No one is sure whether superstorm Sandy will hurt -- or help -- the domestic box office this weekend.
Most of the 300 theaters closed earlier in the week, stretching from Washington, D.C. to Boston, are reopened, with the exception of some areas in lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island where power is still out.
In New York City, moviegoing surged overall on Wednesday as people, off of work and out of school, looked for something to do and flocked to theaters, including the AMC Empire in Times Square, the busiest theater in the country. Overall grosses were up 36 percent over Tuesday, and were the best of any market in the country.
Three new films enter the fray on Friday, with 3D toon Wreck-It-Ralph easily expected to race to the top of the chart with a debut in the $45 million range or better. If so, the film, opening in more than 3,600 theaters, could score the top non-holiday opening for a Disney animated title (excluding Pixar movies).
Denzel Washington's awards contender Flight also opens, but in far fewer theaters (1,900). The Paramount film marks Robert Zemeckis' first live-action movie since Cast Away in 2000, and is expected to open in the $12 million range.
The third new release is Universal's martial arts pic The Man With the Iron Fists, which marks RZA's directorial debut. Presented by Quentin Tarantino, the movie is tracking to open in the $7 million to $10 million range.
Of the new offerings, Flight could arguably be hurt the most in the aftermath of the storm. New York City is an important market for the adult-skewing film, and Flight will take a bit of a hit by the continued closure of Regal Union Square Stadium. At the same time, other New York theaters could make up the difference.
Flight, featuring a dramatic plane crash, stars Washington as a pilot who saves nearly all on board, but is later discovered to have had alcohol in his system. (Its disaster theme could put off some who are recovering from the storm.)
Paramount had always planned to take a measured approach in releasing Flight. Studios often open adult dramas in fewer theaters -- and particularly during awards season, when the goal is to foster word-of-mouth and have a longer run. In terms of comparison, Paramount's The Fighter debuted to $12.1 million from 2,500 locations on its way to grossing $93 million domestically.
Wreck-It-Ralph, Flight and Iron Fists have all received strong reviews.
Wreck-It-Ralph, about the villain of a video game who no longer wants to be the bad guy and starts game jumping, cost $165 million to produce.
Flight was made for a relatively modest $30 million. Iron Fists cost $15 million.
- Arts & Entertainment