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‘Meet’ market

Limited releases won't stop 'Fockers'

With no new wide releases this weekend, Universal’s “Meet the Fockers” is prepped to continue its domination of the holiday box office.

After ringing up $70.5 million in its first five days of release, pic has continued to do monster biz, grossing $13.9 million on Monday and $12.6 million on Tuesday. With a cume of $97.1 million going into Wednesday, pic will easily cross $100 million on the eighth day of its run.

Despite the pic’s strong late-year run, the 2004 box office looks more likely to end up below 2003, the second year in a row that receipts and admissions have declined.

Several pics will debut in limited release over the last weekend of the year. On Wednesday, U introduced “In Good Company,” helmed and written by Paul Weitz, on three screens in Gotham, L.A. and Toronto. Laffer, starring Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Scarlett Johansson, is set to go wide on more than 1,600 screens Jan. 14.

Coastal-dwelling Johansson fans can also see her this weekend in the bow of Lions Gate’s “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” which starts on eight screens in L.A. and Gotham.

Also starting with limited bicoastal runs on Wednesday is Thinkfilm’s “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” starring Sean Penn as a disaffected American, and Sony Pictures Classics “The Merchant of Venice,” starring Al Pacino. Both pics started on four screens in L.A. and Gotham.

Lions Gate is also aggressively expanding “Beyond the Sea” this week, adding 377 screens for a total run of 383.

Newmarket will expand “The Woodsman” more moderately, to 13 screens from the six it opened at on Christmas Eve. Newmarket topper Bob Berney said the new screens are in existing markets: adding a screen in Pasadena in L.A. and new engagements in the Bay Area.

Pic started out last week with $53,985, averaging $8,997 per screen. “I’m reasonably happy,” Berney said. “It needs a little time to generate word of mouth.” He added, “I was expecting a little more Saturday, but the subject matter may be a little tough to go out for on Christmas Day.”

Beyond “Fockers,” midweek biz has been strong across the board for wide release pics. Paramount’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” grossed more than $5 million on both Monday and Tuesday to bring its cume to just a shade under $70 million. Fox’s “Fat Albert” has grossed more than $3 million on both days, boosting its cume to $16.6 million.

Warners’ Santa toon “The Polar Express” has also played well in the days after Christmas. Its Monday gross of $2.4 million was up 16.5% from Dec. 20. Strong post-holiday play has brought its cume through Tuesday to $144.9 million.

The last-minute push will help 2004’s numbers, but it’s not likely to leave the year in the black. By Nielsen EDI’s tally, annual box office as of Sunday was $8.894 billion, just 0.4% above 2003 through that point. EDI ends their year on the first weekday after New Year’s. To top last year’s final figure of $9.158 billion, theaters need to do $264 million of biz in the final seven days.

New Year’s weekend last year was especially robust, with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” grossing $28 million in its third week and “Cheaper by the Dozen” picking up nearly $22 million in its sophomore session. All told, total box office amounted to $142 million for the frame.

Last week, total box office was just $134.8 million, hampered by Christmas Eve falling on a Friday, and the upcoming weekend, in which New Year’s Eve falls on Friday, is expected to show a decline.

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