Box Office Update: Neeson’s ‘Unknown’ on Pace for Big $26M+ Weekend

Warner thriller is still No. 1 through 3 days, while Disney’s “I Am Number Four” and Fox’s “Big Momma’s 3” both look like they’ll miss tracking; Disney holdover “Gnomeo” could still win the holiday

Last Updated: February 20, 2011 @ 8:44 AM

Sunday update:

With the overall box office down about 28 percent from last year's Presidents Day, Warner's Liam Neeson thriller "Unknown" is looking for an upset win, having grossed an estimated $21.8 million through the first three days of the four-day holiday, according to studio data.

Full holiday estimates will be available Monday.

The other two big new releases, Disney/DreamWorks' youth-oriented sci-fi drama "I Am Number Four" and Fox comedy sequel "Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son" are both underperforming.

"Number Four" has grossed an estimated $19.4 million through Sunday, and barring a big Monday, won't hit its distributor's conservative estimate for a $25 million four-day weekend (tracking firms have the $60 million film at over $30 million).

"Big Momma's 3," meanwhile, has grossed an estimated $17 million through Sunday and is also looking to miss pre-release forecasts in the mid-$20 million range (although the film costs only $32 million to make).

With family-targeted films in short supply, Disney holdover "Gnomeo and Juliet" could still win the weekend, with the film grossing an estimated $19.4 million through Sunday.

TheWrap will have its full box-office report Monday morning. Here's how the top 10 looked with Sunday estimates:

"Unknown" ($21.8m)
"I Am Number Four" ($19.5m)
"Gnomeo & Juliet" ($19.4m)
"Just Go With It" ($18.2m)
"Big Momma's 3" ($17m)
"Justin Bieber" ($13.8m)
"The King's Speech" ($6.6m)
"The Roommate" ($4.1m)
"The Eagle" ($3.5m)
"No Strings Attached" ($3.1m)

Saturday update:

Presidents Day weekend got off to slow start at the domestic box office Friday, with no film pacing to take in more than $30 million over the four-day period, and with two-week-old Disney CG holdover "Gnomeo and Juliet" poised to win the holiday frame.

Warner's "Unknown," a $30 million thriller starring Liam Neeson and produced by Joel Silver's Dark Castle, was the only newcomer to come out of the gate strong Friday, grossing an estimated $6.7 million, according to studio estimates.

The PG-13-rated film is ahead of tracking projections in the $18 million-$20 million range and could deliver Dark Castle a much-needed success following a series of duds in 2010. The film is on pace to gross more than $25 million.

Picked to win the weekend with more than $30 million, Disney/DreamWorks' youth-oriented sci-fi drama "I Am Number Four" finished second Friday grossing $6.2 million, according to studio estimates, a pace that won't even crack the $20 million mark over the four-day period.

Of course, it's early, and a number of box-office forecasters predicted "Number Four" — the first film put by Disney under the studio's distribution arrangement with DreamWorks — to pick up steam towards the latter half of the weekend.

Fox's "Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son" also had slow Friday, grossing an estimated $4.8 million. The part-three Martin Lawrence-in-latex film, budgeted at around $32 million, was projected to make over $20 million.

If "Number Four" — which cost around $60 million to make — ends up underperforming this weekend, all is not lost for Disney, since the studio has the only kiddie-targeted movie in the market right now.

"Gnomeo and Juliet" grossed a strong $4.3 million Friday and could end up winning the weekend with grosses of over $25 million.

It'll be interesting to watch this four-day frame develop, since it could go a lot of ways. One other point of intrigue: how much below will the overall market be below the $240 million haul from Presidents Day weekend last year?

Based on Friday's performance — the market is off 27 percent, according to one studio's estimate — the difference could be substantial.

Here's how the top 10 finished Friday:

"Unknown" ($6.7m)
"I Am Number Four ($6.2m)
"Just Go With It" ($5.2m)
"Big Momma's House" ($4.8m)
"Gnomeo & Juliet" ($4.3m)
"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" ($3.8m)
"The King's Speech" ($1.5m)
"The Roommate" ($1.2m)
"The Eagle" ($999k)
"No Strings Attached" ($904k)

Thursday preview:

Following the first big weekend of the year at the domestic box office, during which two films grossed around $30 million, the North American theatrical market is looking at the possibility of having five films gross more than $20 million over the four-day Presidents Day weekend.

The tough part for a domestic box office that's down 24 percent year-to-date: It won't be enough to put the market back over 2010.

This President's Day will likely be no match for last year's $240 million record haul, which featured a $63.1 million performance from "Valentine's Day," a $38.6 million opening from "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief," a $35.5 million start for "The Wolfman" and another $28.8 million from "Avatar."

Likely leading the four-day weekend will be the youth-oriented sci-fi film "I Am Number Four," the first DreamWorks film released by Disney following the distribution pact signed by the companies last year.

Budgeted at between $50 million-$60 million, and starring emerging Brit heartthrob Alex Pettyfer, the PG-13-rated film is projected by some tracking firms to gross over $30 million this weekend (although Disney's conservative estimate is for around $25 million over the four-day holiday).

The film is set to roll out in 3,154 theaters Friday, 228 of them IMAX, and is getting soft reviews (evidenced by a 27 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes Thursday).

Two other films will be released wide: Warner's Liam Neeson thriller "Unknown," and part three of Fox's Martin-Lawrence-in-a-big-latex-suit comedy franchise, "Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son."

Produced by Joel Silver's Dark Castle at a cost of around $30 million, Warner is expecting "Unknown" to gross between $18 million-$20 million this weekend, although some tracking firms are predicting the film will outpace the $24.7 million opening for Neeson's "Taken" two years ago.

"This movie looks very much like 'Taken,'" conceded Dan Fellman, president of distribution for Warner Bros.

Shot for around $32 million, meanwhile, "Big Momma" picks up the slack for a PG-13-rated comedy franchise that's grossed $310 million worldwide but which hasn't been exploited since 2006's "Big Momma's 2."

So was there really consumer outcry for a third "Big Momma's" movie?

Well, there seems to be enough of one for the film to make a profit, with most tracking sources pegging the film's four-day gross at over $20 million.

Both "Big Momma" and "Unknown" could challenge for the second and third spots at the box office, but holdovers "Just Go With It" and "Gnomeo and Juliet" should be strong.

"We have the only family movie in the marketplace," noted Disney theatrical distribution chief Chuck Viane, remarking on the CG-animated "Gnomeo," which opened to $25.4 million last weekend.