Paul" will also premiere wide this weekend.

In what could be a close race, Relativity's "Limitless" should win the weekend, with the film tracking to bringing in around $15 million-$16 million this weekend.

Co-starring Robert DeNiro, the PG-13-rated thriller stars Cooper as a man who taps into new abilities with the help of modern pharmaceuticals.

The film was shot for $27 million, but with the miracles of foreign financing and Pennsylvania location tax breaks, Relativity is claiming exposure of less than $1 million. 

According to one tracking firm, total awareness is about 71 percent with males 25 and younger, with intent-to-see registering at 47 percent among that target demo.

"Limitless" is currently trending at around 57 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a lukewarm but not terrible reception from critics.

Relativity is also a big investory in Universal's "Paul," a $40 million live-action-with-some-CG film, voice-starring Seth Rogen as a space alien.

Co-produced by Universal and Working Title, the film has already grossed $25 million overseas. It's expected to gross in the mid-teens domestically this weekend, opening at 2,801 theaters.

Like "Limitless," "Paul" is going for males 25 and younger, and is registering a solid 48 first choice in that category with so-so 73 percent awareness, according to tracking-firm data.

Rotten Tomatoes was scoring the film at 64 percent as of mid-day Thursday.

For its part, "The Lincoln Lawyer" cost about $40 million to produce, with Lakeshore the primary backer.

The R-rated crime drama is scoring 69 percent total awareness among the McConaughey target demo of women 25 and older, but 50 percent intent-to-see among that group.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" includes what you might call an all-star cast, with Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo co-starring.

Rotten Tomatoes is scoring the film at a solid 80 percent.

Of course, like it's been for almost every weekend in 2011, the box office should be down year-to-year, with the similar 2010 frame yielding $147.8 million.