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‘Kill’ leads weekend openers

'Vol. 1' likely to bow with over $20 mil

This article was updated at 7:34 p.m.

A crush of big new pics could bloody box office combatants over this Columbus Day weekend, so it’s appropriate one of the wide openers is Quentin Tarantino’s chopsocky bloodfest “Kill Bill Vol. 1.”

Not that the Miramax title is likely to fall victim in the frenetic frame. In fact, pre-release tracking shows “Bill” slaying more than $20 million through Sunday to open at No. 1.

Still, “Bill” is unlikely to reach more rarified B.O. zones for three reasons: its R rating, audience overlap with competing pics and the calendar. Even over the holiday-bolstered weekend session, only one October pic has ever grossed more than $30 million.

But the weekend does come with a big bonus for moviegoers — a wide range of choices.

In addition to a balanced lineup of new titles, notable holdovers include well-reviewed arthousers legging out a road to prospective riches as Academy voters screw on thinking caps over kudos choices. Focus Features’ platformer “Lost in Translation” is perhaps chief among those looking for continued market traction, with the Bill Murray starrer finally reaching wide release last weekend.

Wide openers this session also include Universal’s “Intolerable Cruelty,” a darkly romantic comedy starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones set for 2,560 engagements; MGM’s “Good Boy!,” a family laffer getting a buoyant 3,225 playdates; and Artisan’s “The House of the Dead,” a horror pic headed for 1,520 locations. Frame’s limited releases include Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated drama “Mystic River,” directed by Clint Eastwood. It will open in 13 theaters.

“Bill” unspools in 3,120 venues.

“We think that critically the picture is going to be embraced,” said Miramax chief operating officer Rick Sands. “And the tracking is very encouraging.”

Indeed, pic awareness is high among all demos, and must-see interest is strong with all males. But femmes are less keen to take part in the famously gore-prone helmer’s latest action romp, and there is some overlap in older-male interest between “Bill” and “Intolerable Cruelty.”

Sophisticated ‘Cruelty’

“Cruelty” is rated PG-13 yet isn’t expected to draw many patrons under 17.

“It’s a very sophisticated comedy,” U distribution maven Nikki Rocco said. “The two (stars) have a tremendous chemistry, and I think it’s a movie people will talk about.”

Forecasts have pic bowing in the mid-teen millions. Males age 45-59 are most lathered to view the Coen brothers pic, with males under 25 among the least excited, according to pre-release tracking surveys.

Lion distribution topper Erik Lomis called PG-rated “Boy” a “very, very modestly budgeted family film” likely to play best to children under age 12. Live actioner’s talking dogs are voiced by Matthew Broderick and Brittany Murphy.

“We don’t have to make a lot of box office to make money,” Lomis added. Pic is expected to gross mid- to high-single-digit millions over three days.

The target male audience for Artisan’s R-rated “House of the Dead” overlaps substantially with that for “Bill,” but execs expect the vidgame-based scarefest to skew a bit younger than the Miramax pic. Projections see “Dead” — an inexpensive negative pickup for Artisan — digging up single-digit millions.

“Dead” better ring up most of its coin this weekend, as New Line’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” hits the marketplace like a B.O. buzzsaw the following frame. Competish among adult-oriented pics will also pick up over the Oct. 17 session, as “Mystic River” — toplined by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne — expands nationwide even as 20th Century Fox bows wide opener “Runaway Jury,” starring Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and John Cusack.

Columbus bump

Meanwhile, this weekend’s B.O. should be bolstered a bit by the Monday holiday. Some 43% of all U.S. students are off from school and many workers also have the day off.

“It has a small impact,” said Dan Marks, exec VP at Nielsen EDI. “You get a boost on Sunday evenings from kids out of school the next day and the same with some workers.”

Grosses are also stronger than usual on the Monday holiday itself, Marks said.

Only two pics have grossed more than $20 million over the weekend preceding Columbus Day. “Meet the Parents” rung up $28.6 million in 2000, and “Training Day” took in $22.6 million in 2001.

“Red Dragon” topped B.O. rankings with $17.6 million over last year’s Columbus Day frame, its second weekend in release. Its opening frame haul of $36.5 million reps an October record as the month’s only $30 million-plus weekend gross ever.

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