Natalie Portman eyes Box Office crown

Los Angeles: Natalie Portman goes up against herself at the North American box office this weekend when her romantic romp "No Strings Attached" opens on Friday.

Few would have guessed that Portman`s awards contender "Black Swan" would still be going strong when "No Strings" -- also starring Ashton Kutcher -- hit theaters. Last weekend, when "Swan" ranked at No. 5 with cumulative sales of $73 million, Portman won a Golden Globe for "Swan."

The big question is whether reigning champ "The Green Hornet" can fend off "No Strings." Last weekend, "Hornet" debuted to $33.5 million, and the Sony comic-book adaptation will probably lose about half its audience in its second round.

"No Strings" distributor Paramount expects its film to open in the mid-to-high teen millions, in line with other R-rated romantic comedies. It was produced for a modest $25 million, so the studio doesn`t need a huge opening weekend. Women are the primary audience for a storyline that explores whether casual sex can actually stay casual.

Other new releases include Peter Weir`s survivor drama "The Way Back" in 650 theaters; and John Wells` corporate-downsizing drama "The Company Men" in 106 theaters, exactly one year after the film made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Originally, the Weinstein Co. was going to open "Company Men" last year in time for awards consideration, but it pushed back the release.

Overall, it`s going to be another down weekend at the box office. Once a movie graveyard, January turned in strong performances the past several years, and especially last year with Avatar. January 2011 is a return to less prosperous times.

Bureau Report