After several months of big multi-quadrant tentpoles, we're now moving into the part of the year where the box office gets bitten up into its niche parts by smaller films.
And there will be a lot of biting this weekend, with five low-budgeted films, including Weinstein Co. horror reboot "Piranha 3D" and Fox horror spoof "Vampires Suck," competing for various tasty audience segments.
Also in the mix is Universal family-targeted sequel "Nanny McPhee Returns," Warner's African-American-audience-focused "Lottery Ticket," and MIramax's quirky Jason Bateman comedy (is there any other kind of Miramax movie these days?) "The Switch."
None of these films is projected to finish with more than $15 million this weekend.
Lionsgate ensemble action film "The Expendables" is expected to once again win the domestic box office, with Sylvester Stallone's R-rated movie predicted to decline about 50 percent from its $35 million opening last weekend to about $17 million.
Released Wednesday, "Vampires Suck" — which comes from spoof-specializing filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer ("Meet the Spartans," "Disaster Movie") — took in $4 million on its first day, catering to a youthful audience that doesn't seem to care about the film's 0 Rotten Tomatoes score.
Sending up the "Twilight" series and other vamp-themed melodrama, the PG-13-rated "Vampires Suck" is expected to generate about $15 million through its first five days.
That would lay somewhere between previous Friedberg/Seltzer tongue-in-cheekers, with "Meet the Spartans" opening to $18.5 million in January 2008 on the way to $38.2 million domestically for Fox, and "Disaster Movie" premiering to $6.9 million in August 2008 and ultimately grossing $14.2 million for Lionsgate.
Audience-wise, "Vampires" will overlap a bit with "Piranha 3D," a format-converted retooling of the 1978, post-"Jaws"-era New World Pictures pseudo classic, this one directed by Frenchman Alexandre Aja ("Mirrors," "The Hills Have Eyes").
Produced by Weinstein/Dimension at a cost of around $24 million, and premiering Friday in 2,470 theaters, most of them (2,202) 3D-equipped, "Piranha 3D" is attracting the kind of pre-release buzz and acclaim not typically associated with low-budget horror remakes.
Reviews have been embargoed, but those that have leaked out have been largely positive.
Meanwhile, a self-lampooning mock Oscar-campaign Funny or Die video put together by cast members including Paul Scheer and Riley Steele seems to be striking the right "we're not taking ourselves too seriously" tone as it makes the rounds.
Rival studio distribution chiefs compare the film's ample pre-release buzz to that of New Line viral phenomena "Snakes on a Plane," which had an outsized Internet-fueled reputation coming into its August 2006 premiere, but only opened to $13.8 million.
"I'd be surprised if it does any business," said one distribution president. "The tracking doesn't look good to me."
"I actually heard the movie is decent," added another rival-studio executive, predicting a low-teens start for "Piranha 3D." "And there's a lot of nudity in it. And as I always say, if you're going to make an R-rated movie, go for it."
Meanwhile, arriving in 2,782 North American theaters after already grossing $62 million abroad, Universal's "Nanny McPhee Returns" is also expected to open the low teens — roughly matching the $14.5 million January 2006 start for the original "Nanny McPhee," which went on to gross $122.5 million worldwide.
Starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ralph Fiennes, the PG-rated sequel was shot for $35 million, factoring in tax incentives.
As for Warner's "Lottery Winner," the PG-13-rated comedy, starring Ice Cube, Terry Crews, Mike Epps and Bow Wow (no longer "Little") will debut in 1,973 theaters Friday.
Directed by newcomer Erik White, the film comes from Alcon Entertainment, which is on a roll for Warner, having recently brought in "The Blind Side" and "Book of Eli."
"Lottery Winner" is projected to finish in the mid-teens, domestic gross-wise, like everything else debuting this weekend … everything, that is, except Miramax's "The Switch."
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck ("Blades of Glory"), and starring Jennifer Aniston, Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum alongside Bateman, the PG-13-rated comedy is debuting in 2,012 locations and is expected to gross well under $10 million for the weekend.
Not seeming to help the film is an outdoor campaign featuring a drunk Bateman starring into a cup holding his, er, fertility sample.
"That's just gross, and I know other women who feel the same way," said a marketing official to TheWrap.