Fueled by younger males, Sony Pictures' 3D superhero pic The Green Hornet should sport a potent sting this weekend.
Universal Pictures' The Dilemma, directed by Ron Howard, will have a tougher time and could bring muted numbers for a Vince Vaughn or Kevin James comedy.
Conservative estimates have Green Hornet grossing in the mid-$30 million range for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The film goes out Friday in 3,584 theaters domestically, including 174 Imax runs, and will easily place No. 1.
Favorite holdovers to watch include Paramount Pictures' True Grit, Fox Searchlight's Black Swan and the Weinstein Co.'s The King's Speech.
With the Golden Globes airing Sunday, many moviegoers will rush to catch up on awards frontrunners.
Black Swan and King's Speech are assisting in this task by making major expansions - Swan ups its theater count from 1,552 to 2,331 on Friday, while King's Speech goes from 758 theaters to 1,543.
Among other Globe-nominated films, the Weinstein Co.'s Blue Valentine expands from 40 runs to 230, and Sony Pictures Classics opens Barney's Version in four theaters in New York and L.A. after a brief qualifying run last month.
Green Hornet, converted to 3D, is poised to become the first commercial hit of 2011. Tracking has been exceptionally strong, enough to impress one-time skeptics.
The film also makes a major push overseas, opening day and date in a number of key territories.
Directed by Michel Gondry and toplining Seth Rogen and Jay Chou, Green Hornet cost upward of $100 million to produce. Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz also star.
Opening in 2,941 theaters domestically, The Dilemma will have to compete for adult eyeballs with True Grit and Black Swan.
Universal expects The Dilemma to gross in the mid to high teens over the four-day weekend. That would be enough to put the movie - which cost $70 million to make - on the right track financially, according to the studio.
However, The Dilemma will need good word-of-mouth and strong legs to end up in the black. Universal is comparing the movie to Something's Gotta Give, which opened to $16.1 million and grossed $124.7 million domestically. However, that film played during the Christmas frame, when the multiple is much higher.
The Dilemma, also starring Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly and Channing Tatum, is the first comedy directed by Howard in more than a decade. The plot revolves around a man (Vaughn) who discovers that the wife of his best friend and business partner (James) is having an affair and doesn't know what to do.
The film is tracking best among women over 25. The softest quadrant is men over 25, prompting some box-office observers to suggest the subject matter could be off-putting.
Universal says The Dilemma deals with serious relationship issues, similar to The Break-Up, which paired Vaughn with Jennifer Aniston. Break-Up, also a Universal film, opened to $39.2 million domestically on its way to grossing $118.7 million.
Vaughn's previous film, Couples Retreat, bowed to $34.3 million in October 2009 and brought in $109.2 domestically.
The Dilemma opens in the same slot that Sony used to debut Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which rocketed James to movie stardom after opening to an unexpectedly strong $31.8 million en route to a $146.3 million domestic gross.
This week at the domestic box office, True Grit has continued to place No. 1, followed by Black Swan and Universal's Christmas comedy Little Fockers. True Grit's gross through Wednesday was $113.8 million, with Black Swan at $63.9 million and Fockers at $126.2 million.
(Editing by Zorianna Kit)