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‘Hunger Games’ is expected to dominate the box office again

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Moviegoers are expected to return to the multiplex this weekend for second helpings of “The Hunger Games,” pushing the teen epic to No. 1 at the box office again.

After debuting with a record-breaking $152.5 million last weekend, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult novel has continued to rake in massive ticket sales this week. Since Monday, the movie has grossed $29.2 million, and it could collect more than $60 million in its second weekend, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

Two new films will hit theaters this weekend, neither of which is expected to attract anywhere near the business of “Hunger Games.” The big-budget sequel “Wrath of the Titans,” a 3-D action movie featuring Greek gods, could debut with a soft $40 million in receipts. “Mirror Mirror,” a modern-day spin on the classic Snow White fairy tale, will probably have an even less impressive opening with roughly $25 million worth of sales.

“Wrath of the Titans” is a follow-up to 2010’s similarly titled “Clash of the Titans,” which ended up grossing $493 million worldwide. Despite its impressive tally, “Clash” was panned for its poor use of 3-D technology because the film was converted into the format haphazardly to capitalize on higher ticket prices.

“Wrath,” which has earned slightly better critical reviews than “Clash,” cost more to produce than the first film. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures co-financed the movie for about $150 million, compared with a $125 million budget for the first picture.

This weekend’s release, which stars Sam Worthington as the half-human, half-god Perseus who must fend off not only an angry brother but also an array of fire-spewing beasts, has a different director as well: Jonathan Liebesman rather than Louis Leterrier.

Despite these changes, “Wrath” is still expected to have a far weaker debut than “Clash,” which opened with $61.2 million two years ago. The filmmakers believe that “Wrath” will be hurt by “The Hunger Games,” which is attracting a higher-than-anticipated number of young men — the core audience, of course, for the fantasy movie.

“Mirror Mirror,” however, is going after a family crowd. The film stars newcomer Lily Collins as Snow White, a naive princess trying to escape the wrath of her stepmother, an evil queen played by Julia Roberts. The movie is the first of two Snow White adaptations to hit theaters this year; the second, due out in June, is Universal Pictures’ “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a darker, more action-heavy story starring Kristen Stewart.

“Mirror Mirror” is the most expensive production ever financed by Relativity Media, which spent about $100 million to produce the fairy tale, according to a person close to the production who was not authorized to speak publicly. However, a Relativity spokesman said the movie’s final cost was about $85 million. It was directed by Tarsem Singh, who helmed the $80 million sword-and-sandals epic “Immortals” for the independent company this year.

In addition to launching a pricey marketing campaign, Relativity threw a lavish premiere party at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel this month at which girls could dress like princesses, get hair extensions and play carnival games.

Opening in limited release, “Bully,” Lee Hirsch’s documentary about five families affected by teen bullying, will open in a total of five theaters in Los Angeles and New York. The film rides into theaters on the wave of a ratings controversy after the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an R rating for coarse language.

After losing an appeal for a PG-13, the movie’s distributor, Weinstein Co., decided to release the film without a rating. Many theaters will show “Bully” but treat it as an R-rated film, meaning anyone under age 17 must be accompanied by an adult. Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest chain, said it will not play the movie, per its policy of not showing unrated films. The movie’s initial receipts will indicate how much the public scuffle has stirred interest in the film, which will widen its run to two dozen markets April 13.

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