'Hawk' grows, 'Dogs' eyes kids in MLK frame

HOLLYWOOD — Sony’s military drama “Black Hawk Down” is the highest-profile pic marching into wide release over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, a box office frame of growing importance.

“It’s never really produced the really big openings that some other holiday weekends have, but it’s been gaining in (prominence),” Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake said. “It’s a great spot to launch one of the first big wide releases of the year.”

“Black Hawk,” which had been generating buzz over a possible Oscar pic nom, expands from limited to saturation-level distribution in 3,101 theaters this weekend.

‘Shipping’ founders

Meanwhile, one pic that won’t be hitting wide release as originally planned is Miramax’s “The Shipping News.” Kevin Spacey starrer had been skedded to broaden to a wide 1,200-plus engagements by this weekend, but moody drama now numbers among several specialty pics set for more modest expansions.

Disney family laffer “Snow Dogs” will bow in 2,302 venues. As such, Cuba Gooding Jr. starrer is frame’s only true wide opener.

Nevertheless, sesh is now considered a prime time to launch or expand important releases. Last year, Paramount teen drama “Save the Last Dance” opened with a frame record $27.5 million through the Monday holiday.

This year, industry insiders say “Black Hawk” could fly north of $30 million. “We’re feeling good,” Sony’s Blake allowed.

Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Ridley Scott-helmed pic cost an estimated $90 million.

“The Martin Luther King weekend has definitely moved from being a minor holiday launching point for films to being a major launching point,” observed Tom Borys, prexy of B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI. “It’s certainly challenging Presidents Day in stature.”

Part of the reason for that is what Borys called a “triple punch,” boasting holiday holdovers in addition to new releases and expanding pics. Strong holdovers this year include New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Watching youth auds

About 80% of U.S. students are off for the MLK holiday on Monday and many workers as well, according to EDI data. That’s roughly the same situation as for the upcoming Presidents Day, though it still reps fewer prospective moviegoers than on the massive Independence Day or Memorial Day holidays. Unlike the sustained boffo B.O. on those holidays, MLK Day grosses generally rep a 40%-50% drop from the preceding Sunday’s B.O.

Still, MLK-weekend Sunday and Monday grosses are much stronger than on a typical Sunday and Monday, respectively.

With most kids off this Monday, young-skewing “Snow Dogs” should poke into the teen millions over four days, observers said. Alaska dog-race tale cost an estimated $31 million.

“The vast majority of auds will be young teens and below,” Mouse House distrib prexy Chuck Viane observed. “But I think we’re sitting pretty.”

A Miramax exec who declined to be identified said distrib cancelled plans to add another 1,000 screens for “Shipping News” roughly two weeks ago, when grosses began underperforming expectations. The $35 million bestseller adaptation will add only 184 theaters today for a total of 450.

‘Bedroom’ add-ons

On the other hand, Miramax is widening Sissy Spacek starrer “In the Bedroom” a little more aggressively than once envisioned amid broad critics’ kudos. “Bedroom” rolls into about 50 more locations today for a total of 470-475.

Universal Focus’ French-language chopsocky actioner “Brotherhood of the Wolf” expands to 107 screens this weekend from an opening 21. “Wolf” devoured $479,363 (an impressive $22,827 per theater) last weekend.

“This was an exceptional launch,” said U exec veep Mark Kristol, who credited positive reviews and good word-of-mouth.

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