Old acquaintances ring in ’06

'Kong,' 'Narnia' still at center of B.O. battle

As 2005 ends, Hollywood’s focus on the box office will be on what’s old rather than new — the ongoing battle between “King Kong” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” along with the jostling in the crowded specialty arena.

No major wide releases are planned as studios deal with the prospect of a holiday weekend with a soft New Year’s Eve on Saturday, the first such occurrence since 1994, followed by potential recovery over Sunday and Monday.

After a flurry of pre-Christmas openings last week, only two pics are launching this week, both in platform releases — DreamWorks’ Woody Allen thriller “Match Point,” which debuted impressively on Wednesday with $96,000 in eight theaters in Los Angeles and New York; and the Weinstein Co.’s comedy-thriller “The Matador” at four playdates today.

Universal’s “King Kong,” which narrowly won the Christmas weekend, finished a close second to “Narnia” on Tuesday and Wednesday to push its 15-day domestic gross past $135 million. It’s now the 13th highest grosser of the year.

Disney’s “Narnia” took in $9.2 million Tuesday and $8.8 million Wednesday to lift its Stateside total over $183 million after three weeks. The family-friendly fantasy is now the ninth largest domestic grosser of 2005.

DreamWorks plans to widen “Match Point,” written and directed by Allen, on Jan. 6 into eight more markets including Boston, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco, followed by another widening two weeks later. Studio exec Don Harris noted many opening-day showings were sold out, thanks to the combo of strong critical notices and four Golden Globe noms.

“The Matador,” starring Pierce Brosnan, represents the year’s final foray into the specialty market, as adult-oriented entries seek traction.

The weekend also will see the ongoing battle among half a dozen comedies — Sony’s “Fun With Dick and Jane,” Fox’s “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “The Family Stone,” Warner’s “Rumor Has It,” U/Sony’s “The Producers” and Fox Searchlight’s “The Ringer” — to break out from the pack. Prospects look brightest for “Dick and Jane,” with nearly $39 million, and the “Cheaper” sequel, with $30 million-plus, both in eight days.

Sony’s “Memoirs of a Geisha,” which went wide last weekend, will be a factor, along with Warner’s sturdy “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which has grossed $267 million domestically and $515 million overseas.

Focus’ “Brokeback Mountain” is adding 52 playdates and going into 10 new markets to take its screen count to 269, while Universal’s waiting until next weekend to widen “Munich,” which topped $8 million in its first six days at 532 engagements. Both pics posted socko per-screen averages over the Christmas weekend, with $13,599 and $11,355, respectively.

“Brokeback,” which opened Wednesday in Indianapolis and Milwaukee with over $9,000 in each market, had cumed $9.4 million as of Wednesday.

On a smaller scale, a trio of specialty contenders that performed well over Christmas move into their soph seshes — New Line’s “The New World,” Disney’s “Casanova” and Sony Classics’ “Cache.”

Moonstone Entertainment and China Film Group will handle a one-week Oscar qualifying run starting today in Los Angeles for Chen Kaige’s “Master of the Crimson Armor.” The Weinstein Co. abandoned plans this week for domestic release of the actioner, China’s official entry for the foreign-language Oscar.

On the foreign side, “King Kong” and “Narnia” face a similar battle for supremacy. UIP expects “Kong” to cross $200 million in international grosses today, making it the fastest Universal title to hit that mark; its top territories are the U.K. ($29.5 million), France ($17.1 million), South Korea ($13.3 million) and Germany ($13.2 million).

“Narnia,” which held off facing “Kong” in many foreign markets until last weekend, trails the big gorilla by about $25 million on the international side.

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