'Jimmy Neutron,' 'Majestic' among pix battling at the box office

This weekend’s box office competish will be more crowded than a Macy’s on Christmas Eve.

Distribs seeking a little B.O. daylight got good news recently when Miramax bumped romancer “Kate & Leopold” to a Christmas bow. The bad news is that trimmed the frame’s field of openers to a still-whopping five, including the fave to grab the brass ring, New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”

The high-profile New Line fantasy bows in 3,359 theaters today, and double-booking in many venues will push screen count to a distrib-record 5,700-plus. “Rings” is expected to ring up big grosses throughout the weekend, even after being joined by the four other openers Friday.

But despite comparisons to blockbuster “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” it’s highly unlikely “Rings” will produce anything like that family fantasy’s record $90.3 million bow.

‘Harry’ advantages

The five-day bow for “Rings” — compared with a three-day debut for “Harry” — should buff its opening figure a bit. But the pre-Christmas frame is much less successful a launch sesh historically than the pre-Turkey Day weekend on which “Harry” went out.

Consider, too, that “Harry” bowed on an unprecedented 8,000-plus screens and that “Rings” is challenged by a longer running time of 2 hours and 50 minutes than “Harry’s” 2½ hours. Still, “Rings” is tracking strongly among a broad range of demos and looks on track for $10 million or so a day.

“I think for the five days we should do in excess of $60 million,” said Rolf Mittweg, New Line’s worldwide prexy of marketing and distribution. “But I can’t really say, because people haven’t really opened movies on the Wednesday before Christmas.”

The frame’s Friday openers include Fox’s “Joe Somebody,” Paramount’s “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” Universal’s “How High” and Warner Bros.’ “The Majestic.”

Mittweg’s projected opening figure for “Rings” could prove conservative if the first-day gross flirts with the $20 million mark. Heavy advance-ticket sales reveal lots of pent-up interest, stoked by Internet fan sites for fans of the “Rings” book trilogy and f/x-heavy fantasies in general.

“Indications are that people want to see this movie, and they want to see it fast,” Mittweg acknowledged.

But distrib is hoping more for boffo playability from “Rings” than a phenom bow, New Line marketing maven Russell Schwartz stressed. “This movie is all about longevity and not about opening-day or opening-weekend numbers.”

Critical boost

Advance reviews have been mostly positive, and distrib is already hoping “Rings” lands on critics’ end-of-year top 10 lists. Kudos attention would also pump pic’s legs.

The $90 million-plus fantasy — first of three planned adaptations of the “Rings” trilogy — is opening simultaneously in many foreign territories. “I’m pretty sure it will turn into a worldwide phenomenon,” New Line’s Mittweg said.

Distrib sold off rights in many territories to minimize risk exposure on pricey pic by an estimated 65% or more.

Meanwhile, among sesh’s other openers, prerelease tracking data is particularly soft for “Joe Somebody” — and in all demos. So, bow could be limited to low single-digit millions, though star Tim Allen could grab a piece of the B.O. fruitcake eventually.

“Come Christmas Day, we’ll be the family movie for everybody,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said.

“Jimmy Neutron” will look to wrest the youngest moviegoers and their parents from preoccupation with “Harry” and Disney/Pixar tooner “Monsters, Inc.” But “Jimmy” enjoys good marketing synergies with corporate cousin and co-production partner Nickelodeon, and B.O. in the midteen millions should prove doable.

“We are very well positioned for family business over the holidays,” Par vice chairman Rob Friedman said. “We’re the new kid on the block.”

“How High,” an urban laffer toplined by rapper Method Man, reps another attempts at “Rings” counterprogramming.

“The tracking has been excellent,” U distrib topper Nikki Rocco said.

Despite a relatively modest 1,266-theater run, it’s believed “High” could climb above $10 million in three-day B.O.

“The Majestic” is an important year-end release for Warners. So, distrib took heart that 500 sneaks of the pic went reasonably well last weekend.

“‘The Majestic’ is one of my personal favorites this year,” Warners distrib boss Dan Fellman said. “I’m a big fan of (helmer) Frank Darabont (‘The Green Mile’).”

Christmas crunch

Still, with substantial production costs including topliner Jim Carrey’s big salary, pic must not only open well but also show majestic legs. That task gets tougher on Christmas, when another two pics unspool wide — Sony’s highly anticipated “Ali” biopic, starring Will Smith, and Miramax’s Meg Ryan-Hugh Jackman romancer “Kate & Leopold.”

“Ali” was originally set for Dec. 7 — opposite Warners’ successful “Ocean’s Eleven” — before moving to Christmas amid 11th-hour sked shuffling.

“Christmas Day has proven a good opening day in the past, so we feel good about it,” Sony marketing and distrib topper Jeff Blake said. “Hopefully we can break through, but it’s a pretty crowded market .”

There are also a pair of notable limited openers among Yuletide releases.

U/Imagine’s Russell Crowe starrer “A Beautiful Mind” hits 11 theaters in nine markets Friday, then expands into 500 theaters on Christmas. Miramax’s Kevin Spacey-toplined “The Shipping News” is set for a limited opening that expands to the top 80 markets on Christmas.

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