Nicole Sperling
March 25, 2010 AT 11:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: DreamWorks AnimationJeffrey Katzenberg should be thrilled with Paramount’s distribution team right about now. Why? The group was able to secure 2,178 3-D locations for its release of the animated pic How to Train Your Dragon. (And that includes IMAX.) That’s quite impressive work considering Alice in Wonderland has been holding steady in theaters for three weeks, and Clash of the Titans is barreling into those same theaters next weekend. Paramount also requires two-week guarantees so Warner Bros. may have a real fight on its hands next weekend as they scramble for 3-D screens. Regardless, this weekend Dragon is destined to win the number one slot. How well it does has a lot to do with the 3-D upcharge, which is going up between $3-$5 million at most theaters around the country. If consumers don’t balk at the increased fees, the weekend gross could be a lot higher than tracking suggests. It will take a lot of 3-D tickets, though, to get to numbers as great as Monsters vs. Aliens, Dreamworks Animation’s hit last spring that bowed to close to $60 million.

Also jockeying for some box office coin is MGM’s R-rated comedy with the best name since Snakes on a Plane. The John Cusack-starrer Hot Tub Time Machine will open in 2750 theaters and while the studio is trying to tamp down expectations for the film with the $35 million budget, prognosticators think its could get up to $20 million for the weekend.

Read on for my predictions.

1. How to Train Your Dragon: $45 million

This animated flick starring the voice talent of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and Jonah Hill has generated intensely positive reviews. And its advertising campaign during the Olympics was terrific. Still, a film about dragons and vikings that is the perfect flick for young boys isn’t tracking like most Dreamworks Animated movies. There is little chance it will get to the numbers the studio put up last year at this time for Monsters vs. Aliens, yet it’s a far better film. Perhaps the studio will just have to settle for a gross that begins with a four — at this point I think that’s what they are hoping for — and then bet on the fact that audiences will be very likely to return during Spring Break, which is staggered over the next couple of weeks.

2. Hot Tub Time Machine: $20 million

It’s R-rated, it’s got a great title, but unlike Snakes on a Plane, it seems Hot Tub Time Machine has more jokes in it then its brilliant four-word headline. As such, the movie directed by Cusack’s long-time collaborator Steve Pink — High Fidelity‘s screenwriter — should deliver to audiences in a much more satisfying way.

3. Alice in Wonderland: $17 million

The film has already grossed over $270 million domestically, so don’t feel too sad that Disney is losing the majority of its 3-D screens on this one. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can catch it in 3-D in over 1,450 locations. This weekend’s box office, however, will drop at least 50 percent without those high revenue-generating screens.

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: $13 million

Yes, Wimpy Kid has some big competition for children’s eyeballs with Dragon in the pipeline. But the film has scored really well with audiences and the book is a beloved treasure, among boys especially. Those two factors could help Wimpy hold in pretty well its second weekend in theaters. Expect a 40 percent drop for this charming film.

5. The Bounty Hunter: $9 million

Gerard Butler should be thankful that Dragon‘s going to open to number one since he couldn’t get there last weekend with his romantic actioner. This weekend, expect at least a 50 percent fall, perhaps more as audiences turn to John Cusack for some R-rated laughs.

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