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B.O. Preview: ‘Wild Things’ Could Scare Up Over $30M

Paramount steps up its ”Paranormal Activity“ to 760 locations.

Wild Things are invading the box office — and that’s going to be a very good thing.

After a slow weekend that featured just one major release, things look to heat up at the box office Friday. The Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved “Where the Wild Things Are’ is predicted to haul in more than $30 million, and the Paramount horror phenom “Paranormal Activity” is expected to step up to nearly $20 million while expanding to 760 theaters.

Also opening: Sony’s low-budget horror remake “The Stepfather,” starring two popular TV stars — “Nip/Tuck’s” Dylan Walsh and "Gossip Girl’s" Penn Badgley — and Overture’s R-rated thriller “Law Abiding Citizen,” with Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler.

"Citizen” is being picked to challenge Universal’s defending box-office champ, “Couples Retreat,” for third place, with tracking projections coming in somewhere between $16 million to $18 million.

Meanwhile, among notable indie releases this weekend, Apparition is releasing the blaxpoitation satire "Black Dynamite," which stars Arsenio Hall, into about 70 locations.

For their part, Warner officials are being conservative in their estimates for the PG “Wild Things,” which was shot on a budget ranging from $70 million to $75 million, depending on how various tax breaks shake out.

Warner distribution president Dan Fellman predicts the movie will do somewhere around $25 million during its first three days.

“I think the reviews are going to drive in the older audience,” he told TheWrap. “Our tracking shows it’s playing well against all quadrants. I think the reviews are going to drive in the older audience — and I think there’s a core audience of 17- to 30-year-olds who were weaned on the book and who are big fans of Spike.”

Rival studio officials, meanwhile, believe the film – which has a strong 71 score on Metacritic — will take in well over $30 million during its first weekend. “If the number just has a ‘2’ in front of it, I’d be very surprised,” said a rival studio executive.

Picked to finish second, “Paranormal Activity” is expanding from 160 to 760 venues. Paramount hasn’t conducted any formal tracking, but a number of movie-business forecasters predict that the movie, shot in 2006 by first-time filmmaker Oren Peli for just $11,000, will have no problem doubling last weekend’s $7.1 million performance.

“We’re going a little further out into the neighborhoods, and we’re adding a few big-box theaters,” Paramount distribution general manager Don Harris told TheWrap. “We also went back and picked up any college towns we weren’t in yet, such as Charlottesville, Virginia."

One rival-studio distribution executive wondered why Paramount didn’t just go ahead and release the movie wide.

“You’ve got enough heat on it. Why not capitalize on that?” he asked.

The simple answer, according to Harris, “is that we’ve never thrown tens of millions of dollars of media behind it, and for a lot of the places it’s in you need to seed the ground before you go into a lot of theaters. Once the word starts to get around that particular market, whether it’s Cincinnati or wherever it is, then you’re able to add a lot of commercial theaters and do well.”

While Harris said he expects once again to be pleasantly surprised by the “Paranormal’s" performance — he predicted it would only do between $2 million to $3 million last weekend — the lack of formal tracking makes it hard to pinpoint where it will end up this time around.

This lack of clarity has a direct effect on Sony’s “The Stepfather,” directed by Nelson McCormick and shot for the reasonable price of $19.5 million. Sony is hoping the PG-13-rated film does somewhere in the low teens. Still, studio officials admit that “Paranormal Activity” provides somewhat of an “X factor” in terms of competition.

“‘Paranormal’ could really hurt them, but even if (‘The Stepfather’) only does $8 million-$10 million, they’ll be OK because the movie doesn’t cost very much,” said one rival studio distribution official.

Just like last month, the box office is facing a glut of horror films, with Lionsgate’s “Saw VI” set to open veins widely next week. However, the fact that next weekend leads into Halloween should broaden the overall audience for competing films, one distribution executive note.