Rival pics try to hide their fear of 'Spider'

This article was updated at 7:44 p.m.

Sony’s “Spider-Man 2″ crossed the $200 million milestone Wednesday night. Sequel crossed the mark in a record eight days, one fewer than the original “Spider-Man,” the previous record holder, and it’s expected to stay on top for its second weekend.

Continued dominance by the webslinger at the wickets leaves this weekend’s crop of new films fighting for second place. Contending for silver are DreamWorks’ “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” which opens today at 3,091 theaters, and Walt Disney’s “King Arthur” at 3,086. Also opening in the coming frame is MGM’s “Sleepover” at 2,207 venues.

“Anchorman” looks to have the edge, with expectations for the Will Ferrell vehicle running in the high 20s to low 30s. Mouse House’s “Arthur” opened Wednesday (in 3,003 theaters) with $4.8 million, putting it on pace to gross in the 20s for the three-day frame.

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11″ will widen its release for its third weekend to 2,011 theaters.

All of the holdovers are expected to retain a higher-than-usual percentage of last weekend’s gross because July 4 fell on a Sunday, depressing the day’s grosses. (All of last weekend’s top 10 grossers made more money this past Monday than they did on the holiday.)

After grossing $88.2 million last Friday through Sunday, “Spider-Man 2″ would show $48.5 million for its sophomore session if it drops a modest 45% from last weekend.

Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer wouldn’t hazard a guess, though. “It’s too hard to predict,” he said. “When you’ve done more than $200 million, I presume that whatever we do, it’s going to be good.”

Bruer said midweek grosses bolstered his optimism. “Spider-Man 2″ made $12 million Tuesday and $10 million Wednesday. “The weekdays have been very strong and better than the first ‘Spider-Man,’ ” he said.

Playing to such a broad aud, “Spider-Man 2″ threatens to lure B.O. dollars from all the week’s entries.

But DreamWorks distrib chief Jim Tharp said he doesn’t expect the blockbuster to have a huge effect on the young males and females tracking has shown are the most eager to see “Anchorman.”

“The ‘Spider-Man’ audience is obviously very much the same audience as ‘Anchorman,’ but, you know, a lot saw ‘Spider-Man’ last weekend,” Tharp said. “It’s going to open very well. It looks to me like it’s going toward $30 million, and I think it has a chance of going above 30.”

“Old School,” which DreamWorks released in February 2003, established Ferrell as a star with toplining ability when the comedy cumed $76 million domestically. But pic opened fairly modestly with $11.4 million.

His most recent picture, “Elf,” opened with $31 million, but it launched in a much different play period and was aimed at family auds in addition to Ferrell fans.

Setting the benchmark for comedies this summer has been 20th Century Fox’s “DodgeBall,” which scored a $30.1 million opening last month.

“King Arthur’s” Wednesday opening of $4.8 million is not stellar for the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Antoine Fuqua-helmed medieval epic.

One of a flurry of pics developed after the success of “Gladiator” in 2000, “King Arthur” was planned as an R-rated pic with plenty of gory battle sequences. But in an attempt to widen its potential aud, those scenes were edited to convince the Motion Picture Assn. of America to give it the PG-13 with which it’s been released.

While large-scale event pics have opened on Wednesdays for years, “Arthur” continues this summer’s trend of less heralded films bowing midweek to build word of mouth into the weekend. “King Arthur’s” first day is on a scale similar to that of “White Chicks,” which opened on Wednesday two weeks ago and posted a $4.2 million opening-day gross.

While the two are very different types of pictures, “Arthur” could follow the earlier pic’s pattern for its first five days. “Chicks” picked up substantially on its first Friday, taking in $6.8 million and another $7.5 million on Saturday. “Chicks” finished its first five days with a cume of $27.2 million, $19.7 million of that coming during the three-day span.

MGM distrib prexy Erik Lomis said “Sleepover” is aimed at a very specific demo. “I think it’s going to play very well to young girls,” he said. “And mothers will like it, too.”

Made with a modest production budget, he added, “We don’t have to do a lot to come out ahead on it.”

MGM also will be adding eight screens to the run of “De-Lovely” for a total of 24. Through Wednesday, the Cole Porter biopic had grossed $471,514 on its original 16 screens.

Fox Searchlight plans an aggressive expansion of “The Clearing” this weekend, launching the pic in the top 50 markets, adding 205 screens to its run. Through Wednesday, “Clearing” cume stood at $718,134.

Warner Independent Pictures will boost “Before Sunset” to a total of 63 screens, up from the 20 that opened the Richard Linklater pic last weekend.

Two new documentaries will attempt to continue the strong run for nonfiction features this weekend: Sony Pictures Classics’ surfing doc “Riding Giants,” on 26 screens in Gotham, L.A. and Hawaii, and IFC’s rockumentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” on three screens.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more