Might return of ‘Avatar’ spoil weekend for ‘The Last Exorcism’ and ‘Takers’?

Two new genre pictures open this weekend with solid box office prospects, but they face the return to theaters of one of the most popular movies of all time.

Hollywood executives who are usually confident predicting how movies will perform on opening weekend admit they’re at something of a loss in projecting how “Avatar: Special Edition” will do this weekend against horror flick “The Last Exorcism” and heist film “Takers.”

The re-release of “Avatar,” which grossed $750 million in the U.S. and Canada during its initial run last winter, includes nine minutes of new footage and will play only on screens that can show it in digital 3-D, including Imax. Director James Cameron has said he thinks there were still people who wanted to see “Avatar” when the movie lost most of its 3-D screens to “Alice” and “How to Train Your Dragon” in March.

Yet with “Avatar” selling 19 million DVDs since April and millions more copies rented or downloaded, it’s uncertain how many people have yet to see it or are eager to watch it again on a big screen.

The only roughly comparable situation is Disney’s re-release of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2" together in 3-D last October, which opened to $12.5 million and ended up with $30.7 million. But those films had not previously been seen in 3-D.

Estimates of the opening-weekend performance of “Avatar: Special Edition” range from $5 million all the way to $20 million. Though it will have the advantage of 3-D ticket-price surcharges, the fact that it won’t play in 2-D means the movie will be at only 811 theaters, compared with 2,206 for “Takers” and 2,874 for “The Last Exorcism.”

“Avatar” will also be re-released in 14 overseas markets this weekend, including Britain, Russia, Australia, India and South Korea. The movie grossed $2 billion overseas in its original release.

Back in the U.S. and Canada, prospects are more certain for “The Last Exorcism” and Takers,” which are each expected to sell $15 million to $20 million in tickets, with many in Hollywood giving the edge to “Takers.” Pre-release surveys indicate that interest in the picture, which features Chris Brown, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana and rapper T.I. along with Matt Dillon and Paul Walker, is high among African Americans and strong among young men in general.

Sony’s genre label Screen Gems spent $32 million to produce “Takers,” meaning it should be in a solid financial position if the film opens as expected.

Lionsgate should be in even better shape with its low-budget acquisition “The Last Exorcism.” The independently produced horror film was made for less than $2 million, and the studio spent less than $3.5 million for distribution rights in the U.S. and Canada.

With an audience of teenagers and young adults expected to turn out to the PG-13 horror film, Lionsgate has heavily promoted “The Last Exorcism” online, including a YouTube video that has attracted more than 2 million views in which people on the video chat service Chat Roulette encounter a digitally enhanced character from the picture.