Cancer comedy "50/50" takes on lions, dolphins, Brad Pitt

LOS ANGELES ( - If you loved Steven Soderbergh's thriller about a deadly encephalitis pandemic, then get to the multiplex this weekend for buddy dramedy "50/50" starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man dealing with terminal illness!
Yep, with new films about cops dealing with their estranged sons, evil houses driving their owners to murderous deeds, and young women ruminating over failed relationships, the domestic box office won't get any cheerier this weekend.
And predicting a winner won't get any easier, with "50/50" facing off against a competitive crop of holdovers that includes Disney's "Lion King" 3D re-release, Warner/Alcon feel-gooder "Dolphin Tale" and Brad Pitt baseball movie "Moneyball."
Any of those films that can step up and gross $15 million or more will probably end up winning the domestic box office, according to prognosticators.
Fluffing up the previously deflated pom poms of 3D cheerleaders all over Hollywood, "Lion King 3D" has been a revelation at the box office -- it once again led the market last weekend, its second in re-release, with nearly $22 million, a 27 percent week-to-week decline. A similarly shallow drop this weekend will probably give it a third straight crown.
Sony's "Moneyball" and "Dolphin Tale," meanwhile, are riding the word-of-mouth wave that comes with respective "A" and "A-plus" grades from Cinemascore, so week-to-week drops for those films should be negligible too.
If any new film breaks through and wins the box office, it'll probably be "50/50."
Starring Gordon-Levitt as a young man dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and co-starring Seth Rogen as the friend who watches him shave his head in the movie's poster, Summit's "50/50" arrives in 2,458 theaters in the U.S. and Canada with solid reviews (91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
Summit, which is distributing the Mandate Pictures-produced film, predicts an opening in the low double digits -- okay for a film with a negative cost of around $8 million.
While critical buzz is solid, tracking is middling. For the film's most solid audience base, women under 25, total awareness only stands at around 66 percent, according to the most recent surveys conducted by research firm NRG. Of that group, a solid 36 percent express definite interest in the film, and 7 percent call it their first choice.
But "50/50" does arrive with an R rating, which will limit its younger-audience potential.
Opening in 2,660 theaters, meanwhile, the PG-13-rated "Dream House" -- produced by Morgan Creek for around $55 million and distributed in the U.S. by Universal -- could be the weekend's big floparoo.
The thriller, starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, and directed by Jim Sheridan ("My Left Foot") has not been reviewed. Various prognostications put its opening weekend somewhere in the $10 million - $14 million range.
According to NRG, older women (those older than 25 anyway) represent the strongest demo for "Dream House," with total awareness among that group standing at 63 percent, definite interest at 32 percent and first choice at 6 percent.
On the lighter side of the ticket counter, Fox's "What's Your Number?" arrives in 3,002 locations with fairly poor reviews (30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).
The R-rated comedy stars Anna Faris as a young woman recalling her previous 20 bad relationships. Chris Evans, Aziz Ansari and Andy Samberg co-star.
Produced by New Regency for around $20 million, "What's Your Number?" isn't expected to crack double digits this weekend.
It's tracking strongest with young women -- NRG reports that 67 percent of females under 25 know the film is coming, 47 percent have definite interest in seeing it and 11 percent call it their first choice. Beyond that group, however, there isn't much traction for the film.
Also debuting in 1,161 theaters this weekend, with Sony handling distribution, Sherwood Pictures drama "Courageous" could exceed $8 million this weekend, a boon for a small, no-name drama produced for around $2 million.
A production company owned by a Georgia-based Baptist Church, Sherwood has proven the merits of its low-cost model before, starting in 2006, when its $10,000 football drama, "Facing the Giants," grossed $10 million.
"Courageous" will be the company's fourth release and will focus on four cops who -- while able to cope with their challenging jobs -- must face very different obstacles while trying to raise their sons at home.
This is Sherwood's edgiest offering to date (it's PG-13), and the company is also stepping up in budgetary weight class.
Among limited releases this weekend, Freestyle Releasing will put out documentary "Sarah Palin -- You Betcha!" in six locations.
Fox Searchlight will debut R-rated drama "Margaret," starring Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick, in two theaters.
And Sony Classics will have another adult drama out in three theaters, "Take Shelter," starring Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon.
It's about a father who has nightmares about a catastrophic storm. Should fit right in.

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