'Alien' takes on 'Princess' at weekend B.O.

Friday the 13th brings “Alien vs. Predator” from 20th Century Fox to 3,395 theaters and Warner Bros.’ trading card-based “Yu-Gi-Oh!” to 2,411 locations.

Walt Disney continues its run of late-summer family fare with the opening of “The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” which struck up $8.5 million from 2,926 venues Wednesday.

Strong tracking on “Alien vs. Predator” puts it in line to equal last year’s resuscitated franchise faceoff, “Freddy vs. Jason,” which opened in the same frame with $36.4 million. The strong perf of horror matchup pic encouraged Fox to give “Alien vs. Predator” — a concept first explored in comicbooks years ago — a greenlight.

Monster battle aud is expected to be primarily males, giving Disney one of the summer’s best counterprogramming opportunities for “Diaries 2.”

“The pent-up demand of young girls to see this movie is huge,” said Mouse House distrib chief Chuck Viane. Original “Diaries” opened the first week of August 2001 to $22.9 million from 2,537 theaters, eventually grossing $108 million. Since then, Viane said, it’s become “one of those DVDs that has been seen over and over.”

The “Diaries 2″ Wednesday opening was bigger than the Friday opening for the original. While Wednesday bows usually eat a little business out of the three-day weekend frame, “Diaries 2″ should get past the original’s $22.9 million.

Since “Diaries,” Disney also found late summer success for its family pic “Freaky Friday,” which bowed in the first week of August. It went out on a Wednesday with a first-day gross of $6 million. In the following three-day frame, it picked up $22.2 million and a five-day total of $33.1 million on its way to a tidy $110 million cume.

“Yu-Gi-Oh!” is the latest movie to be adapted from a Japanese trading card phenomenon. Warners teamed with 4Kids Entertainment, the U.S. marketers of “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” to release a string of “Pokemon” movies over the past few years.

Openings for these sorts of movies are highly dependent on the strength of the fad. For instance, “Pokemon: The First Movie” opened to $31 million and cumed $85.7 million in 1999. But Warners last, “Pokemon 3: The Movie,” bowed to just $8.2 million in 2001 before topping out at $17 million.

Opening in limited release are Lions Gate’s “Danny Deckchair” on four screens, Palm’s “Tom Dowd and the Language of Music” on 10 screens, Regent’s “Merci Docteur Rey” on 10, Indican’s “L.A. Twister” on two and Zeitgeist’s “Cowards Bend the Knee” at the Film Forum in Gotham.

Warner Independent, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary this week, bows its third film, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” on seven screens.

Among the holdovers, Fox Searchlight’s “Napoleon Dynamite” continues to play strongly, with a cume of $13.7 million through Wednesday. Going into its 10th week in release, pic will expand to 563 screens, with plans to widen it by several hundred more through the month.

Searchlight beat out MTV Films to acquire the pic for a low seven-figure sum at Sundance but split the film in May with Paramount to bring on MTV as a marketing partner.

Since then, Jon Heder has appeared frequently on the MTV networks in character as Napoleon on “Total Request Live,” the “MTV Movie Awards” as well as numerous spots on MTV, MTV2 and MTV’s college net.

Searchlight topper Peter Rice said total P&A costs are around $10 million, but MTV Films’ Van Tofler said the additional promos are worth “many millions of dollars” more.

“We go into this not just for the financial return,” Tofler said, “but also this is a movie that uniquely appeals to our audience and enhances our brand.”

Push for teens has helped the pic play not just at arthouses but also in several megaplexes.

“Napoleon” is at a critical point in its distrib pattern. Steadily working its way into eight figures — last weekend’s $1.7 million gross was its biggest frame to date — pic’s gross is similar to what Newmarket’s “Whale Rider” had cumed after its ninth week ($11.3 million) as well as Searchlight’s own “Bend It Like Beckham” ($13.2 million).

Most recently, Napoleon showed up at the Teen Choice Awards, playing tetherball onstage with Nicole Richie. “He was a huge star,” Rice said. “The audience all knew who he was. He’s becoming a cult hero to kids.”

In addition, Searchlight is widening “Garden State” to 175 screens, an addition of 140, in its third week. Pic has had a five-figure screen average in its first two weeks. Cume stands at $1.2 million.

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