Aliens aiming for boffo B.O.

Tentpole pic bow wages six day 'War'

Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise’s “War of the Worlds” embarks on a six-day opening stretch today, invading 3,908 theaters.

The nearly weeklong “weekend” means “Worlds” could be a blockbuster by the time the Fourth of July fireworks go off Monday night.

The pic has presold elements — recognizable title, helmer and star — but is harder to gauge than a blockbuster franchise, so Paramount and DreamWorks don’t know what to expect for their tentpole (which they peg at a $135 million budget).

“It’s not like ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Batman,’ ” said Par distrib prexy Wayne Lewellen. “You’re not dealing with a sequel or a movie with a cult following.”

Tracking has been strong in all four quadrants for the PG-13 H.G. Wells adaptation. Polls show 21% pick “Worlds” as their first choice for the weekend, with men over age 25 showing the most interest.

Still, the tracking numbers aren’t at the heights reached by “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” but they are significantly higher than those for “Batman Begins.”

“Sith” set a box office record with a $50 million Thursday, but that was largely because of the huge demand for its midnight showings, which took in $16.5 million.

Two weeks ago, “Batman” posted a $15 million opening Wednesday.

“Obviously, I would hope to be better than their 15,” said Lewellen, “and I would like to be in ‘Star Wars’ range without their midnight shows.”

Since “Worlds” didn’t have any midnight shows Tuesday night, champagne would be flowing on Melrose if the pic got close to $36 million on Wednesday.

But reaching such great heights is no sure thing. Reports from exhibs were that advance ticket sales were hardly awe-inspiring.

The extraordinarily long opening weekend will mean “World’s” opening will be even more dependent on word of mouth, especially because Par (which is handling domestic distrib) withheld the pic from critics until just before opening.

Still, “Worlds” is expected to put up some of the biggest numbers Spielberg has seen recently. His most recent summer actioner was 2002’s “Minority Report,” also starring Cruise, which opened at $35.7 million, on its way to a $132 million cume. The summer before that, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” struck up $29.3 million on its way to $78.6 million.

Spielberg’s last monster summer pic was eight years ago with sequel “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” which tallied $72.1 million in its first weekend, on its way to $229 million.

Cruise, too, has been absent from summer blockbusters. His last was in 2000 with “Mission: Impossible 2,” which racked up $91.8 million in a six-day opening stretch starting the Wednesday before Memorial Day.

Since “Worlds” is opening over the stretch when “Spider-Man 2” debuted last year, the overall box office would need a miracle to surpass 2004 results.

“Spider-Man 2” started on a Wednesday with $40 million. During its five-day opening stretch (July 4 fell on Sunday) it had taken $152 million. The webslinger sequel lifted the marketplace’s total four-day take to $223 million.

The frame’s other new entrant is 20th Century Fox’s “Rebound,” a Martin Lawrence basketball laffer that debuts on Friday. Fox had dated “Fantastic Four” for the Fourth of July frame, but moved it after the relatively late-in-the-game dating of “War of the Worlds” over the holiday stretch.

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