Will Hurricane Irene Rain on this Weekend’s Box Office Contenders?

With evacuations all along the East Coast, Hurricane Irene is set to not just overshadow this weekend’s box office, but rain all over it. While a summer storm will often have people flocking to theaters to get out of the rain, this one could shut them down.

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has already told hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents that they should prepare to evacuate, and announced yesterday that the subway system will be shut down Saturday. Anyone who has spent any time in New York will tell you that it’s next to impossible to get a taxi in the rain, which means theatergoers would have to be determined enough to walk through 100+ mile winds and torrential rain just to get to the movies. And that’s if they’re even open. Clearview Cinemas is shutting all of its 57 theaters along the Philadelphia-New York corridor on Saturday and Sunday, while AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment are monitoring the situation carefully.

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While the storm will most definitely hurt opening-weekend grosses, only a fraction of the country will be affected; the rest may still make it out to see one of this weekend’s three new releases, which include the Luc Besson-produced Colombiana, the R-rated comedy Our Idiot Brother, and the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror Don’t be Afraid of the Dark.

Besson’s Colombiana, distributed by TriStar (NYSE:SNE), stars Zoe Saldana as a stone-cold assassin. While the film is tracking well among young men, it’s only expected to gross in the high single digits in its opening weekend. Our Idiot Brother, which stars Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer, was acquired by The Weinstein Company at Sundance for $6 million, a small sum considering the film is expected to gross $10 million to $12 million in its opening weekend. Finally, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, starring Katie Holmes and distributed by FilmDistrict, is expected to attract low double digits this weekend, and is tracking best with young women.

While all of this weekend’s releases are tracking well enough considering their relatively low budgets, they may not do well enough to oust The Help from the top spot, despite the fact that it’s entering its third weekend in theaters. Based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help had grossed $79.7 million domestically as of Wednesday. Even Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which begins its fourth weekend in theaters Friday, could give them a run for their money. The film has earned $261.1 million worldwide, and is projected to take in another $8 million this weekend. Still, it’s also possible that any of this weekend’s three releases could pull a surprise upset and exceed expectations if word-of-mouth is good.