Facing off at the multiplex

The NBA and the NHL are in the middle of hard-fought playoffs, but basketball and hockey aren’t the only blood sports these days. The summer movie season -- when Hollywood does about 40% of its annual business -- is filled with nearly a dozen head-to-head showdowns, and if history is a guide, many will end with teeth on the floor.

Only a handful of summer movies enjoy the comparatively wide berth of a weekend free of competition. No significant wide release will challenge “Star Trek” this weekend, and a few other summer juggernauts will premiere against no new national releases: May 15’s “Angels & Demons” and July 17’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

On virtually every other summer weekend, though, moviegoers will have a choice between high-profile combatants. Here’s a handicap of the key clashes, bearing in mind that last summer’s forecast (“The Love Guru” beating “Get Smart”?) was often as trustworthy as Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” stock picks.

May 22: Memorial Day weekend will provide an early clash between heavyweight franchises: “Terminator Salvation” versus “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” Right now, audience tracking surveys have them neck-and-neck. Thanks to its family appeal, “Night at the Museum” takes the weekend.


May 29: Sam Raimi’s horror movie “Drag Me to Hell” is attracting enthusiastic support from the fanboys, but that won’t be enough to topple Pixar’s “Up,” which will play as strongly to 8-year-olds as to 80-year-olds.

June 5: Will Ferrell’s prehistoric comedy “Land of the Lost” would seem to have the weekend won, but Warner Bros. is so pleased with its raunchy bachelor party comedy “The Hangover” that it already is developing a sequel. Still, Ferrell wins handily, while “The Hangover” could become a surprise cult hit.

June 12: Denzel Washington’s “The Taking of Pelham 123" squares off against Eddie Murphy’s “Imagine That.” The first is an action film, while the second is a warmhearted comedy. But Washington and director Tony Scott (“Crimson Tide,” “Man on Fire,” “Deja Vu”) can’t be touched by Murphy, who’s trying to forget “Meet Dave.”

June 19: Disney is very high on Sandra Bullock’s romance “The Proposal,” but it faces the Jack Black comedy “Year One.” With so few summer movies aimed at women, “The Proposal” takes it.

July 3: Michael Mann and Johnny Depp collaborate on the period gangster film “Public Enemies,” which is bound to wow critics and adult audiences. But the 3-D sequel “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” will be immense -- three years ago, the second “Ice Age” movie opened to $68.3 million.

July 10: Twentieth Century Fox made a bundle on Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat,” but Cohen took his next extreme comedy, “Bruno,” to Universal. Fox will try to rain on “Bruno’s” parade by opening its teen comedy “I Love You, Beth Cooper” against it, but Beth won’t be getting much love.

July 24: It’s a close one -- the crime-fighting guinea pigs of “G-Force” opposite the Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth.” In a coin toss, we’ll take the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced rodents.

July 31: The kid-friendly “Aliens in the Attic” is pitted against Judd Apatow’s often ribald Adam Sandler dramedy “Funny People.” Thanks to their track record, Apatow and Sandler come out on top.

Aug. 7: Channing Tatum in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” will appeal to teenage boys while Meryl Streep and Amy Adams’ “Julie & Julia” will play to their mothers. The war/action movie will open in first, but don’t be surprised if the food/love story about Julia Child eventually outgrosses it.



‘Word’ on this weekend

Despite strong early reviews, Paramount faces some obstacles in launching its $140-million “Star Trek” this weekend. Early audience surveys showed teens and young adults weren’t wildly interested, and the franchise has been in serious disrepair.

When Warner Bros. rebooted its ailing “Batman” franchise with 2005’s “Batman Begins,” its opening weekend totaled only $48.7 million.

“Star Trek” will benefit from surging movie attendance, and Thursday showings will spread wordof mouth. Look for “Star Trek” to gross as much as $70 million in its opening weekend.

-- John Horn