By Todd Cunningham
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" is expected to take in $145 million in its U.S. debut this weekend, but it could be even bigger overseas.
Summit Entertainment will roll out its "Twilight" franchise finale in more than 11,900 theaters in 61 foreign markets at the same time it opens in 4,070 locations in North America.
Anticipation among "Twihards" - the film's mainly young and female fans - has been driven to fever pitch globally as well as in the U.S. Stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner will appear for a final time in the teen romance set in the supernatural world of vampire and werewolves. The highly publicized real-life split - and subsequent reuniting - of Stewart and Pattinson earlier this year appears to have further stoked, rather than diminished, interest.
The film debuted in several European countries on Wednesday and took in nearly $14 million, posting the best bows of the year in Italy and France. Grosses are still being tabulated, but In those nations as well as the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden, it set franchise records for single-day openings.
This will be the biggest "Twilight" movie ever at the box office and the foreign grosses will be the driving force, according to BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino, who sees "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" passing the billion-dollar mark globally.
"These franchise films build and build overseas, and then they explode," Contrino said, and tracking and social media suggest "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" is ready to blow. The foreign haul could go as high as $800 million, Contrino said.
That would nearly double the international take of last year's "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," which took in $423 million overseas on top of $281 million domestically for a $705 million worldwide gross. "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" took in $709 million worldwide in 2009, with domestic accounting for $296 million and foreign $423 million.
In the U.S., demand for the film is so high that Summit has moved its midnight screenings up to 10 p.m. Thursday in many theaters to accommodate demand.
That will give it a shot at the biggest midnight bow ever, a mark currently held by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2." That film - also a franchise finale - earned a staggering $43.5 million in midnight shows on about 3,800 screens last year, on its way to a $169.2 million opening weekend.
The online and social media trends for "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" are through the roof. Internet ticket seller Fandango on Thursday reported thousands of shows across the country sold out, and said that sales for "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" were accounting for 92 percent of its business going into the weekend. Two days before its debut, the film has been "liked" more 35.7 million times on Facebook, more than 10 million more than "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" at a similar stage.
The critics give director Bill Condon high marks but are lukewarm on "Breaking Dawn - Part 2." The positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Movie Review Intelligence are both in the low 60s. But the critics didn't like the earlier "Twilight" films either, and if ever a movie was review-proof, this would be it. Just ask one of the more than 2,000 mostly female young people who camped out for days in anticipation of the L.A. premiere.
The overall weekend box office should be massive, with Sony's James Bond juggernaut "Skyfall" returning for a second week on 3,505 screens and expected to add another $45 million to its coffers.
It opened to $90 million in the U.S. last weekend and, aided by an $11 million haul on Veterans Day, now has a domestic total of more than $110 million.
The 23rd entry in the 007 franchise has already rolled up more than $540 million worldwide and is virtually assured of being the biggest money-earner in the 50-year history of the franchise.
In one of the year's biggest expansions, Disney is moving its Oscar hopeful "Lincoln" into 1,775 theaters, way up from the 11 locations it debuted in last weekend.
"That's more than we originally planned," Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap, "because there was a lot of interest from exhibitors after the big opening last week."
"Lincoln" took in around $944,308 and averaged $85,846 per location, among the year's best specialty debuts, while setting theater records in Boston and Washington, D.C.\
Hollis is hoping "Lincoln" can average around $7,500 per screen this weekend, which would put it just north of $13 million for the three days. If things go well, Disney will add around 200 theaters on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
"We want to keep this film relevant all through the awards season,' Hollis said. "Lincoln" is considered a front-runner in the Best Picture Oscar race, and Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays the president, is considered a lock for a Best Actor nomination (he's won twice already). Steven Spielberg will be in the discussion for Best Director, too.
Disney is hoping "Lincoln" will claim the No. 4 spot this weekend, behind the "Twilight" finale, "Skyfall" and its own "Wreck-it Ralph."
The studio's animated homage to classic video games took in $33 million in its second weekend, just a 32 percent drop from its $49 million debut. A similar hold would put it around $22 million this weekend.
Just like rival studios cleared out last weekend for "Skyfall," there are no wide opening films other than "Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2."
There are, however, a couple of significant specialty openings.
"Silver Linings Playbook," David O. Russell's romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, will debut in 16 theaters this weekend.
The Weinstein Company has shifted gears on the Oscar hopeful, which was to expand into 2,000 theaters on the day before Thanksgiving. Instead, it will go into around 440 location on that date.
The buzz around the film - which won the audience award at the Toronto international Film Festival - has been extremely positive. The Weinstein Co. has opted for a more gradual platform release that it believes will allow the film to build awards momentum. The company employed a similar strategy with the last two Oscar winners, "The King's Speech" and last year's "The Artist."
The critics are sold. It has an 80 percent positive rating on both Rotten Tomatoes and Movie Review Intelligence.
Focus Features is rolling out its period drama "Anna Karenina," directed by Joe Wright ("Atonement") in 16 theaters.
Wright's version of the Tolstoy novel is the third movie Wright has made with Keira Knightley, and was one of the most divisive and debated movies when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
A stylishly over-the-top re-imagining that sets much of the action on the stage of a huge and decaying theater, Wright's "Anna" is sumptuous and theatrical. It dazzled some viewers while leaving others cold, but the critics gave it a 63 percent positive rating.