Box Office Showdown: ‘The Rite’ Vs. ‘No Strings Attached’

A typically sleepy January at the box office — save for the welcome $33.5 million debut of “Green Hornet” two weeks ago — continues today with the entry of two new wide-releases: Anthony Hopkins’ horror flick set against exorcist-minded priests, “The Rite,” and Jason Statham’s action-fest about professional assassins, “The Mechanic.” When the final dollars are counted, those killers will likely be topped not only by the possession-obsessed priests but by Natalie Portman too. Ouch.

Box office prognosticators are eying an opening around the $17-$20 million mark for “The Rite.” The first month of the year has typically been kind to weakly reviewed horror films like “The Rite,” and Hopkins’ entry should end up grossing something close to 2005’s “Hide and Seek” ($22 million) and 2009’s “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” ($21.2 million).

But don’t expect “The Mechanic” to land in second place this weekend. It looks like “No Strings Attached,” Portman and Ashton Kutcher’s tepid rom-com, which nabbed the #1 spot with $19.7 million last week, will drop less than 50% and hang on to the #2 notch. That’s not a certainty, by any means, but considering that “The Mechanic” hasn’t connected with critics and that moviegoers looking for a fresh, high-intensity experience this weekend will likely end up at “The Rite,” we have a feeling “No Strings” will come out on top with around $11 million (ahead of “The Mechanic,” with $10).

None of these sound appealing to you? No arguments there. Perhaps now is the time to check out “127 Hours,” which expands to its most theaters yet this weekend (916 screens around the country). Trust us: you’re going to want to take in that flick — and to watch James Franco get nasty with a pocket knife — before the Academy Awards approach next month. “True Grit,” “Black Swan” and “The Fighter” are also all still on over 2,000 screens. All, of course, are worth a trip to the multiplex this weekend.