| Updated at: 0908 PST, Friday, June 10, 2011|
LOS ANGELES: The pairing of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg has turned "Super 8" into the box office mystery of the summer.
The period sci-fi pic -- directed by Abrams and produced by Spielberg -- officially rolls out Friday in 3,379 theaters, following sneak previews at 329 locations Thursday. Amid decidedly muted advance buzz, its performance this weekend is the subject of heated speculation among insiders.
Paramount, which maintains that the $50 million film doesn't need a big opening weekend, is predicting a debut in the $25 million to $30 million range. It will vie for honors with "X-Men: First Class," which debuted last weekend to $55.1 million. The superhero sequel enjoyed strong midweek business, with a total of $69.9 million through Wednesday.
Overall awareness for "Super 8" isn't quite where it should be, although there could be a myriad of reasons why. The film has no big stars and is an original story sandwiched between known franchise titles.
At the same time, "Super 8" is drawing strong reviews, with critics crediting Abrams for going outside of Hollywood's comfort zone and making a film he calls an homage to the movies he grew up with as a kid, many of them from Spielberg.
Set in 1979, "Super 8" tells the story of a group of kids who are filming a home movie when there's a violent train crash. When unexplained events start to threaten their town, they begin to suspect something inhuman escaped from the train. The film stars Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ryan Lee, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso and Zach Mills.
Still, Paramount has been doing everything it can to ratchet up interest. It teamed with Twitter to host Thursday's paid previews and on Wednesday night held free sneaks in 11 cities in partnership with key websites.
One other new film enters the market this weekend, "Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer," based on the bestselling book series and targeting girls ages 6-10. Coincidentally, the $20 million film is expected to open to between $6 million and $10 million. The film comes from the producers behind "Precious."
Among specialty films, Woody Allen's box office pleaser "Midnight in Paris" expands nationwide to a total of 944 theaters -- one of the widest plays ever for an Allen film. "Midnight in Paris" has grossed $7.8 million through Wednesday. (Reuters)