By Ben Fritz
Los Angeles Times (MCT)
LOS ANGELES - On what's historically been the slowest weekend of the year at the box office, only one new movie will try to tempt audiences across the country.
"Resident Evil: Afterlife" is the fourth entry in a series of consistently solid performers based on the horror video-game series.
It's the only movie opening nationwide. In the past, the weekend after Labor Day frequently has produced the lowest box-office receipts of the entire year, according to data compiled by Hollywood.com. As a result, few studios tempt fate by trying to get a share of what's likely to be a small pie.
But distributor Sony Pictures has done well releasing the last two "Resident Evil" films in September and put out the 2004 sequel, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," on the weekend after Labor Day.
That film and 2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction," released in late September, opened to $23.1 million and $23.7 million at the box office, respectively.
Pre-release surveys indicate that "Afterlife" will generate similar ticket sales, primarily from younger men. Like those movies and 2002's original, it stars Milla Jovovich as an agent combating a sinister corporation whose viruses create horrifying mutations in test subjects.
This year's sequel is the first "Resident Evil" movie produced in 3-D, which should boost its box office prospects a bit thanks to ticket surcharges. People who have seen pre-release polling expect the movie to open to about $25 million.
Although the last two "Resident Evil" movies both ended up selling a little more than $50 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, the series' foreign grosses have been escalating.
"Apocalypse" took in $78.2 million from foreign countries, and "Extinction" generated $97.1 million. If that trend holds up, the new film could be the first "Resident Evil" to gross more than $100 million internationally. It opens in a number of major foreign markets this weekend including Japan, where the video games are produced and the previous films have been particularly popular.
Sony bought distribution rights to "Apocalypse" in most of the world from financier Constantin Films, which spent nearly $60 million to produce the picture.
Also this weekend, perhaps sensing an opportunity with no new films targeting women, Summit Entertainment is re-releasing "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" in 1,187 theaters. That's enough for it to play across the country, though only about one-quarter the number of theaters it played in when it debuted in July.
The film already has grossed $298.8 million domestically and this weekend could become the first "Twilight" movie to pass $300 million.
Sony is aiming to start building buzz for its low-budget teen sex comedy "The Virginity Hit" this weekend by playing the picture - where else? - in 15 college towns. At most locations, the movie, which opens nationwide Sept. 24, will play only one show per night.
Also in limited release, the Joaquin Phoenix documentary "I'm Still Here" opens at 20 theaters in 18 cities.
Many in Hollywood also will be watching the second-weekend performance of "The American." The George Clooney drama was No. 1 last weekend but received dismal exit-poll results, indicating it could take a tumble due to poor word-of-mouth.