Will ‘Juliet’ Make Seyfried the New Julia Roberts?

Summit’s romantic drama may break out in a big way, despite competition from “Robin Hood”

It may lack the instant recognition of a certain superhero in a tin suit or an iconic green ogre, but some analysts are already looking to "Letters to Juliet" as this summer’s sleeper hit.

If so, it could cement rising talent Amanda Seyfried as a full fledged movie star.

It may even make her the heir apparent to Julia Roberts’ romantic-comedy throne.

"This is big for her," Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock told TheWrap. "The marketing campaign has her front and center. If it works, than she could be the Julia of her generation."

Seyfried, who first made a splash as the murder victim on the cult hit "Veronica Mars," is certainly on a roll. "Mamma Mia" banked $609 million in 2008, and "Dear John" was a big hit this spring, netting $94 million.

The doe-eyed actress also helped make "Big Love" a ratings winner before leaving the popular HBO drama this season.

Of course, those projects had help from other big name talents such as Meryl Streep and Channing Tatum. In "Letters to Juliet," the 24 year old actress is the only name above the title.

"I think that with Amanda in this role, at this time, it appeals directly to the audience this movie was made for," Richie Fay, president of domestic distribution for Summit Entertainment, told TheWrap.

So will a romantic trifle centered on a young woman who answers letters from fans of "Romeo and Juliet" in Verona be Seyfried’s "Pretty Woman"?

To be sure, she’s not there yet, and admittedly Seyfried’s track record is spotty when she veers into edgier material. Both last year’s "Jennifer’s Body" and this spring’s "Chloe" bombed, earning a meager $31 million and $6 million.

There are other challenges to opening a film like "Juliet," which is more reliant on romantic pyrotechnics than special effects in a crowded summer season. Namely, tentpole competition.

"Juliet" is consigned to "other film" status, opening as it does against "Robin Hood." The mid-budget romantic comedy is also in the unenviable position of having to compete with the second week of "Iron Man 2."

"Our target audience of women of all ages is underserved by ‘Iron Man’ and even ‘Robin Hood,’ which they’ve been marketing to a male-oriented ‘Gladiator’ audience," Fay said. "We think that if we keep our audience, we can roll into the Memorial Day weekend, compete with ‘Shrek’ and take advantage of the holiday."

This kind of shrewd counter-programming has paid off handsomely in the past.

"Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," "Made of Honor," and "Monster-in-Law" all opened on similar blockbuster heavy weekends in May, earning $102 million, $105 million and $154 million respectively.

"[Summit] is obviously comfortable competing with big movies with huge marketing budgets," said Jeffrey Hartke, an analyst with Hollywood Stock Exchange. "To compete in the summer market you’ve got to have confidence in your film. It says something about the strength of the film that nobody tried to knock them out and force them to move their release date."

A bigger threat looms in "Sex and the City 2," which opens two weeks later on May 27, with Carrie and company  targeting the same female-heavy audience. Yet the studio thinks that "Juliet" will appeal to a broader audience.

"You have to know what their audience is and who they are," Fay said. "Dare I say, that ‘Sex and the City has an edgier appeal. I think something as sweet and charming as ‘Letters’ can hold our own."

Most analysts are projecting that "Juliet" will open in the high teens, but that the opening weekend numbers will be less important that how much it drops in its second weekend. Like "The Blind Side" and other female-oriented films, it’s highly dependent on word of mouth.

"If it can hold on and only drop 30 to 40 percent in its second weekend, I think it can be a big hit," Bock said. "Longevity is the key to this kind of film."

Of course, getting the word out, isn’t easy, when every bus stop and billboard is plastered with ads for "Robin Hood" or "Shrek Forever After."

To that end, Summit launched a special Mother’s Day preview of the film last weekend in 882 theaters. The studio says that the majority of theaters were at capacity and that test screening results were very strong, though it didn’t share box office numbers.

So far mainstream movie critics have not shared audience’s enthusiasm.

In the Hollywood Reporter, for example, John DeFore lambasted the movie, writing: "Beautiful scenery and a cute premise can’t camouflage a stale plot in bland romance."

Still, like "Dear John," the movie could be review proof. Ken Hill, CEO of a Northern California theater chain called Prime Cinemas, said he and other exhibitors were deeply moved when the film screened at ShoWest last March.

"I really think this movie gets the romantic comedy genre right and fires on all cylinders," Hill told TheWrap. "If it’s allowed to play, I really think that word of mouth is going to build. It’s going to please a lot of people, have unexpected domestic grosses, and inspire folks to go to Italy."