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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Weekend box office: “No Strings Attached” receives benefits from female filmgoers

Things this weekend went pretty much exactly according to what I wrote on Thursday. Still, there was some nervousness out there.

Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, and Cary Elwes in Nikki Finke tells us the studios were skittish because of the commercial track record of leading man Ashton Kutcher; it seems I’m not the only male audience member to have a deep, lizard-brain level allergy to the Kutcher. Fortunately for Paramount, young women are the dominant (70%, possibly) audience here. The simplicity of the premise and the balancing presence of the widely beloved, sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Natalie Portman seems to have been enough to earn “No Strings Attached” — originally, presumably very tentatively, titled “Fuckbuddies” — an estimated $20.3 million for Paramount. I didn’t care for the movie, pretty obviously, but I sort of expected it to do reasonably well. It delivers what’s advertised, has some mildly funny moments, and we’ve all been trained to think of romantic comedies as light-brained affairs. That last part just makes me sad.

Scrolling down the Box Office Mojo chart, “The Green Hornet” suffered a very typical 46% drop it’s second week. It therefore managed a respectable $18.1 million estimate for Sony, putting more than it half-way to making back its $120 million production budget. Ron Howard’s first comedy in many moons, “The Dilemma,” dropped roughly the same amount and continued on track with its soft opening at an estimate of $9.7 million for luckless but now ultra-powerful Universal, thanks to the mega-merger with Comcast.

A cluster of likely Oscar contenders are holding down the next several spots, led by “The King’s Speech.” The press loves a horserace and speculation on the very real possibility of an Oscar sweep for “The Social Network” has been slowed somewhat by the Producer’s Guild awarding of its top prize to the historical tale last night.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in

With a first-rate combination of director (Tom Hooper) and star (Colin Firth) the drama is apparently getting some outstanding word of mouth. It suffered almost no drop at all from last week and it’s estimate for the Weinstein Company is bubbling under $9.2 million. It’s going to be crossing the $60 million threshold probably by mid-week, many times it’s $15 million budget.

It was kind of a funny week in limited release. Indiewire has the details, but Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” disappointed somewhat in about 600 theaters. Probably getting a significant boost from star Paul Giamatti‘s surprise Golden Globe win, “Barney’s Version” led the week in per-screen averages, earning about $10,000 each on 16 screens. Not bad for a movie about a creature thought to be as hard to find as a yeti, an occasionally rude Canadian.

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Weekend box office preview: Will the Kutcher and Natalie Portman swarm “The Green Hornet”?

There’s only one major new release this week and, yeah, I kind of hate it, but that’s never prevented a movie from making a nice sum at the box office.

No Strings Attached” features easily my last favorite star of this, or really any, generation, Ashton Kutcher. It also features the vastly more talented and likable Natalie Portman, a really strong supporting cast, and what I see as really lousy screenplay that can’t be salvaged by director Ivan Reitman or anyone else. The film is an attempt to do an Apatow-style comedy for youngish women and, leaving aside my personal dislike of the film, I have a hunch it will do rather well. It’s actually splitting critics which, considering it’s an Ashton Kutcher film, is probably the equivalent of an Oscar sweep.

Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman have

Given the film’s positive tracking among women discussed by THR’s Pamela McClintock, Ben Fritz says that the conventional wisdom is the movie will make roughly $20 million. That makes it a real threat to the #1 status of “The Green Hornet.” The action comedy earned roughly $33 million last weekend and, for that kind of film, a 50% week #2 drop is actually not doing at all badly. Also, considering the very modest budget of “No Strings” ($20 million), it’s almost sure to be profitable for Paramount.

A couple of interesting and well reviewed movies are also getting much more aggressive than usual limited releases. Director Peter Weir (“The Truman Show,” “Witness”) returns with Ed Harris in tow in the Gulag escape drama, “The Way Back” from Newmarket and the very topical star-driven “The Company Men” from director John Wells is out from the Weinstein Company. The real mystery is why these well-regarded, if not quite ecstatically received, films weren’t at least given a shot at awards with a pre-2011 Oscar-qualifying run.

