By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The big-budget action film "Battleship", produced by Comcast's Universal Pictures, is shaping up to become the next film to fall victim to "The Avengers'" record box office march.
Universal's new sci-fi blockbuster, which opens on May 18 in 3,690 U.S. and Canadian theaters, is projected to rake in ticket sales of $35 million to $40 million over its first weekend, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com's box office division.
"The Avengers," which had ticket sales of $395.8 million through May 14, is expected to again top weekend movies for a third consecutive week with $50 million, he said.
Last weekend, Marvel's super-hero franchise-builder surprised experts by cutting into the expected weekend ticket sales of "Dark Shadows," starring Johnny Depp, which took just $29.7 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
"The Avengers" grossed $103 million, the first Hollywood film to cross $100 million in its second weekend.
"'Avengers' is making us throw our tracking out the window," said one person familiar with studio tracking.
Starring Liam Neeson and the singer Rihanna, "Battleship" is loosely based on the Hasbro game.
"Battleship" needs to generate more than $50 million in weekend ticket sales to break even, said analyst Tony Wible, a managing director at Janney Montgomery Scott, who does not follow Comcast but compiles a data base to predict film performances.
Wible follows Paramount parent company Viacom, Dreamworks Animation, Walt Disney, and Time Warner, the parent company for Warner Brothers.
A large-budget film like "Battleship" usually generates domestic ticket sales of three times its opening weekend, according to Wible. Studios on average get half of box office sales. Universal contends it spent $209 million to make its special-effects laden film.
It also spent more than $100 million to market it, according to people with knowledge of Hollywood spending.
Next week, "Battleship" must also contend with the third installment of Will Smith's futuristic comedy "Men in Black." The last one in the series, in 2002, generated $190.4 million in domestic ticket sales.
"'Battleship' is a big, fun popcorn movie that has done well overseas and we hope will provide the same entertainment in North America," said a Universal spokeswoman.
Universal decided to release "Battleship" early abroad, and has generated $220 million in 63 foreign markets since its April 11 debut, the studio said. Industry sources say it is on track to generate $250 million in those markets.
"The international strategy was a smart one," said Dergarabedian. "$220 million gives them boost toward covering the negative (production) costs of the film."
(Reporting By Ronald Grover; Editing by Michael Perry)