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Mel Gibson vs. Josh Duhamel: This Weekend's Box Office Battle For the Bottom!

To truly understand this weekend’s opening-movie matchup of Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness and When in Rome with Josh Duhamel, you must first refamiliarize yourself with the concept of “tragic irony,” which Websters defines as “incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play.” Why do we bring this up? Because this week’s two big openers are a cop movie whose star is now best remembered for screaming drunken anti-Semitic slurs at a cop, versus a romantic comedy starring a guy dogged by rumors of philandering with an Atlanta stripper. Ta-da, tragic irony!

The result? Closely-held audience data by market-research firm Nielsen NRG that has been shared with Vulture shows that both Gibson’s and Duhamel’s films will run a distant second and third to James Cameron’s Avatar. Despite trying to mimic Fox’s sleeper hit Taken in both its posters and release date, Warner Bros.’ Edge of Darkness is both relatively unknown and unpopular with moviegoers — even when compared to its equally flaccid competitor, When in Rome. The NRG data shows that only 7% of people surveyed yesterday had what is called "unaided awareness" of Darkness (the ability to recognize and name a movie from a generic description*); only 6% said it was their first choice film to see this weekend.

By comparison, Disney's romantic comedy with Duhamel and Kristen Bell has twice the unaided awareness (12%), but that doesn't mean people want to see it. Only 2% said it's their first choice. To put that in context, the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' Dear John doesn’t even open until next weekend, but it has “definite interest” from 37% percent of those surveyed, 10% more than Rome.

Ironically, the one thing that may actually help Gibson’s movie, say studio marketing chiefs, is young women Tweeting about how much they dislike When in Rome. Last September, for example, MGM had been forecasting a $15 million opening for its remake of Fame. “But when east coast girls started Tweeting that they didn’t like it, we literally saw it shut down across other [earlier] time zones,” said one production insider. "Those Tweets literally shaved $5 million off our entire weekend.”

*definition corrected after an editing error

Earlier: Avenge Me, Papa!: A Ranking of Mel Gibson and the Most Vengeful Dads on Film

Photo: Warner Bros.