Pix battle at B.O. as summer looms

In the last session before the studios start their summer stretch, distribs and exhibs alike hope that a passel of newcomers will end a blah spring season on a high note.

Theaters are preparing for a lot of new films this weekend, with three wide releases and one national expansion. Going out the widest is Universals thriller “The Interpreter” with 2,758 locations. Also opening are Disney’s “A Lot Like Love” at 2,502 venues and New Line laffer “King’s Ransom” at 1,508. Also, after playing two weeks on seven screens, Sony Pictures Classic’s “Kung Fu Hustle” will move up to 2,500 playdates.

Next week, Sony and Disney will attempt to move up the summer starting line to the end of April with “XXX: State of the Union” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

But in the crowded field this frame, studios are hoping that the aud for each pic is distinct enough to avoid too much competish.

“Interpreter,” rated PG-13, is expected to play best with older adults. “Love” is showing strength among young females, “Kung Fu” is attracting young male attention and “Ransom” has a core aud of African-Americans.

The complex dynamic — as well as recent spring sluggishness at the wickets — make the frame difficult to predict.

“It seems we should all be able to survive. The question is whether anyone is going to go to the movies,” said Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane.

Going for grownups

Among the major openers, “Interpreter,” helmed by Sydney Pollack and starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, will probably have the least competish, as tracking predicts most of its aud will be over 25.

“It’s going to play a little more adult,” said U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco, “and we’re certainly going to have a really good opening weekend.”

Pic may pose the biggest threat to Paramount’s “Sahara,” which had a steady hold last weekend but has primarily drawn adult auds.

The weekend’s biggest question mark surrounds “Kung Fu Hustle.” Pic’s generated stellar grosses on its first seven screens — averaging more than $35,000 per screen for two straight weekends — but it is not clear how it’ll expand beyond Gotham and L.A.

Sony Pictures Classics is highly optimistic, noting the release is the widest ever for a Chinese-lingo film. “It’s going to do very well,” said co-prexy Michael Barker. “It’s a film that has a great word of mouth.”

Label’s strategy is to get the core aud of young males into theaters this week and then expand the aud over time. “We’re the niche marketers,” said co-prexy Tom Bernard. “We look at it as a three-month marathon. We’ve got the 18-25 guys first, then we’ve got to get the older guys with jobs. The trick will be to get the 25-40 guys to bring their wives and girlfriends.”

“Hustle” reps a big-budget commitment for the specialty distrib. “We spent $20 million to get $127 million on ‘Crouching Tiger.’ We spent more on this one.”

In the limited arena, IFC Films debuts historical soccer drama “The Game of Their Lives” on 64 screens. Also opening is MGM’s “Madison” on 93 and doc “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” which Magnolia starts on three screens in Houston and Gotham.

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