'Family Man,' 'Miss Congeniality' also to battle for weekend

“Cast Away” is expected to be anything but.

Twentieth Century Fox’s Tom Hanks starrer is the buzz among box office watchers for the Christmas weekend, though three other pics also head into wide release today.

“I’m hoping that we have a nice gift under the tree,” Fox domestic distribution prexy Bruce Snyder said.

“This is such a tough weekend to predict anything, because with Christmas on a Monday, Sunday essentially gets wiped out. But I think it’s got what it takes to clear through the clutter. There are a lot of other pictures out there, but I think ‘Cast Away’ will stand above the rest.”

Pic is tracking as well or better than Paramount’s “What Women Want,” which bowed last weekend at $33.6 million. “Cast Away” debuts in 2,766 locations, compared with the 3,012-playdates opening for “What Women Want.”

Universal/Beacon’s “The Family Man” was originally set for a Dec. 15 bow but was bumped a week to avoid the opening of Mel Gibson-toplined “What Women Want.” After the Paramount pic’s December-record bow, the decision is hard to question, though Beacon topper Marc Abraham says the prospect of knocking heads with a Hanks pic is similarly daunting.

“I personally think that we have the best picture of all these movies, but I’m incredibly nervous because it’s an incredibly competitive time of year,” Abraham said.

Nicolas Cage starrer “The Family Man” is tracking below “Cast Away” but well enough to stoke exec hopes for a long run, coming on the heels of extensive sneak previews in 20 cities a couple of weeks ago that went well. “We got nothing but great exit interviews for this movie,” Abraham said.

Warner Bros. distrib prexy Dan Fellman was similarly stoked by sneaks on Warner/Castle Rock’s “Miss Congeniality,” which opens wide today. Some 93% of females rated the Sandra Bullock starrer very good or excellent and 88% of females figured pic a “definite recommend.”

Fellman said the marks were some of the best in Warners history.

Miramax’s “Wes Craven Presents Dracula,” is the weekend’s other wide opener. Pic marks the feature-directing debut of Patrick Lussier, film editor on Miramax’s “Scream” trilogy.

Disney has the Coen brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou” beginning its platformed run today, while Fine Line launches a limited release of the David Mamet-helmed “State and Main,” starring Alec Baldwin.

‘Tiger’ expands

Sony Classics’ “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which has been the hottest recent release among specialty pics, gets an important expansion onto 140 screens today before even broader platforming next month.

“It’ll really tell the tale over the holidays,” mused Sony Classics co-prexy Michael Barker of breakout chances for the Ang Lee-helmed fantasy.

Paramount Classics’ Sam Raimi-helmed supernatural thriller, “The Gift,” and Sony’s Gus Van Sant-directed drama, “Finding Forrester,” are among several pics launching limited runs this weekend to qualify for Academy Awards consideration.

“The Gift,” starring Keanu Reeves and Cate Blanchett, mounts a 74-market run on Jan. 19; “Finding Forrester,” with Sean Connery toplining, goes wide Jan. 12.

Meanwhile, there are some notable releases set for Christmas Day debuts. Those include New Line’s Cuban missile crisis thriller, “Thirteen Days,” Miramax’s adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy bestseller, “All the Pretty Horses” and DreamWorks’ Barry Levinson-helmed “An Everlasting Piece.”

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