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Can ‘Spring Breakers’ Smash Through Niche Market in Box Office Expansion?

The raunchy teen comedy starring James Franco expands into more than 1,000 theaters this weekend

Niche smash “Spring Breakers” goes nationwide this weekend, and if mainstream audiences are ready to party hearty, it could become the season's biggest surprise –and certainly its raunchiest — at the box office.

Fledgling distributor A24 said Tuesday that "Spring Breakers" will be in between 1,000 and 1,050 theaters starting Friday. That's far fewer than the 3,000-plus of two other openers — "The Croods" and "Olympus Has Fallen" — but way up from last weekend's three theaters in New York and Los Angeles, which brought in $270,000.

That college kids will be out on their first spring break weekend is no coincidence either.

The ode to — or is it a sly laceration of? — delinquent debauchery is written and directed by Harmony Korine (“Kids”) and prominently features a music score from Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. It stars Disney Channel alums Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson of “Pretty Little Liars," and the director’s wife, Rachel Korine.

They play bored college girls who hold up a restaurant to bankroll their spring break trip. But it's James Franco's turn as Alien, a dread-locked white gangsta with a garish grill who bails the girls out of jail, that is attracting the most attention. Critics have called it iconic, bravura and bizarre.

The fact that Franco is also on big screen right now in the year's biggest family hit — “Oz the Great and Powerful” — makes it all the more intriguing. His presence in “Oz” probably won't directly contribute to the popularity of “Spring Breakers.” Anyone who enjoyed him as the Wizard in the Disney blockbuster and decided they wanted to check out his other film, would be in for a quite a shock.

“But it does help some,” A24 spokeswoman Niccolette Aizenberg told TheWrap Tuesday. “Disney included mentions of his terrific performance in a lot of the 'Oz' press materials and that's increased awareness.”

Also read: Sizzling 'Spring Breakers' Debut Gives James Franco Box-Office Double

Last weekend's $90,000 per-screen average was easily the year's best, and drew comparisons to last year's two biggest specialty debuts, “The Master” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” The former failed to click when it went wide, but “Moonrise” scored in a platform release and went on to rake in $45 million, pretty good for a movie with a $16 million production budget.

Meghan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures is an executive producer on "Spring Breakers,” which cost an estimated $2 million to make. Besides distributing, A24 is handling the marketing, which has been low-budget — eschewing TV almost entirely for social media — and effective. The film's Twitter feed was up to 45,000 followers Tuesday.

“Spring Breakers” is no “Moonrise Kingdom.”  It's wall-to-wall booze, drugs and bare teen bods but, thanks largely to Korine, it has a brain, too. By nearly all critical accounts, the fact that “Spring Breakers” bounces between exploitation and a consideration of consequences is a big part of its appeal.

“Controversy sells,” BoxOffice.com vice-president and senior analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap. “This could turn into a real 'you have to see it to believe it' hit. The reactions this weekend are going to be very interesting. I’m sure plenty of teen girls will see the movie even though they shouldn’t.”

Also read: 'Spring Breakers' Review: 'Where the Boys Are' – But With More on Its Party-Till-You're Numb Mind

That's because it's rated R, which in theory will cut into its youth market but in fact probably stokes interest among kids. A24's Aizenberg said the company didn't have a breakdown on first weekend audiences, “but I know it was definitely young.”

Analysts think $5 million will be a good weekend for “Spring Breakers." That would be roughly $5,000 per screen, land it in the national top ten and provide momentum to expand even further.

“We're excited,” said A24's Aizenberg, “and a little bit nervous.” It's the first wide release for the company, and only its third overall, after “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” last month and “Ginger and Rosa,” which also rolled out last week.

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