‘Blade’ sharp, but ‘Ocean’ looks swell

'Trinity' versus 'Twelve' at the B.O.

Kicking off the Christmas season at the box office, Warner Bros. unveils “Ocean’s Twelve” in 3,290 theaters today. The weekend’s other newcomer is New Line’s “Blade: Trinity,” which got off to a rowdy $5.5 million start in 2,912 venues Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Disney’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” will unspool in two exclusive engagements at L.A.’s Grove and Gotham’s Lincoln Square. Pic will open on Dec. 25 in 1,000-plus locations.

With its cast of glamorous cut-ups, including George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Twelve” is expected to dominate biz over the weekend.

“Twelve” is launching from the same December berth as “Ocean’s Eleven,” which racked up $38 million in its opening, heading to a domestic cume of $183 million. Its debut was the biggest ever for the second weekend of December, traditionally one of the slower frames on the calendar.

“Twelve” is expected to surpass “Eleven,” but Warners distrib prexy Dan Fellman points out that “Eleven” was the only major release when it opened, while “Twelve” has competition. So he’s keeping a close eye on “Blade,” the third Wesley Snipes vehicle to emerge from the Marvel Comics franchise.

“This year, not only are we back, so the anticipation should be there, but we also have another big movie in the market,” he said. “And I don’t know how much Dec. 10 can expand. I don’t think it’ll affect its long-term box office, but it may have a sobering impact on its opening.”

That said, industry estimates for “Twelve” are scattered in the 40s range. Even though the pic will play more broadly than “Blade,” the two will likely be competing for some of the same young male aud. Still, adults-driven “The Bourne Supremacy,” which like “Twelve” sports multiple European locations, managed a $52.5 million opening this summer; Warners would be jubilant if “Twelve” hits such a height.

‘Blade’ in the running

While both previous “Blade” pics had big debuts, this one is the first to bow in a competitive corridor. Original “Blade” bowed with $17 million in August 1998, while “Blade II” launched with $32.5 million in March 2002.

Based on its Wednesday results, “Trinity” may have a shot at surpassing the “Blade II” numbers, certainly over the five-day span.

Meanwhile, Warners’ “The Polar Express” should remain a factor at the box office. Results Tuesday and Wednesday showed gains from the previous week, and pic is expected to cross the $100 million mark sometime today.

Sony’s “Closer” will also expand this week, adding 146 screens for a total of 622 runs. Sony is also sneaking its Adam Sandler laffer “Spanglish” into more than 1,000 locations. It opens next week.

Other pics opening this weekend include Newmarket’s Danish film “The Green Butchers,” on two screens, and on solo Gotham screens, ThinkFilm’s awards-hopeful doc “Born Into Brothels,” First Look’s Irish thriller “Freeze Frame” and Palm’s Japanese puppet pic “Dolls.”

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