Movie Projector: 'Rio' likely to stifle 'Scream 4'

"Rio," a 3-D animated film about tropical birds, should soar to the top of the box office this weekend.

The movie, with feathered protagonists voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway, is expected to gross $35 million to $40 million in its first weekend, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The weekend's other new wide release, the horror film "Scream 4," is likely to collect about $27million.

"Rio," the latest release from 20th Century Fox-owned animation company Blue Sky Studios, cost about $90 million to produce after tax incentives.

Blue Sky has generated a handful of computer-

animated hits for Fox, including "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!" and three "Ice Age" films. The "Ice Age" franchise has been especially profitable, with the most recent installment, 2009's "Ice Age: Dawn of

the Dinosaurs," grossing $886.7million worldwide. That movie made most of its money — $690.1 million — overseas.

"Rio" could end up in a similar position, as it is off to a great start abroad. It opened last week in 72 foreign markets and collected $55 million. The movie made $20 million more overseas this week, bringing its international total to $75million. "Rio" will premiere this weekend in 21 additional countries, including France and Italy.

But in the U.S., the movie will face some competition this weekend. Universal Pictures' "Hop," about an animated bunny, has topped the box office for the last two weekends and has grossed more than $70 million domestically.

"Rio" may also be challenged because it is an original concept rather than a familiar title. Typically, big animated films open in March or May. But Fox settled on the April date because Easter fell later this year, and the studio wanted to create some distance in the marketplace from the release of "Hop."

The opening of "Scream 4" will mark the first time the franchise is back on the big screen after an 11-year hiatus. Although the first film in the series, 1996's "Scream," opened to only $6.4 million, the succeeding two pictures each debuted to just over $30million. "Scream" and "Scream 2" both ended up with more than $100 million in domestic ticket sales, and "Scream 3" fell just short of that milestone with $89.1million.

"Scream 4" was produced by Weinstein Co.'s genre label Dimension Films for about $40 million. The R-rated movie is generating interest largely from young men — something that could present a bit of a challenge, as younger teenagers who want to see the film may be restricted from buying tickets.

"Scream 4" will also open this weekend in 36 foreign markets, including France, Australia and Russia.

Also launching this weekend is "The Conspirator," a film directed by Robert Redford about the trial of a woman accused of plotting to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Roadside Attractions acquired the movie at the Toronto Film Festival and is co-releasing it in 706 theaters with American Film Co., a start-up that focuses on financing and producing movies about American history.

Another unique release hitting 300 theaters this weekend is "Atlas Shrugged: Part I," the first in a potential trilogy of films based on the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand. The movie cost about $10million to produce and was financed entirely by John Aglialoro, the chief executive of the exercise equipment manufacturer Cybex, who has no previous experience in Hollywood.

The film is being distributed in 80 markets by Rocky Mountain Pictures, a Salt Lake City booking service.

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