‘Easy A’ likely to top a quartet of low-budget films opening this weekend

Teenage girls are likely to drive the top movie at the box office this weekend as a quartet of low-budget movies debut.

High school comedy “Easy A” is expected to be the most popular movie in the U.S. and Canada, said people who have seen pre-release polls of potential audiences. It probably will come in slightly ahead of Ben Affleck’s crime drama “The Town” and horror film “Devil,” and far outpace the 3-D animated family adventure “Alpha and Omega,” which is debuting with minimal interest.

“Easy A,” a comedic take on the classic novel “The Scarlet Letter,” is the least-expensive film opening this weekend with a production cost of about $8 million. Therefore distributor Sony Pictures and its Screen Gems genre label should be in very good shape if it opens as expected. Although several executives who closely follow box office predict that the film will open to between $20 million and $25 million, a Sony spokesman said the studio downplayed expectations, estimating about $15 million.

Teen girls and young women are the audience segment most intrigued by “Easy A.” Interested young females typically show up on opening night, as evidenced by the out-of-the-gate success of blockbusters like the “Twilight” pictures and smaller movies like “Dear John.” That’s why many studio executives think “Easy A” will be No. 1 this weekend, although the film may disappear from theaters quickly.

“The Town,” which is directed by and stars Affleck, appeals to more of an adult audience, particularly men. Reviews have been very strong for the picture, co-financed by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures at a cost of $37 million. Most recent surveys have shown some growing interest among younger men, probably because of advertising that emphasizes action.

The heist film is likely to bring in between $15 million and $20 million this weekend.

That should put it in tight competition with the M. Night Shyamalan-produced “Devil,” about a group of people stuck in an elevator with the titular creature. Young men are the group most interested in the film, for which distributor Universal Pictures paid financier Media Rights Capital $27 million for worldwide distribution rights.

“Alpha and Omega” is the first film of a 5-year-old partnership between Lionsgate and Indian animation studio Crest Entertainment. Even though it’s playing in 3-D and will benefit from ticket price surcharges, the story of two wolves on a journey together is expected to generate only about $10 million on its first weekend. If the movie doesn’t fall short of its meager box-office expectations, Lionsgate should come out OK on the low-budget production.