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‘The Five-Year Engagement’ is expected to reach box-office altar before rivals

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — It may take half a decade for the couple in “The Five-Year Engagement” to make it to the altar, but the romantic comedy will quickly outrun the competition to the top of the box office this weekend.

The movie starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt is expected to debut with a solid sum of $18 million to $20 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

The film about a troubled relationship is likely to perform far better than three other movies hitting theaters this weekend. Both the horror film about Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven,” and the 3-D stop-motion animated “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” will probably each start off with a moderate $12 million. “Safe,” an action flick starring Jason Statham, is projected to collect a soft $8 million in its debut.

“The Five-Year Engagement” marks yet another collaboration between Segel and writer-director Nicholas Stoller, who met while working on Judd Apatow’s short-lived 2001 television show “Undeclared.” The actor co-wrote the picture with Stoller, and Apatow produced the film. Segel and Stoller’s first feature film was the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which grossed a respectable $63 million domestically.

In 2010, Stoller penned “Gulliver’s Travels,” which Segel starred in. Although the film made a paltry $42 million stateside, it ended up raking in nearly $200 million overseas. Their most recent partnership came with last year’s “The Muppets,” a solid hit with a global total of $158 million.

Universal Pictures, which produced “The Five-Year-Engagement” with Relativity Media for about $30 million, is clearly trying to draw parallels between “Engagement” and last year’s success story “Bridesmaids.” Advertisements for “Engagement” have played up the similarities between the two films, which both center on weddings and were produced by Apatow. The posters for “Engagement” even feature the same bright-pink lettering that was used to market 2011’s female-centric “Bridesmaids.”

“The Raven,” meanwhile, stars John Cusack as legendary 19th century author Poe, who ends up encountering real-life re-enactments of the frightful stories he dreamed up. Relativity acquired the $26 million film for about $4 million from production and financing company Intrepid Pictures.

Cusack, 45, has promoted the thriller extensively on English- and Spanish-language media programs. The star has had a mixed track record at the box office in recent years. Two years ago, he starred in Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic “2012,” which raked in a massive $770 million worldwide.

And “1408,” the last horror film he appeared in alongside Samuel L. Jackson, grossed a strong $72 million in the U.S. and Canada. But he has also appeared in a number of independent films and romantic comedies that failed to attract moviegoers, including 2007’s “Martian Child” and 2005’s “Must Love Dogs.”

“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is the latest computer-animated production from England’s Aardman Animations, the studio behind such films as “Chicken Run” and “Wallace and Gromit.” In the U.S., Aardman’s films have sometimes struggled at the box office: Last year’s “Arthur Christmas” grossed only $46 million domestically but pulled in $100 million abroad. That will probably be the case for “Pirates,” which has already opened in 46 foreign countries, including Britain and Australia, and taken in a total of $56 million.

The well-reviewed movie, featuring the voices of actors Hugh Grant and Salma Hayek, follows a buccaneer who is vying for the title of pirate of the year. The picture, which is being released by Sony Pictures, cost about $55 million to produce.

The violent “Safe” stars Statham as a former cop who is down on his luck when he decides to help protect a young girl from international gangs. Lionsgate is releasing the movie in the U.S. and Canada on behalf of film finance company IM Global, which produced the picture. Lionsgate’s financial risk, therefore, is only the expense of advertisements and prints.

Outside of the ensemble action film “The Expendables,” Statham has only had decent box-office success in the last decade. Most of his films have made less than $30 million in the U.S, including the two he starred in last year, “The Mechanic” and “Killer Elite.”

Meanwhile, although the Disney release of Marvel Entertainment’s “The Avengers” doesn’t hit U.S. theaters until next weekend, the film is bowing overseas this weekend in 42 foreign countries. On Wednesday alone, the Marvel production collected $17.1 million in 10 international markets. The picture performed best in Australia, where it grossed $6.2 million, the second-highest opening day of all time in the country behind the final “Harry Potter” film’s debut last summer.

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