Box Office: Apatow’s ‘Bridesmaids’ Scores Big $7.8M Friday

R-rated Universal chick comedy — yeah, it’s a new genre — beats tracking and is on pace to exceed $20M this weekend; Sony’s 3D “Priest” meets its bummer tracking with $5.6M

Saturday update:

Yep, "Bridesmaids" will open to over $20 million, as we predicted Thursday.

Universal's $32.5 million Judd Apatow-produced comedy grossed an estimated $7.8 million Friday, according to studio estimates.

Universal predicted the R-rated comedy featuring an ensemble cast of female comics — kind of an experiment, since you just don't see that kind of thing very often — would open in the low teens. 

Outside predictions for the Relativity co-production came in around the $16 million-$18 million range.

Only one other movie opened widely Friday. Sony's $60 million 3D conversion "Priest," an action-horror film, grossed an estimated $5.6 million Friday.

"Priest" is on pace to meet soft pre-release forecasts in the low-teens range.

As expected, Marvel's "Thor" is on top of the box office, grossing an estimated $9.1 million Friday. It's expected to take in around $30 million for its second weekend, more than a 50 percent drop from its $65 million opening last week.

Thursday preview:

Hey, they said the original "Hangover" was supposed to open to only around $20 million, and look what it did…

Yes, it's not always easy to predict the box-office performance of R-rated comedies, let alone R-rated comedies targeted to a female audience, a pretty rare cinematic bird.

For its part, Universal is conservatively projecting an opening in the low teens for its Judd Apatow-produced "Bridesmaids," a $32.5 million comedy featuring an ensemble cast that includes "Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne and "The Office's" Ellie Kemper.

Starting out in 2,917 locations — alongside one other major-studio wide release, Sony's 3D-converted action-horror film "Priest" — "Bridesmaids" is widely predicted by box-office watchers outside its studio to do about $16 million-$18 million, with its tracking generally regarded as soft.

Still, there are several reasons to suggest that the Paul Feig-directed movie might outperform its dour pre-release forecast.

For one, the tracking for the movie's target demo, females under 25, is fairly strong, with 89 percent of young women polled reporting awareness of the film and a solid 20 percent registering "unaided awareness," meaning they found out about it independent of promotion.

Further, according to tracking firm NRG, 36 percent of young women report having "definite interest" in seeing the film.

Read also: Judd Apatow: Are Women Funny? Does Maya Rudolph Poop in the Street

The movie's "first-choice" co-efficient among those same younger females isn't so strong — only around 10 percent — but that might be explained by the impending arrival of big-ticket tentpoles including the next "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie.

Further, the tracking data suggests "Bridesmaids" might draw a fairly broad audience, with older women reporting even stronger response, and even 14 percent of young men signaling "definite interest," according to NRG.

OK, so that's a lot of tracking mumbo-jumbo … but why shouldn't this movie with fairly broad appeal and great reviews (90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday afternoon) defy the gravity of pre-release expectations and excede, say, $20 million for the weekend?

"This is an out-of-the-box comedy — there are no comps for this," noted Nikki Rocco, president of domestic distribution for Universal, which co-produced "Bridesmaids" with Relativity. "You could say 'Sex and the City' is comparable, but that was on television for seven years and was already a known commodity. We're in uncharted waters here."

Certainly, producer Apatow is no stranger of such undiscovered box-office realms, having released quirky comedies several years ago, "Knocked Up" and "Superbad," that outperformed opening expectations.

Of course, Apatow's more recent eclectic efforts, most notably the Adam Sandler dramedy "Funny People" two years ago for Universal, have missed the mark wildly, further complicating the forecast for "Bridesmaids."

With Marvel/Paramount's "Thor" expected to once again lead the domestic box office after opening to just over $65 million last weekend, Sony will release the Sam Raimi/Michael DeLuca-produced "Priest" into 2,864 U.S. and Canadian locations.

The film is commanding soft reviews — 21 percent, according to Rotten Tomatoes — and tracking isn't all that great, with the strongest group of survey responders, men 25 and older, registering only 73 percent total awareness, according to NRG.

Pre-release estimates for the film — reportedly budgeted at around $60 million — only call for an opening in the low teens.

Meanwhile, among a flurry of limited openings:

>> Lionsgate will release the youth-targeted "Go for It" into 218 theaters under its new Latin-themed Pantelion Films label. 

>> Also released into 218 theaters, Roadside Attraction's R-rated dramedy "Everything Must Go" stars Will Ferrell as a relapsed alcoholic who finds redemption and third chances after he conducts a desperate yard sale.

>> Wrekin Hill will release Sundance flameout "Hesher" into about 40 locations. The film — buzz for which stopped abruptly at the film festival in January — stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a society-eschewing metal head, alongside Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson.