Crystal, De Niro comedy only big opener this weekend

Warner Bros. hopes to prove that conventional wisdom is occasionally not so wise as it unspools the high-profile sequel “Analyze That” this weekend.

Most distribs avoid the weekend after Thanksgiving on the theory that moviegoing is so active over the long Turkey Day weekend that prospective patrons hibernate — or holiday shop — the following frame. Theatrical releasing in the immediate aftermath of Thanksgiving historically has involved mostly pics of modest ambition, with no domestic wide-openers at all in the period in 1999 and 2000.

Last year, 20th Century Fox unspooled “Behind Enemy Lines” over the much scorned sesh and did $18.7 million in biz in a second-place finish to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — which took in $23 million in its third weekend. With that kind of coin in the offing, some wonder whether more distribs ought to take a crack at the post-Thanksgiving weekend frame.

Slim pickings

“There’s typically been a lull in moviegoing after the Thanksgiving holiday, but it’s primarily because not much has been offered to (moviegoers),” said Dan Marks, exec veep of B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI.

“The first week of December traditionally has never been much of a release week, either. It falls into the same thinking that the post-Thanksgiving period is too much of a tweener — the kids are still in school and there’s just been a lot of moviegoing over Thanksgiving.”

Conventional wisdom has it that adult pics are most challenged by a post-Thanksgiving ennui, because adults are focused on shopping until later in the holiday season. But that didn’t stop Warners from opening its high-profile remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” last year to a remarkable $38.1 million in biz during the first weekend of December (which fell two weekends after Thanksgiving 2001).

Warners distrib maven Dan Fellman is relying on his damn-the-traditions instincts again this year, skedding much anticipated adult laffer “Analyze That” for 2,635 playdates starting today.

Calendar makeover

“There was a time when early May was considered a horrible time to release a movie, and now it’s considered one of the key times to do so,” Fellman shrugged.

So, hoping similarly to stretch the release calendar in another season, he plans on taking advantage of one of the few uncluttered frames this winter. “There really isn’t any mainstream competition on that date,” Fellman observed.

“I love when people open up a new weekend,” Universal distrib prexy Nikki Rocco enthused. “It’s very invigorating.”

Rocco also has skedded a pic for this weekend — “Empire,” a first release from distrib’s fledgling Latin-oriented Arenas Entertainment label. Pic is set for a barely wide 863 engagements, but Rocco hopes the relatively open weekend will serve as a good launch platform for the urban actioner.

“We believe it’s a great weekend that allows us to launch a film of this type away from the clutter of Thanksgiving and before the clutter of Christmas,” he said.

Among today’s limited releases is Miramax/Dimension sci-fier “Equilibrium,” which is set for 300 theaters.

Of course, current strong players such as Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and MGM’s “Die Another Day” can be expected to reap a good portion of whatever B.O. is available this weekend. But Fellman figures that’s something of a double opportunity for Warners.

“If ‘Harry Potter’ isn’t No. 1 again, I’ll hope ‘Analyze That’ is,” he said.

Meanwhile, it’s tempting to wonder whether several Thanksgiving weekend recent B.O. duds like Disney’s “Treasure Planet” and Paramount’s “Extreme Ops” might have shown more spark if they had waited one more weekend to unspool.

Twentieth Century Fox sci-fier “Solaris,” Sony tooner “Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights” and Miramax horror pic “Wes Craven Presents: They” also found the Turkey Day sesh hard to digest.

Cramped quarters

“Perhaps one of those films might have done better this week, though it’s awfully hard to know for sure,” EDI’s Marks mused. “I certainly think that pictures can benefit from having more of the public eye to themselves as opposed to having shelf space among five movies.”

Similarly, wouldn’t one or another of the eight wide-openers that are crowded four apiece into each of the Dec. 13 and Dec. 20 frames have had an easier time of it marketingwise this weekend?

“Even when none of the other movies coming out at the same time is similar to yours, you end up having your spots competing with theirs on TV,” Marks noted.

On the other hand, he added, “We’ve demonstrated over and over that the market will expand to accommodate several films.”

This weekend will show if the release calendar can again demonstrate similar elasticity.

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