“Date Night” ahead (right now) in titanic weekend box-office photo-finish (updated)

It’s important to remember that the weekend estimates I report every week on these box office wrap-ups are just that, estimates.  “Actuals” come out later in the week and, if there’s a really significant difference I might mention it, but there rarely is.

Nevertheless, considering that I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, West coast time based on material that was largely written some hours ago, there’s obviously some element of the unknowable, and when the week’s top two films are separated in the current estimates by only $225,000, a reversal is far more likely than usual. However, thank God, this isn’t an election and “almost” here counts even more than in horseshoes and about the same as in hang grenades. For the studios and the filmmakers, the point is to make money, not so much to best the competition.

Tina Fey and Steve Carrell in And, in that sense we certainly had more than one winner this weekend as the non-3-D, and therefore more reasonably priced, “Date Night” most certainly won the day in terms of keisters-in-cushions and also, as of now, cash in hand.  As per the mighty Box Office Mojo weekend estimate chart, the Steve Carrell/Tina Fey zany action rom-com earned an estimated $27.1 million for Fox while being seen on about 425 fewer screens than its main competition. Also, since it’s budget was a relatively modest $55 million, not counting the film’s heavy promotion, it will go into the black relatively quickly as well, which should please the bean counters.

UPDATE: Late last night, Nikki Finke had word that the estimates for Sunday’s take were looking significantly off. Today, THR/Jolly Carl DiOrio tell us the current revised estimates has “Titans” collecting $26.7 million and “Date Night” a lower than previously mentioned $25.2. These are, still, however, estimates and not “actuals.” Nevertheless, they are likely more accurate.

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It’s box office preview time: Carrell and Fey to clash with “Titans”

Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, and Mark Wahlberg commisserate in

Commercially speaking, the premise of Fox’s PG-13 rated “‘Date Night” seems right on the money. NBC Thursday night comedy dream team Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are a married couple with children in a humdrum relationship rut who, through a case of mistaken identity, wind up fleeing from criminals and repeatedly running into a perpetually unshirted Mark Wahlberg and other dangerous obstacles to their peace of mind.

It’s been some time since a true wide appeal mainstream comedy aimed at adults and also possibly younger comedy fans of both genders has hit the theaters. “Hot Tub Time Machine” obviously skews more than a little male and more recent films, like “She’s Out of My League,” are clearly aimed at a somewhat younger demographic. On paper, the thing seems destined to do extremely well with a potential to elicit the three words sweetest to a studio suit’s ear “four quadrant picture.”

Still, not everyone is thriller. Our own Jamey Codding found the movie a lot more entertaining in principle than in reality. Director Shawn Levy of the “Night at the Museum” franchise is getting by far the best reviews of his career over in  Rotten Tomato land, but that is not as impressive as it could be given his rather rotten critical track record and many of the critics seem to be simply praising the considerable comic skills more than the movie as a whole. As for the box office gurus, a solid but not super-dramatic opening somewhere significantly south of $30 million but probably north of $20 million is predicted by the mysterious voices in Jolly Carl DiOrio‘s ear.

Sam Worthing girds his loins for battle in Of course, the comedy faces some fierce battles ahead with more grim-faced previously released films, most especially last weekend’s top picture, Warner’s “Clash of the Titans.” Like many poorly reviewed genre pictures, it’s expected to drop off by as much as 60%. Moreover, the catcalls from a geek-heavy audience made newly picky about 3-D thanks to James Cameron‘s innovations appear to be depressing turn-out at the pricey 3-D screens. Still, even with a really big sophomore drop off, it still has a very good shot a winning a second weekend in a row, though the win could well be as ugly as Medusa herself.

Also debuting this week is a Christian-themed heart-tugger, Vivendi’s  “Letters to God.” It’s somewhere between a large limited release and a very small major release as it will be in just under 900 theaters this weekend, according to the mighty Box Office Mojo theater count. No reviews are out yet to speak of, but I noticed even the Christian user reviews on IMDb are a bit muted, noting that the acting is in a bit better than on prior films from the same team and the movie is “professional.” High praise.

Not to be glib — which is a way of me preparing you for the glibness ahead — but with the usual church-based marketing push, this one should do okay preaching to the converted. I guess, as a secular Jew, I sort of feel like I see an awful lot of essentially Christian movies, they’re just not marketed that way or noticed because about 95% of Americans are actually Christian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Despite an atmospheric and a mega-creepy trailer that I love and strong trio of lead actors — Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long — the death-obsessed, R-rated horror thriller from Anchor Bay, “After.Life,” is leaving the large majority of critics as cold as the grave. With only 41 screens for a film which should have a wide appeal for horror fans, an early demise seems likely for this morbid but apparently non-gory tale. I personally hope Ricci, a terrific actress who I haven’t seen in a while in anything, has better luck soon.

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