AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2Box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian called the situation “the box-office equivalent of a magazine rack.” “There is such variety out there and these newcomers run the gamut in terms of genre,” said Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co. With such a bumper-to-bumper field, box-office prognosticator Gitesh Pandya gives the edge to “Cars,” distributed by Walt Disney Studios. “It’s definitely an overcrowded weekend with too much product, but I think that `Cars’ might actually stay on top. Even if it were to fall by 50 percent, it will still make $30 million,” said Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. “Cars” had a $60 million opening last weekend – a stellar number but at least $10 million lower than predicted – so it will be looking to build on its box-office total, which was set to cross the $80 million mark Thursday, its seventh day in theaters. Does “Cars” have enough left in the tank to hold on to the pole position in the box-office derby this weekend? The Pixar Animation film will be part of a major traffic jam at the multiplex with four new wide releases of various genres crowding their way onto the marquee. Opening with 10 p.m. showings Thursday was the Jack Black comedy “Nacho Libre,” while today’s debuts are the romantic drama “The Lake House,” reuniting “Speed” co-stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock; the family film “Garfield: The Tail of Two Kitties”; and the action flick “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” They join “Cars” and other wide-release holdovers, including “The Break-Up,” “Over the Hedge,” “The Omen” and “The Da Vinci Code.” In addition, “A Prairie Home Companion” and “An Inconvenient Truth” remain in the mix in more limited release. “Furious” is the third film in what has so far been a successful franchise for distributor Universal Pictures. In 2001, “The Fast and the Furious” opened to $40 million on its way to a $144.5 million domestic total. Two years later, “2 Fast 2 Furious” had a sensational $50.5 million opening, but quickly ran out of fuel and finished at $127 million. The third film stars Lucas Black but not Paul Walker, who starred in the first two movies. Vin Diesel was launched to stardom in the first film, then skipped its sequel. The PG-rated “Nacho Libre,” released by Paramount Pictures, is being seen as a potential breakout hit . Black scored for the studio a few years ago with “School of Rock,” which took in nearly $20 million its opening weekend. “They are targeting pre-teen boys who are rushing out of school for summer vacation and looking for something exciting,” said Pandya. “`Fast and the Furious’ is going to play to some of the same audience but it skews a little older – the high school and college guys.” A source at Paramount Pictures said the studio is looking to at least match the opening of “School of Rock,” but concedes that “Nacho” may have to settle for third place behind “Furious.” But Dergarabedian sees “Nacho” as having the earmarks of being a potential sleeper smash. “Every summer there is a movie that comes along and surprises everybody and `Nacho’ could be it,” he said. Warner Bros. will be going after a completely different crowd with “The Lake House,” which has been heavily promoted in recent weeks by Reeves and Bullock, who also appeared together both at this year’s Academy Awards and the recent MTV Movie Awards. “We are in the counter-programming position this weekend so I think we have a perfect opening date for our movie,” said Dan Fellman, Warner’s president of domestic distribution. “Our previews have done extremely well and the reviews have been good, including two thumbs up from Ebert & Roeper. (Reeves and Bullock) are just magical on screen.” “Lake” will be competing for the date audience with “Break-Up,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, which is in its third weekend and has taken in upward of $80 million so far. “I think `Lake House’ will do moderately well,” Pandya said. “It’s a star-driven picture and (Reeves and Bullock) haven’t been on screen together in more than a decade. But I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 70 percent of the audience is female. It can really go high if women can drag men in with them.” [email protected] (818) 713-3758160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!