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‘I Am Number Four’ to top a lagging Presidents Day box office

On what is traditionally the first big box-office weekend of the year, Hollywood may still be playing in a minor key.

With most people off work or school Monday, Presidents Day weekend is usually prosperous for the film studios. This one will probably fall short, however, continuing a box-office slide: So far, 2011 receipts are down 24% from a year earlier.

The young adult action-adventure “I Am Number Four” should top the box office, but people who have seen pre-release audience surveys said it would probably take in close to $25 million in ticket sales in its first four days. The Martin Lawrence comedy sequel “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son” is expected to finish second with about $20 million. And the new Liam Neeson action tale “Unknown” should be close to “Big Mommas” with $15 million to $20 million.

“I Am Number Four” is the first release from DreamWorks since the Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider-led studio separated from Paramount Pictures, signed a distribution agreement with Walt Disney Pictures and raised new financing. The adaptation of a popular young adult novel cost DreamWorks about $59 million to produce, according to a person close to the production, though a person close to Disney said the budget was closer to $50 million. That cost makes the movie’s projected domestic start pretty good but not great.

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“I Am Number Four” is expected to land well behind the last couple of top Presidents Day weekend movies. 2010’s “Valentine’s Day” opened to a phenomenal $63.1 million, and 2009’s horror reboot “Friday the 13th” scooped up $43.6 million.

Unlike the first two “Big Momma” movies, the third film in which Lawrence impersonates a middle-aged mother features a handful of fresh-faced new stars, and distributor 20th Century Fox has been running advertisements on “Glee” and “American Idol” in an effort to attract teen moviegoers.

The movie cost New Regency Productions $32 million to make, a bit less than the other “Big Momma” movies. The budget cut was precipitated by the disappointing performance of 2006’s “Big Momma’s House 2,” which grossed $77.2 million domestically, compared with $117.6 million for 2000’s “Big Momma’s House.”

Unless it exceeds pre-release projections, the third entry will fall short of both its predecessors at the box office.

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“Unknown” is looking to follow in the footsteps of 2008’s action film “Taken,” which also starred Neeson and became an unlikely hit at the box office, taking in $145 million in the U.S. and Canada. But the new movie, which cost producer Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment a little more than $30 million to make, isn’t generating enough pre-release excitement for a “Taken"-size performance.

Among returning movies, Disney’s animated “Gnomeo & Juliet” may have the best chances for a good hold after its surprisingly strong $25.4-million opening, as there are no new movies competing for families with young children. And Sony Pictures is hoping the romantic comedy “Just Go With It,” starring Adam Sandler, will have a healthy run similar to Sandler’s last movie, “Grown Ups.” “Just Go With It” opened to a solid $30.5 million last weekend.

The Justin Bieber 3-D documentary, “Never Say Never,” meanwhile, would be bucking a trend for music movies if it shows any signs of life this weekend after opening to a strong $29.5 million.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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ben.fritz@latimes.com


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