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MOVIE PROJECTOR

Cinemas entering the holiday stretch

'National Treasure' is expected to open big while Apatow's 'Walk Hard' aims for laughs.

December 21, 2007|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Two of Hollywood's most successful producers will be tested this weekend as the industry gears up for the holiday stretch: Jerry Bruckheimer, the king of the popcorn blockbuster, and Judd Apatow, a clown prince of crude comedy.

Bruckheimer, whose credits include the "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Bad Boys" franchises, could have another No. 1 hit with the sequel "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" -- although Will Smith stands in his way.

The big-budget production, starring Nicolas Cage as a treasure hunter investigating the Lincoln assassination, is expected to rack up about $40 million in ticket sales, though its opening might depend on how well the movie business fares in the face of last-minute Christmas shopping. Its rival for the top spot figures to be Smith's sci-fi thriller "I Am Legend," last weekend's champ, aided by repeat business.

"The concept is pre-sold," Bruckheimer said of his follow-up to 2004's "National Treasure," which grossed $347 million at theaters worldwide and became a bestselling DVD.

"With the first one, audiences had no idea what to expect," the 62-year-old producer said. "The fact that it was so entertaining caught them by surprise."

Walt Disney Co. releases the sequel today at more than 3,500 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, along with half the overseas markets. The PG-rated movie has drawn high interest from all demographics, consumer tracking surveys show.

"Treasure" might beat the original's $35.1-million launch, but it won't match last weekend's stunning $77.2-million opening for Warner Bros.' "I Am Legend."

"Legend" faced little competition because the fantasy "The Golden Compass" was already fading and the only other major new release, 20th Century Fox's "Alvin and the Chipmunks," was aimed at families. So "Legend" got the largest auditoriums at most multiplexes.

This weekend, "Treasure" faces not only "Legend" and the equally surprising "Alvin" but also four new films that will get their pieces of the box-office pie.

Johnny Depp headlines the bloody Broadway adaptation "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

The political romp "Charlie Wilson's War" stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Apatow's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," starring longtime second fiddle John C. Reilly, is a spoof of musical biopics.

And "P.S. I Love You," with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, is a romance designed as female counter-programming.

Studios are trying to look beyond the weekend, figuring they will get their best read on results by Jan. 6, when business tapers off from the holiday season peak.

Movies typically gross three to four times their opening weekend totals, but pictures that come out on this weekend tend to generate six to eight times their openings, thanks to school and work vacations that leave consumers with loads of spare time.

A year ago, the Ben Stiller comedy "Night at the Museum" opened at $30.4 million and went on to reap $250.9 million. This weekend's best bet is that "Alvin," which opened at $44.3 million, will be No. 3. If it holds tough, as family films often do, it could snare an additional $25 million.

Four of the new films are fighting for fourth place.

Thursday's tracking figures point to a $10-million opening for "P.S.," according to Hollywood insiders, despite its weak reviews and a lead actress known for edgier dramas (last week the Alliance of Women Film Journalists awarded Swank a dubious honor as "actress most in need of a new agent").

The semi-secret weapon that could propel "P.S." into fourth place is Butler, who helped lure devoted females to the battle epic "300" this spring.

"Sweeney Todd," a DreamWorks-Warner Bros. co-production, opens at a relatively sparse 1,250 theaters and is a bit of an oddity as an R-rated musical. The ratings board cited its "graphic bloody violence" -- i.e., rampant throat slashing.

But it appears to be the other chief contender for the No. 4 spot.

Depp and director Tim Burton have been a formidable pair with such hits as "Sleepy Hollow," and the actor's young female fan base is also the core audience for the horror genre.

The movie has earned rave reviews and could be in the thick of the Oscar race, so regardless of how it opens it figures to hold up well in the coming weeks.

Tracking for Universal Pictures' "Charlie Wilson" indicates a $7-million start -- paltry by the standards of its A-list cast. But it plays to the over-40 set, the type of fan unlikely to rush out on the opening weekend, so it also could show legs.

Universal is playing up the movie's comic aspects in its marketing campaign but not shying away from the politics.

"This is not a dark, depressing film wrapped up in a pretty bow to give people the wrong impression," said Adam Fogelson, president of marketing.

Sony Pictures' "Walk Hard" is headed for a $6-million opening, if tracking is on target.

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