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Weekend box office: “The Green Hornet” packs some financial punch; “The Dilemma” is problematic

Seth Rogen really is Yes, the Golden Globes are tonight, and I’m sure you’re all devastated to hear that I’ve had to can any thoughts of live blogging it tonight — I’ll barely have time to watch it much of it, and then with a heavy hand on fast-forward button.  On the other hand, Anne Thompson will be blogging and tweeting away, she promises. Also, the box office beat goes on and this week the masses voted with their wallets for the over-serious fanboy’s bane, “The Green Hornet.”

Apparently, while the character from an old-time radio show and short-lived television series is really not all that well known, something about the idea of spoiled rich brat Seth Rogen and his vastly more disciplined and smart employee/buddy kicking the bad guys’ butts in comical fashion appealed to the masses. Ironically doing much better than films that have been pre-praised by geeks that we can all name, “The Green Hornet” has earned an estimated $34 million for Sony according to Box Office Mojo.

Nikki Finke writes that that makes it one of the stronger January openings for any movie. On the other hand, because that’s who she is, she also reminds us that the film still performed softly in comparison to some of the higher figures that were being touted on Thursday night. Still, the long Martin Luther King day weekend has one more day and night on it, so there’s more green ahead for the Hornet, perhaps $40 million, La Finke estimates.

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are on the horns of Despite a “high concept,” big stars, and a director whose name might actually mean something to what remains of America’s Mayberrys, “The Dilemma” only managed a squishy second place showing of an estimated $17.4 milllion this weekend for unlucky Universal. That is significantly lower than post opening weekends for movies starring Vince Vaughn or Kevin James.

There was something about this movie that people just didn’t want to see all that much and I kind of get that. The fact that critics at least were finding the movie surprisingly dramatic, could not have helped. As far as I can think, audiences never seem to respond well to a bait and switch even when the movie is actually good. On the other hand, “The Dilemma” cost maybe 50 percent of what “The Green Hornet” did — but was still expensive for a comedy at $70 million.

In the #3 spot, “True Grit” is holding up nicely and has passed the $125 million mark this weekend with an estimated $11.2 million for Paramount. #4 is an interesting semi-surprise: Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” doubled the number of theaters it was in this weekend and made something like $9 million and change, just ahead of this year’s other big art house crossover, “Black Swan,” which grossed an estimated $8.1 million for Fox Searchlight.

Meanwhile, among limited releases my attendance at the junket for Sony Classic’s “Barney’s Version” seems to have awarded the film the previously non-existent Bob Westal bump, even if my review was mixed. It earned the nation’s highest per-screen average with a very respectable $17,925 in four theaters in L.A. and New York, for a total of $71,700.

Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman in

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Weekend box office: “True Grit” tops slow weekend

There’s really not all that much to say about the box office this weekend other than that it was down a worrisome 29% over last year, so I’ll keep things brief as we peruse the Box Office Mojo weekend chart together. No huge surprises, though fans of westerns have a reason to celebrate.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in

As seemed likely back on Thursday night, the Coen Brothers “True Grit” edged out the star-laden filmed deal, “Little Fockers,” earning an estimate $15 million for Paramount as opposed to $13.7 for the Universal comedy. That makes for a total of roughly $110 million in three weeks for the western as opposed to $123 for “Fockers.” However, considering that the budget for “True Grit” was more than 60% lower and with a probable buoyant life on DVD, I think it may be the likely profitability winner over the long haul. In any case, this is good news for the Coen’s fans, which includes myself, as it means that they’ll have greater latitude to do something really weird next time, if that’s what they feel like doing.

Nicolas Cage contemplates the eternal box office void in This week’s unloved new releases managed to avoid complete disaster. The lackluster and horribly reviewed action-horror flick, “Season of the Witch,” underperformed even modest expectations that it might hit $12 million. However, it managed to earn double-digits for Relativity Media, newcomers to the releasing game, and didn’t come in too shy of the lowered mark. The Nicolas Cage/Ron Perlman swash-chiller earned what may be approximately $10.7 million in third place.

Released in only 1,400 theaters or so, the musical drama for country fans, “Country Strong,” managed to earn a reasonable per-screen average of $5,126 for an estimated total of $7.3 million in 7th place. It follows “Tron: Legacy” and the sleeper-esque “Black Swan.”

Oscar contenders “The Fighter” from Paramount and “The King’s Speech” from the Weinstein Company remain strong several weeks into their release. The two films, about very different personal battles, made estimates of $7 million and $6.8 million in 7th and 8th place, respectively.

Colin Firth & Helana Bonham Carter contemplate a sticky wicket in

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