Even with 'Potter' pull, pic eyes $40 mil opening

Will MGM’s “Die Another Day” live another month?

Latest James Bond actioner is considered a lock to post franchise’s biggest opening ever, so the real test may be whether “Day” will succumb to box office competish over future weeks. “Day” bows today with 3,313 engagements.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” matriculates to a soph sesh after an $88.4 million opening weekend. So even a big 50% drop would yield $44 million, making family phenom an easy bet for at least a strong No. 2 this weekend, with a Bond-beating perf a real possibility.

Still, with increasingly hot Halle Berry the femme foil to Pierce Brosnan this time around, expectations of a boffo domestic “Day” are high, and B.O. in Blighty is already terrific. But MGM execs weren’t anxious to “Jinx” the all-important release with overly heated prognostications.

“We expect this movie to do as well as the last one, both domestically and internationally,” MGM vice chairman-chief operating officer Chris McGurk allowed. “If it does more than that, we’ll be absolutely thrilled.”

The last 007 actioner, “The World Is Not Enough,” opened at $35.5 million domestically in November 1999 and went on to gross $126.9 million domestically and $361 million worldwide. Most handicappers put “Day” well into $40 million with its bow.

“If it opens with anything starting with a 4, we’re going to be very, very happy,” Lion’s distrib prexy Erik Lomis said.

Pre-release trackings show pic interest is “through the roof” among young and old males, as well as with older females, Lomis said. Young femmes are only a tad more tepid in their pre-release fervor for franchise’s 20th installment, he said.

Hefty pricetag

Nevertheless, the pressure to pack multiplexes on pricey pics is huge, and not just for the vital opening weekend. Lion has acknowledged production costs exceeded $100 million — with one well-placed source mentioning $140 million — so it will bear watching whether pic holds up against increasingly heavy holiday competish over coming weeks.

Highly promoted pic faces only one other truly wide opener this sesh — New Line’s “Friday After Next,” a second sequel to the urban actioner that again stars hip-hopper-turned-thesp Ice Cube. Franchise’s last outing, 2000’s “Next Friday,” opened at $16.9 million; “Friday After Next” unspools with 1,616 playdates.

Slow rollout

Universal also opens its Kevin Kline starrer “The Emperor’s Club” this weekend, but the prep school drama is getting a barely wide initial run of just 809 theaters. B.O. tracker Nielsen EDI considers anything more than 600 runs a wide release, but U’s strategy hinges on nailing a solid bow in the single-digital millions and platforming the pic thereafter on positive reviews and word of mouth.

Potentially bigger tests for Lion’s latest Bond pic may lie ahead. On Nov. 27 — the day before Thanksgiving — an incredible five wide releases elbow their way into the marketplace.

Turkey sesh openers include Disney’s high-profile “Treasure Planet.” Mouse family toon would seem to pose more threat to “Potter” than Bond, but frame’s other releases include older-skewing titles such as George Clooney sci-fier “Solaris.”

More event pics follow throughout December, including Warner Bros. sequel laffer “Analyze That” (Dec. 6), Paramount sci-fier “Star Trek: Nemesis” (Dec. 13) and New Line sequel fantasy “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (Dec. 18).

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