Season's B.O. attitude swings upward

While the fall has yet to produce a blockbuster like last year’s “Shark Tale,” this season’s crowded marketplace of mid-level successes has kept the B.O. buoyant.

“Shark Tale” grossed $161 million after bowing with $47.6 million on Oct. 1. This year, it’s been titles such as “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “Flightplan” that have been this season’s savior … so far.

No one’s expecting any giant openings from the three new wide releases this weekend, but respectable if not spectacular perfs should help continue the autumn’s lead over box office in the year-earlier season.

Paramount is opening Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” at 2,517 theaters over the frame, while Sony bows frightener “The Fog” at 2,927. New Line debuts Tony Scott’s model-turned-bounty hunter tale “Domino” at 2,223.

“Elizabethtown” and “Fog” are vying for the top spot on the box office chart with openings expected in the mid-teens, while “Domino” is expected to come in slightly lower.

Since Labor Day through last Sunday, total receipts are at $581 million, 5% ahead of the same period in 2004, according to Nielsen EDI.

The autumn gains have helped chip away at this year’s deficit. Year to date, box office is at $6.6 billion, 7% behind this point last year.

“There’s been a couple of encouraging things,” said Columbia TriStar chair Jeff Blake. “There’s been at least one successful film released every week. Something’s come every week that got people’s attention.”

Early start

Also comforting, he said, is that the season started earlier this year; the season’s biggest opener so far, “Emily Rose” bowed with $30 million on Sept. 9 — what tradition would say would be a slow release date.

So far, “Elizabethtown,” starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, has been attracting most interest among femmes, particularly women under 25.

While most of this year’s horror hits have been driven by femmes, interest in “The Fog” has been balanced between men and women.

“I think low teens would be good for us,” Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer said. “I have the sense of having some things going for us.”

“Domino,” a biopic of the troubled bounty hunter Domino Harvey starring Keira Knightley, is a bit of a wildcard.

“It’s a very hip movie, and we did a lot of Internet marketing for it,” said New Line distrib chief David Tuckerman, but he added that it was difficult to judge the pic’s tracking. “We’ll get the young guys, but there’s also an older female element to it.”

New Line had originally planned to release the pic Aug. 19. Shortly after Harvey committed suicide in late June, however, studio pushed it to the fall.

On the limited front, two pics that scored in their debuts will get expanded this weekend. Warner Independent Pictures is taking George Clooney’s Edward R. Murrow biopic “Good Night, and Good Luck” to 58 fresh engagements for a total run of 69.

Samuel Goldwyn and Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Squid and the Whale” will also get a boost in its second week, padding its run by 23 screens for a total of 27.

Fresh limited pics this week include Slowhand’s “Innocent Voices,” which bows on 65 screens, and ThinkFilm’s “Where the Truth Lies,” which starts on nine in Gotham and L.A.

Also starting bicoastally this weekend are Magnolia’s “Nine Lives” on eight screens and Strand’s “Loggerheads” on four.

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